Low Cost Automation Reduces Plant Incident Trend
Published on : Sunday 04-04-2021
Suresh Babu Chigurupalli documents a reduction of plant incident trends through low cost automation/mechanisation.
Incident frequency and severity were a concern in Balasore Alloys Limited (BAL) in FY2018-19. We were in running for the challenging JIPM special award, which was impossible to get without achieving the target of ‘Zero Accident’. It (incident frequency) seemed the leading blocker among all the 11 implemented pillars. Those in the process industry like BAL can understand the level of challenge to achieve a ‘Zero’ incident where maximum activities are manually done (from unloading of ore and other raw materials to loading of finished goods: Ferrochrome).
Scope of the Study
1. All the activities across the factory from IN to OUT process.
2. The type of operation – either manual or mechanised or semi-mechanised.
3. Type of incidents – all the incidents including minor to severe.
4. Time frame – Financial year 2018-19.
Deployment of the incident study
During the study of incident frequency rate, it was found that 90% of the total incidents were due to manual operation like unloading of Ore, Coke, Magnesite and other raw materials in the RMHS area and then shifting of Molten Slag to Breaking Yards and finally manual breaking process of chrome metal as per customer specification. We have done Why-Why Analysis for all the incidents but unable to reach to its right root cause. Finally with the help of JMAC Consultant, we started incident analysis through a new tool called ‘4M4E’ and we found the actual root cause. The root cause being the manual operation, which contributed to 90% of the incidents happened in 2018-19.
Management along with TPM Secretariat formed a CFT to do a complete study of all manual activities across the factory from IN to OUT process. This team dedicatedly works on 8 areas of Plant (Briquette, Electrical, Mechanical, Sales Yard, QC, RMHS, MRP and Furnace Areas) to identify all the manual activities along with HIRA analysis.
During this complete exercise the Team was able to identify a total of 229 activities out of which 150 activities are manual and 79 are either mechanised or semi-mechanised.
Finally the CFT along with Top Management prioritised 15 activities, which can be taken for mechanisation in Stage 1. All the 15 prioritised activities are not only high risk activities but also impact the productivity. We have used a 5W1H sheet for Action Planning and calculated the RoI of all the activities and submitted the CAPEX to the management to proceed further.
Implementation of the CFT recommendations
The CFT recommendations were implemented for all the prioritised activities. The activity wise implementation by low cost automation/mechanisation has been mentioned below:
(i)-(ii) Dry fog system for conveyor 1&2 and 3&4 screen systems: Fugitive emissions are hazards and pollutants that can threaten human or environmental health. Emissions are released through events such as leaks, spills, and evaporation. They were often not tracked. Dry fog system installed to suppress the dust and to eliminate the hazards.
(iii)-(iv) Clay gun in place of manual closing of taphole for Furnace-3 and Furnace-5: Taphole management plays a critical role in the ferroalloys industry. This plays a crucial role in increasing the life of the furnace lining. Manual closing of furnace tap holes is unsafe and vulnerable to fire accidents. This activity has been mechanised by the installation of clay guns, reduced the fire hazard risk, and increased the life of the furnace area.
(v) Temperature sensors feedback and fireproof oil replacement for furnace Hydraulics: Ferroalloys electrodes operated by fluid Power. Very crucial for furnace operations. Due to high temperatures, occasionally sealing damage creates a hazardous fire. The system has automated temperature sensors integrated with fire suppression devices.
(vi) Time-based tapping cycle for tapping out of metals: The time-based buzzer is created to alert the tapping crew to maintain equal intervals. Tapping cycles help to keep the bay clean and prevent the hot metal hazards of overflow and leakages.
(vii) Mechanisation of Underground bunkers to minimise manual intervention: Vibrators are installed in bunkers to operate shutters and grills. This helped improve the ergonomics of the associated workforce and improved productivity by reducing manual intervention.
(viii) Automation of ignition circuits of the drier system to eliminate manual torch: Driers are used for the removal of moisture from the water. Initial; the firing of the drier is required by pilot firing. Automation of the system carried out by integrating the ignition circuit to the PLC. This helped to reduce the fire hazard.
(ix) Automation of metal recovery sliding gates to reduce the contamination: Metal is recovered from the slag mixed product by the gravity separation method. The method needs crushing, screening and gravity separation. During gravity separation, the manual intervention of gates opening is automated by incorporating level sensors.
(x) Position sensors for bunkers of conveyors to eliminate manual positioning: Position sensors for bunkers of conveyors to eliminate manual positioning. Position sensors incorporated and interfaced with PLC for auto-positioning. Automation facilitated the elimination of manual intervention.
(xi)-(xiii) Mechanisation of lime spray to eliminate the manual interventions (03 Nos): Motorised agitators installed to eliminate the manual mixing. Mechanisation helped to reduce the risk of hazardous gas exposure.
(xiv) Mechanisation of loading of finished goods: Manual loading replaced by vehicle loading with weigh scale integration.
(xv) Differential pressure sensors to predict the water flow of pressure rings and contact clamps: Contact clamp and pressure rings play a vital role to carry the current and hold the electrode. High current operations require adequate cooling. Drop or absence of water may develop a temperature and create dangerous leakages and eruptions in the furnace. Differential pressure measurements are incorporated to overcome this hazard.
Summary of the results
The low cost automation/mechanisation of the prioritised activities has resulted in the reduction of Plant incident trend. The following graph depicts the declined trend of incidents in the Plant. The area wise incident frequency also has been presented in the graph:
The other benefits have been:
1. Reduction of flying dust level, less than 50ppm.
2. Safety to workmen working near the machine and its nearby area.
3. Basic condition improvement of the nearby machines and improvements of life.
4. Reduction in maintenance and operating cost.
5. Re-handling of dust is not required as it was carried away along with the feed materials.
6. Improve workplace productivity.
7. Improvement in housekeeping of the area.
8. Improvement in morale of the employees.
Challenges identified during the Implementation
Few significant challenges that we have faced from concept to commissioning are:
a. RoI calculations, which are substantial roadblocks as few of the benefits, are qualitative.
b. Skills about choosing the right application from a lot.
c. Prioritising the activities
d. Cultural issues of resistance on adopting and implementing new technology, and
e. Sustaining the changes and progress.
The low cost automation/mechanisation of selected/prioritised activities of the Plant has resulted in the reduced incident trend thereby improving the safety condition in the Plant along with other benefits like reduction in maintenance/production cost and improvement in morale of the employees.
Sureshbabu Chigurupalli is Plant Head – Balasore Alloys Limited, Odisha. Sureshbabu 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 and other 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.
A B.Tech in Instrumentation from Andhra University (1994), Sureshbabu is an enterprising leader and planner with a strong record of contributions in streamlining operations, invigorating businesses, heightening productivity, systems and 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.