Metal and mining sector is at a critical juncture where game-changing benefits are expected
Published by : Industrial Automation
Sureshbabu Chigurupalli, Unit Head – Plant Operations, Balasore Alloys Limited.
What is the current status of the process industry, in general, in the digital transformation journey?
Yes, things are shaping, and strategies rolled out for digital transformation. It is now not a mere buzz word or jargon but is real. Increasing competition, cost reduction and efficiency improvement pressure pushing process industries to adopt the digital transformation route. The major thrust is on optimisation of internal processes, customer experience, establishing new value networks, accelerating business processes and speed manufacturing. A comprehensive strategy company-wide is still at baby steps. Even, selectively case to case applications are strategised like optimisation of the workforce, product quality, safety of employees, reliability and efficiency of the process.
Industries are facing cultural dimensions in the transformation journey. Numerous challenges that need to be overcome during the transformation. These include people’s mind-set, industry maturity, the exponential increase in global information flows that has also generated new risks around data privacy and security, outdated regulation and skill shortages, a legacy of business models, and traditional processes with limited automation, among others.
Driven by rapidly changing consumer tastes, and an accelerated pace of new product introduction/innovation, process industries are figuring out the best way to adapt the digital transformation. Integration of data from various shop floors to emphasise the hidden losses, automate the quality defect predictions, machine data, better management of inventory, product customisation algorithms, robots deployment at the hazardous workplace are the areas where the process industries are focusing.
Can digital transformation help the metal & mining, Oil & Gas industry which is under pressure from alternate energy sources and low prices?
Change is hard but inevitable. Traditionally the metal and mining sector is a late adopter in digital transformation. Mining companies are still very hesitant to promote digital mining transformations due to fear of high cost and new technology. The mining and metals industry has costly fixed-asset operations and machinery, whose maintenance and depreciable life can substantially impact production output, operating costs and ongoing capital expenditure. Smart sensors, extended life of the asset by predictive analytics, drones and visuals are the areas where there can be significant scope for reduction of cost by increasing the productivity and asset performance and availability.
Mining operations and metal industries are steadily shifting towards work process digitalisation, Robotics, Intelligent tools, remote and centralised control rooms, Drones for reserves estimation. Information Technology (IT)/Operational Technology (OT) convergence; and real-time planning and visualisation.
Metal & mining sector is at a critical juncture where game-changing benefits are expected in the coming decade by digital transformation.
What exactly are the digital trends the process industry can profit from? (IIoT, Big Data, AI & ML, AR/VR/XR, Digital Twins, Cyber security)
Process industries are adopting the digital transformation on a case to case basis. The Fraunhofer Institute's methodology serves as the fulcrum of many Industry 4.0 assessment, maturity and implementation approaches that are adopted across the globe. Organisations have a fragmented digital infrastructure. The common trends of the industries are cited below:
• Real-time tracking of supplies and orders assisted through GPS, RFID, LiFi (indoor and outdoor accurate positioning) in Logistics
• Dynamic management of in-process inventory, consumables and spares
• Modelling of material and surface characteristics for local process control resulting in optimum quality
• Computer-Aided Quality Control (CAQC) with 100% testing, inspection and storage of data related to hot-rolled coils minimising claims and cost of potential quality issues
• Intelligent grading of products to find the best match with customer orders reducing rejects and optimising yield
• Real-time information portals of process parameters with Artificial Intelligence enabling decision-making platforms
• Digitalisation of SOPs, electronic logbooks, predictive maintenance, digital quality management, AI-driven demand forecasting
• Predictive Asset Maintenance increasing up-time assisted by warnings of failures
• Dynamic real-time analysis and control of process parameters using sonic, laser and radar visualisation
• Sensors detect harmful stray gases, noises and temperatures, and notify operators of threats;
• Networked platforms of assets where process experts can see every operation in real-time and collaborate, and
• Use of drone technology for inspection of areas that are difficult to reach in the plant and surveying and planning of mining operations.
Is there enough local/indigenous support for emerging technology-based products as well as customer training?
Adequate support to industries is in place. Many top-notch companies are developing and designing customer need portfolios. The prominent concern is relearning and ageing of the employees where training is pivotal. Cross-skilling is the new dimension where industries are focusing on using the resources effectively.
How critical is Open Process Automation to the success of this endeavour, and its present status?
Open Process Automation is imperative to lower capital and life cycle cost – the pressure to increase profitability from operations pushing for optimisation of costs of digitalisation journey. Proprietary based automation systems are of high operational, and maintenance expenses and upgrades also require enormous cost. Open access automation provides an easy interfacing and brings value proposition. Currently, security concerns are bolted on open process automation. Automation applications require ultra-high availability and real-time performance, and process automation systems have always been highly proprietary. This is especially true at the controller and process I/O level, and this makes the systems very difficult to update or replace for several reasons. Open access automation enables asset owners' application software at significantly lower cost of future replacement with an intrinsic security model with value creation.
Safety and Security remain key concerns, especially in politically sensitive regions. Are there enough safeguards?
Digital transformation makes a company more cyber and machine connected. The internet and other companies, firms are wary – with good reason – that high levels of digital adoption will increase their exposure to the cyberattacks. Cyber vulnerability is inhibiting many industries for doing transformation fully. Studies depict that after the finance and insurance sectors, manufacturing is the 3rd most vulnerable for cyberattacks.
Process industry is vulnerable for attacks including phishing and other ‘social engineering’ techniques, resulting in malware (virus) infections like ransomware and Trojan horse. Phishing is a fraudulent attempt to acquire sensitive information like passwords and protected files. Cyber thefts can happen by previously compromised email address and password pairings. They run a program to populate login pages with millions of combinations. Manufacturer proprietary information, product formulation, identification of product locations for stealing product during shipment, etc.
Cybersecurity is a specialised issue, and it requires specific people with the correct training and knowledge to tackle it. The manufacturing industry must look beyond a conventional IT department to tackle cyber threats.
Industries are coming with solutions by cybersecurity framework – formation of Cybersecurity Cell with the sole responsibility to develop secure cyber processes. Relay training on risks, developing cyber-secure strategies and security standards ISO27001 are paid-for. Comprehensive policies covering the entire company instead of confining to only IT and multilayer security systems with scheduled cyber audits will protect the process industry.
Sureshbabu Chigurupalli is Unit Head – Plant Operations at Balasore Alloys Limited, Balasore, Odisha. He did his B.Tech.in Instrumentation from Andhra University (1994). He is an enterprising leader & planner with a strong record of contributions in streamlining operations, invigorating businesses, heightening productivity, systems & procedures. He has achievement-driven professional experience in spearheading entire unit/ plant operations to maintain continuity and match organisational goals through supervising Operations, Quality Control, Production Goals, Automation, Maintenance, Process Improvements, Safety Guidelines, Manpower Development, New Policy/Procedure Guidelines, Resource Allocation and Cost Optimisations. He is leading and managing all plant operations with effective utilisation of all resources and implementing industry best practices such as TPM, Six Sigma, Lean Management & others Business Excellence initiatives that contribute to improve productivity and efficiency. He has exhibited leadership in closely collaborating with numerous Japanese Consultants for implementing TPM to enhance overall plant effectiveness.