It would seem obvious that the interface between machines and humans is at the center of metal processing. Over time, the development of this relationship has been the basis for different phases of industrial “revolution.” The Internet of Things (IoT) presents an entirely new way to connect the decentralized components of a system so that information can be shared and used in ways not previously possible. In layman’s terms, IoT gives us ways to fix problems that did not exist as recently as a few years ago. This is a particularly interesting for metal processing, where we see technology advance rapidly while some of the best human resources, with decades of experience, near the end of their careers. It’s very fertile ground for new Smart technology (self-monitoring analysis and reporting) and data-driven systems to provide ways to improve many aspects of complex processes central to metal processing.
Let’s look at some ways that Smart technology helps to circulate and transfer molten aluminum in your operation and how it can fix issues related both to quality and overall cost of production.
Analyze data — The first step is to understand the important information we have, and how to use it to properly inform us regarding key decisions needed in during the process.
We can easily measure metal temperature using thermocouples incorporated directly into the structure of a molten-metal pump. This can provide valuable real-time information as to exactly the temperature of the metal in the pump well. Another valuable bit of data is the metal level in the pump well, and by extension in the main chamber of the furnace. With just these two pieces of information, Smart technology can be deployed to make decisions that better optimize the circulation and transfer pumps in a system during the process.
Reducing errors and labor — During a furnace charging cycle, when cold scrap metal is being added to the charge well, the metal temperature in the furnace will fall. This is a time when we want to see the pump RPMs rise to increase flow and achieve a faster melt rate. Smart technology allows this to happen, and provides another advantage in that the operator does not need to be monitoring the pump controls and can be engaged in other activities. You can see how this significantly improves the cost of operation by both improving the melt rate and freeing up human resources to focus on higher value-added activities.
Longer-lasting equipment — When we are transferring metal out of the furnace, and the volume of molten metal in the furnace is decreasing, we can use Smart technology to reduce the RPM of the circulation pump, as we have less metal to circulate and less concern about melt rate at this time. The pump’s ability to slow itself down again frees up the operator to focus on other, higher value-added activities while also better preserving the graphite consumable parts of the pump, as they will last longer when run at lower RPM. Over time, such incremental benefits can produce major cost savings.
Data delivered — There are other features of Smart technology that can benefit the operation. Just gathering the data on temperature and metal level provides very important, real-time information that can be delivered to plant managers wirelessly, so that a manager can act on these variables at any time, on-site or not. Essentially, you will have a history of the pump operation that will allow you to see every detail of operation and performance.
Real-time notification — Vibration sensing technology that is part of a Smart system is another benefit, in the event something happens to the pump during operation to impact performance. In this case, the manager can be notified immediately. Obviously, it allows for maintenance to address the issue in real-time, rather than waiting for an operator to discover the problem, which minimizes downtime or compromised production that may result. It also enables managers to pinpoint exactly when the problem occurred. so a better root-cause analysis can be done to determine the cause of the issue.
MMEI incorporates all of these capabilities into a new line of Smart pumps to combine the mechanical benefit of circulation and transfer with the new technology that can add so much to your operation. These pumps incorporate newly designed software that allow the data gathered to be used in real-time to control the pump as operating conditions change. This allows the pump to optimize its performance resulting in the benefits discussed above. Most important, it maximizes circulation and transfer at the lowest possible cost while greatly reducing the likelihood of human error in the process.
The ability we now have now to use Smart technologies to drive improvements in metal processing will be exciting phase in the never ending cycle of continuous improvement. As these systems improve the machines’ capacity for acting on data they will allow human operators to focus more of their time and attention on driving innovation. We look forward to continuing to do our part to lead metalcasters in developing new ways to produce higher quality products, with reduced labor and equipment costs.
Paul Cooper is the president of Molten Metal Equipment Innovations Inc. Learn more at www.mmei-inc.com