Data consistency & reliability is the biggest gain for our customers
Data consistency & reliability is the biggest gain for our customers

Data consistency & reliability is the biggest gain for our customers

Dr Harald van Weeren, Global Manager for Cement Solutions & Hari Bhaskar, Manager for Automation Solutions, Malvern Panalytical, a division of Spectris Pte Ltd

What are your latest product offerings in lab instrumentation and automation for the cement industry?
Our 2017 merger between two companies - Malvern and Panalytical to become Malvern Panalytical has now allowed us to provide a comprehensive product and service portfolio. Our total solutions range from analyzing the chemistry to mineralogy to particle size to expertise, automation integration (crushing, milling, integrating back to control system), to even calibration and standards.

Both the historic Malvern and Panalytical bring to the table a wealth of expertise surrounding automation and we are constantly exchanging expertise and best practices on how to offer better automation solutions for our clients. Whether it is for grade control or process monitoring. Malvern is more on particle size analysis to monitor grinding efficiency and product quality in crushing and grinding. Panalytical has solutions for elemental and mineralogical analysis for raw materials, Kiln control and product quality.

In terms of our products, we have designed cement editions to our product lines. For instance, our newest range of X-ray diffraction diffractometers for understanding the mineralogy, is the Aeris compact XRD. It is the first benchtop XRD that is built with inputs from industry and users. Unlike other solutions in the market, the Aeris is built with a closed box cabinet with external sample loading. This is so that cement dust does not get into the analytical chamber. Moreover, the Aeris is easy to operate, requiring minimal or no training. Plus it can handle numerous samples as customers have the option of placing it on the automation conveyor belt. We also considered that customers have limited space in their lab, so the Aeris is built to be compact, with no need for external chiller.

Malvern Panalytical's unique area of expertise for automation is our ability to integrate instruments that can be automated even if they are not from Malvern Panalytical brand.

In line with our objective of improving efficiency, we also offer various online solutions for real time analysis. They can make timely decisions to control their process - whether it's checking on the quality or checking on how to optimize their energy consumption. Therefore, Malvern Panalytical's range of solutions not only help to improve product monitoring, but also process monitoring including how to optimize energy consumption. For instance, optimising alternate fuels, grinding efficiency.

What is the cost and/or quality benefits that a customer can expect in return for their investment?
Above all, companies gain in terms of data consistency and reliability. Automation eliminates manual sampling, where there could instances of operator biases. For instance, there may be variances or margin of error between operators. This is especially noticed when another operator takes on the next work shift. Moreover, lab automation is not constrained by manpower limitations towards the number of samples being analysed. Customers stand to benefit in terms of higher throughput analysis, where more samples can be analysed. With a higher sample throughput, companies benefit from better data representation. This ties back to our earlier point regarding getting better data, hence allowing management to make more timely and informed decisions when monitoring. This allows management to react faster and have more control over their beneficiation and even fuel optimization.

Is productivity a major benefit for clients?
Yes, as per our response in #2, more samples, with little or no operator biasness allows for better representation and better control over your process.

How seamless is the integration provided by your system, between laboratory and power control?
Whether it is a complete lab automation, a partial automation or just a single instrument, we provide installations that comply to the most common communication protocols that integrates seamlessly with process control in cement plants. Further, our instruments are designed to work with most common lab automation designs. Signals to control system. All info on the control screen.

We can provide complete laboratory automation from sample preparation to analysis with different analytical tools. As for as integration to plant control, our automation control system can seamlessly communicate with plant control through commonly available protocols such as OPC Clients, Modbus or Profibus etc., which are used in cement industries. The laboratory analysis flow and equipment mimics can be displayed on Plant Control panels with alarm signals and other monitoring signals.

Are there any issues in Operation & Maintenance of your automation of assets in hostile environments in Indian cement plants?
Like we mentioned in #1, our instruments are designed from the ground up with a hostile environment in mind. For instance, we have different product lines which are designed and calibrated for cement samples. We understand that plants are dusty, humid and hot. Our Epsilon 4 benchtop XRF for elemental analysis and Aeris compact XRD are designed to be closed cabinet analysis to prevent dust from interfering with the sample analysis and also expensive detectors.

Cement plants are in production constantly, so Malvern Panalytical's objective is to have zero or as little downtime for our customers as possible. Given that, our automation line is designed based on a modular basis so that in the event an analytical instrument is down, the cement plant has the option of replacing it. If customers want zero downtime, we also recommend a back up unit attached to the automation line just in case. The alternative is to have integrated units which combine 2-3 analytical instruments in one integrated automation box. No doubt it has a smaller footprint, however if one instrument fails, the entire automation process stops and your plant suffers. Cement plants will be able to quickly realise their ROI based on their sample throughput, uptime and also zero downtime.

What is the cycle time for delivery and installation of such a lab automation system from concept to commissioning in a Greenfield situation?
Every project is unique. It really depends on the level of automation, i.e. fully automated or partially automated. There are also many factors to consider. For instance, the production volume, type of cement produced, fuel and alternative fuel used etc. Our specialists are on hand to discuss in detail on-site, not just on your automation project but also other areas to optimize plant's production and operational efficiency. Usually depending on the level of automation supply project could take 6 - 12 months to complete.

Do you find renovation/ retrofit of existing plants to be a potentially attractive market for your automation system?
Yes, as mentioned in #1, we are open towards working with any client - whether it is an existing client or a plant new to our solutions. We can retrofit labs no matter how old the equipment is, with the only requirement is to ensure it can be made to be part of the automation process. Existing equipment should be automatable, if not we can supply upgrades or newer systems in an automated environment.

We have upgraded a number of existing cement plant labs which had manual sample preparation equipment and our XRF Spectrometer systems to automated labs preparing samples and feeding the XRF systems.

Customers have benefited by increasing their sample throughput as well as more reliable results for their process.

One of our customers had an old sample preparation equipment. After evaluating, our team had put in more control systems to make it automatable.

What is the growth outlook for the Indian cement industry and what are your investment/ expansion plans for the country?
India is definitely a market that is budding with new developments. We see many projects to improve the country's infrastructure, be it roads, new high rise buildings and more.

With this, we hope to share our expertise built in our supply centres in the Netherlands and in the UK with our India clients. We want our clients to benefit from solutions that enable them to achieve greater efficiency and improved bottomlines.

This can be achieved from lab automation and online analysis whether it is at stockpiling or along the process line.

With a customer centric mindset, Malvern Panalytical is also organising our company structure and expertise to serve our customers better.

We have a dedicated team just for automation projects. We have also consolidated our teams by industry. For instance, Harald is our global manager for cement, and Hari is in charge of automation projects. Unlike other organisations who have the same team handling all projects, our teams gain more exposure and build more expertise in their field.

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