Digital Hub for 4.0 Projects
RHI Magnesita/AT, the leading global supplier of refractory products and solutions, has kick-started the fourth revolution of the refractories industry. Thanks to intensive basic research and global, interdisciplinary development work, the company successfully developed the first systems for data-based process optimization at temperatures of 1200 °C and higher. The Digital Hub that was established specifically for this purpose will now bring these concepts to market readiness.
“With our Digital Hub, we’re giving brilliant, creative minds the necessary freedom to develop these approaches to completion in their own idea workshop and bring them to market,” explained Stefan Borgas, CEO RHI Magnesita, during the opening gala for the new Digital Hub at the weXelerate corporate innovation hub in Vienna/AT in February. In the state-of-the-art facilities located in the heart of Austria’s start-up scene, three project teams will work to bring the 4.0 initiatives of the refractory giant to market readiness.
Automated Process Optimization (APO): using data to predict the future
“The temperature in the LD converter, the duration and chemical composition of the steel melt and the slag: An enormous amount of data is collected about every single one of our customers’ production steps. This data contains valuable information about how certain high-temperature processes take place in their plants,” explained Christoph Jandl, Head of the 4.0 Business Unit at RHI Magnesita. This is where Automated Process Optimization (APO) comes in: The system receives all available data about the given production process, such as temperature changes, chemical processes, optical measurements, order cycles and planned maintenance work. Based on this information, empirical values and previous measurement results, APO uses artificial intelligence to make predictions about how refractory materials should be maintained and when they will have to be replaced.
Conversely, the customer can also tell the system when planned maintenance and monitoring work should be performed in order to be able to optimally utilize the time between production peaks, for example. In this case, the parameters, such as the planned maintenance, are defined and APO calculates how the processes have to be adjusted to meet these requirements. APO can also help to select suitable products from RHI Magnesita’s portfolio based on the data, thus ensuring maximum safety and resource efficiency.
Quick (QCK) and Broadband Spectral Thermometer (BST): better data optimizes production steps
“The area of application for APO basically knows no limits. But of course, just like with any data-based simulation, the better the data APO receives as input, the more precise the predictions will be,” added Jandl. Therefore, two of the 4.0 initiatives at the new Digital Hub deal with systems that can supply even higher quality input data for APO. One of these is “QCK”: The system is based on cutting edge image processing technology and can take precise 3D-scans of systems at operating temperature within a few seconds – even at temperatures above 1200 °C. The measurement itself does not take any longer than snapping a photo. Up until now, laser technology has been used for this purpose, which takes significantly longer and provides a much lower resolution.
Additional information will be supplied by BST: this measurement process is capable of measuring the temperature continuously and has the potential to eliminate the discrete temperature measurements that are commonly used today. “This will make it possible to adjust the temperature of a melt so that it has exactly the right temperature. This prevents unnecessary heating,” explained Jandl.
CEO Stefan Borgas sees the benefit for customers in the tremendous increase in efficiency that will be possible: “Our goal is to optimize our customers’ high-temperature processes in the future so that they can cut costs and adapt their production more flexibly. At the same time, more precise measurements will enable us to discover problems that they were completely unaware of up to now – and then solve them together.”
RHI Magnesita expects an increase in customer efficiency of several million Euros annually. This is also expected to lead to major changes within the company. “In the future, we aim to mine raw materials, process them into refractory products and deliver them to customers at exactly the time they need them. This means that we too continue to optimize our logistics and production in order to make them more efficient and thus more climate friendly,” continued Stefan Borgas. The 4.0 team at RHI Magnesita’s Digital Hub will be tasked with achieving these goals. “There are big expectations for this project. The team will blaze trails and develop solutions that might revolutionize our industry. To achieve this, it not only has to be able to think independently and freely, but also has to be capable of making quick decisions autonomously. At this new site, the team members will certainly feel comfortable in a creative atmosphere surrounded by other innovative start-ups and will have a lot of fun tinkering with new developments,” said Stefan Borgas.