Cement industry veering towards automation & digitalisation
Cement industry veering towards automation & digitalisation

Cement industry veering towards automation & digitalisation

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Rajat Kishore, Managing Director and Vice President - Process Automation India Hub, Schneider Electric India

Of late the cement industry is seeing a visible shift towards process control/automation, but it doesn't match the scale as projected. Your comment, please!

Process control and automation, cement industry is moving towards automation, somehow the degree of adoption of automation may not be as expected. This industry is highly energy intense and has crucial environmental issues to tackle. Among the major challenges, one can say, the industry is focused on automation and digitalisation. However, there are a few more steps that the industry should take to concentrate on the journey:

  • Reducing energy consumption (currently, energy is almost 40 per cent of raw material costing)
  • Reducing carbon dioxide emission
  • Achieving operational efficiency and consistency
  • Shifting security of operations and maintenance
  • Empowering the workforce can take the company to the next level with better retention rates
  • All these five create a need for stronger automation solutions built into the system. It would help the company in improving power management, improving heat recovery as well as operation optimisation. The idea is to get environmentally sustainable operational controls.

    In Schneider Electric, we have a specific initiative called "eco structure" for the cement industry. This helps plants to achieve greater efficiency, which digitally-enabled solutions with monitoring and controlling of energy both in the production process and in identifying potential savings.

    What, in your opinion, are the major challenges in process control automation?
    For old plants, I would agree as their energy consumption is higher and mechanised. Older plants' power consumption is almost 1.5 times greater as compared to the new-age cement plants. Power consumption is 80-100KW/ton cement produced whereas in the modern cement plants it is only 60-75KW/tonne. Older plants have tremendous opportunities to reduce energy consumption. When the focus is on energy reduction, the process gets optimised, greenhouse gases are reduced, and the plant gets more efficient.

    The best way to address this issue is automation. The company probably would spend about 13 per cent outlay of the capital investment on crushing or grinding unit or a mechanical part, but may be reluctant to spend 3 per cent similar outlay on automation. Automation comes at a much lower cost, but the problem is the mindset as physical equipment is what the cement owners are familiar with. Two things are changing the scenario today: One is the huge growth of infrastructure that is putting pressure on the cement industries to become more efficient, and explore collaborations with international cement industry players. Indian cement industry has no choice but to get more competitive. The other aspect that would be a driver for the segment is government regulations. Greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements, creation of sustainable environment conditions and carbon credits would trigger adaptation of automation and digital solutions.

    Where do you see the maximum traction coming from?
    There are so many things, yet there are a few things. First of all, the service provider, that is the equipment automation system provider. In the coming decade India will undergo rapid pace of development to become the world's third-largest economy and possibly it will become the most populous nation. To realise 2030 vision, there should be substantial investment in new Greenfield capacity to embrace industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is all about automation and digitalisation. It is also about increasing efficiency, reducing emissions, asset management and optimisation. So the industry will adopt more sustainability-driven technologies.

    Does Schneider offer up-skilling support to the companies during automation service?
    Yes, absolutely. With the technology the industry expects to train more next-gen industrial workforce and it will definitely be very different from what the current workforce is. Availability of suitably trained manpower in operation and maintenance of modern cement plants is a major challenge.

    What is next level of automation for factories?
    I would say augmented reality, virtual reality and digital print. In the cement industry the objective is to achieve operational asset management excellence by increasing the readiness to leverage the new age automation and deploying integrated distant solutions. The aim is to give end-to-end process planning, scheduling, and operation control with complete visibility of a plant on a business intelligence level and also operate, modify, schedule and control.

    What is Schneider's roadmap for the next three years for process control?
    Our vision is to achieve end-to-end business intelligence and visibility as deployment of automation and new age automation. We believe Schneider is not just working towards giving better solutions but also making the industry and workforce better because the key solution also enables training. So, when you have training and upscaling solutions that are delivered to the plant optimisation, the whole application itself becomes more active.

    - LIZA V

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