Industry 4.0 tech to improve cement plants’ operational visibility
Sudheesh Narayanan, Founder & CEO of Knowledge Lens

Industry 4.0 tech to improve cement plants’ operational visibility

Orient Cement was looking for an IT solution that could meet real-time information, proactive and predictive maintenance and better decision making.

Orient Cement was looking for an IT solution that could meet real-time information, proactive and predictive maintenance and better decision making. Sudheesh Narayanan, Founder & CEO of Knowledge Lens talks about the Data Acquisition, Monitoring, and Intelligent Insights tools that helped Orient Cement achieve its goals.

How important is it for cement companies to embrace digital transformation? What is the current scenario in terms of IT implementation in the cement industry?

Digitisation is key for cement companies, and it has been more of an urgent need than nice to have given the reduced manpower availability, potential disruptions in logistics, increased price competition, and the enhanced cybersecurity risk. The need to accelerate digitisation and sustainability to achieve lower operating costs, higher energy efficiency, yield, throughout and reduced carbon footprint is more than ever. Real-time information decision making, proactive and predictive maintenance are the key for better decision making.

Pandemic has just exposed numerous fragilities and vulnerabilities in many international supply chains for both raw materials and finished goods potentially disrupting production. It has also limited humans’ physical presence in offices, warehouses, and factories. There are factories which still perform data-driven operations with large staff, old legacy systems, and costly infrastructure.

We have been working with numerous cement companies on their Digital Transformation Initiatives and we see that in the last one year there has been a fundamental shift from proof of value to actual production implementations. The early movers are seeing benefits on the ground already.

Could you brief us about the big data platform and other IT initiatives implemented at Orient Cement?

Our client Orient Cement was keen to accelerate the digitisation journey by leveraging Industry 4.0 technologies to improve their Plant’s Operational Visibility and bring in Predictive Analytics for better operational efficiency. To achieve the overall predictive capabilities leveraging AI/ML, we needed a robust data historian that goes beyond the traditional tag-based historian. The dataset spans a longer duration of equipment’s operational data with a more granular frequency from each of their operating PLCs. Day-to day machine data needs an extended storage and at the same time being able to access the data in real time.

The key aspect was to provide an Industry 4.0 platform with an unlimited historian which can scale for large data which was leveraged to provide valuable insights and analytics for the entire plant. The platform then surfaces critical KPI and analytics that enables operational visibility to every level of management. However, the biggest impediments for these digital transformation initiatives are the IT-OT security concerns and the need for a 100% deterrence towards cyber-attacks. So, we deployed the secured unidirectional information flow system using our Data Diode solution.

We enabled real-time monitoring of the entire plant from raw mill to cement bag packing in a web enabled SCADA, Analytical Dashboards, and Correlation Analytics to help their plant production team to make better decisions about the operations.

What challenges were the client facing prior to the IT implementation process? What were their key objectives behind the IT implementation?

Our customer Orient Cement is one of the leading, fastest growing cement manufacturers in India. The company has created benchmarks in the industry with the quality of its products from the time they began cement production in 1982 at Devapur. Orient has always been at the forefront of embracing innovation and they have been keen to see newer technology additions in their continuous growth story.

They were in need of a robust Historian or an Archival store for at least 5 years of data which could facilitate a manufacturing data lake to facilitate historical analytics of the plant data for operational insights, anomalies detection and areas of process improvement. Analytical dashboards and proactive alerting were their key objectives.

Knowledge Lens as a “Valued Partner in Progress” implemented iLens – Industrial IoT Solution at their Plant at Devapur. We interfaced the Plant’s PLCs (Programmable Logic Controller) with in-built protocol support to perform real-time data acquisition of around 4000 parameters across multiple PLC Machines in 3 Units to monitor the assets, storage of historian data and a mechanism to backup, synchronise the data from plant network to corporate network in a secure manner. The data was stored in a highly scalable big data platform which served as a unified storage repository to perform monitoring and analytics.

What kind of platform/old processes did they use earlier and what were the challenges associated with it?

Their existing data store retained the plant's asset data for 3 months in a database that could not be used effectively for real time visibility. There were no capabilities for anomaly detection, predictive analytics, management KPI dashboards, etc. Most of the activities were manual and human intensive.

When did the project begin and end? Was it done in a phased manner?

Project was implemented in mid of 2019 and there are multiple enhancements done in subsequent phases as part of the digitisation initiatives. We are also working with them on various Plant Safety digitisation initiatives over the last 2 years.

What was the cost of the budget?

The implementation cost on the project is in the range of One-tenth of annual Maintenance cost of a plant. The benefits realised and ROI is well within 1 year of implementation.

Were there any challenges faced by the cement company during the implementation process? From a vendor perspective, what challenges did you come across?

Usually, such technology projects bring their own challenges, but we have been doing these projects over six years and the majority of the challenges with respect to technology and solutions were already addressed as part of the planning itself. We did the site visits and system study upfront and hence any site-specific challenges were addressed as part of those visits. During implementation, there were no challenges, and it went perfectly as planned. The system is self-service and hence after necessary training, the client team could do any changes they needed subsequently. So, we did not really see any challenges.

For new technologies, technical know-how is important. How was the upskilling done at Orient Cement? Was there any kind of training imparted to the resources?

As part of our iLens – Industrial IoT implementations, training and facilitating the shopfloor plant engineers and operators is a key objective in adoption of the Platform for Production operations. The success of our implementations is measured by the manner in which they are able to use and operate on the platform in a seamless manner. iLens Digital Assistant, Analytical Dashboards, Web SCADA are some of the solution components which makes the adoption journey seamless for our clients.

“iLens solution as a comprehensive IoT solution has helped us to simplify connectivity to machines, perform data acquisition, monitor and archive Plant Control room data for further analysis,” said Gopi Krishan M, Deputy General Manager-IT - Orient Cement Limited, Hyderabad, India.

Was the maintenance cost covered under the deal?

The annual maintenance contract along with remote support for any issues with iLens Industry 4.0 solution and for any on-demand help on Dashboards & Report generation from the iLens Industrial IoT Platform. Apart from this, we also provide them with regular updates on the overall product evolution as part of our Yearly product updates.

Key benefits achieved at Orient Cement

  • Centralised real-time platform for connectivity among all the factory equipment and other systems which eliminated information silos on the shop floor leading to a meaningful and valuable exchange of information across various departments.

  • Smart Integration with PLC’s with Plug and Play protocol support for data fetch.

  • High scalability in-memory platform to crunch ingested data.

  • Digital Dashboard with Live Monitoring at various levels (for e.g., Operations Head, Production offices etc.,)

  • ~ 9K hours of Manual book keeping hours saved annually.

  • Productivity Improvement, Efficiency improvements from the overall operations.

Current and Future IT Trends in cement industry

  • Plant Digitisation and Secure Remote Monitoring - Pandemic has forced cement companies to jump-start their digital transformation journeys sooner rather than later.

  • Dashboards and KPIs for overall Cement Operations is critical and it is taking a big leap.

  • Real-time Production Machines Monitoring for Efficiency monitoring & Optimisations for improvements.

  • Condition based monitoring of key assets to extend the life span of the assets (remaining useful Life) and implement Predictive Maintenance to achieve reduced down times.

  • Connected Logistics with AI/ML interventions such as Vision Analytics in Bag counting as part of Loading to trucks, wagons.

  • Energy Monitoring & Optimisation to reduce power usage and cost savings.

  • Environment & Sustainability - an increased focus on green manufacturing/ reduction of carbon footprint by cement manufacturers.

  • Factory safety – Safer and healthier factory for People.

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