While process optimization systems have been widely introduced in many facilities of ironmaking plants, in a lot of cases there is no overall automation system, supporting coordination and Through-Process Optimization of all ironmaking facilities in place. Together with voestalpine, one of the most innovative steel makers, Primetals Technologies has developed a holistic ironmaking concept, adding the superimposed VAiron Ironmaking Expert System to the local process optimization systems.
The VAiron Ironmaking Expert System provides an automated production control system to achieve standardized operation throughout all ironmaking facilities by coordinating the individual aggregates, such as raw-material management, coke oven plants, sintering, pelletizing, direct reduction, pulverized coal injection plant, and blast furnace operation. When implementing the VAiron Ironmaking Expert System, we recommend proceeding in a stepwise fashion, avoiding the incorporation of all ironmaking plants in one huge project. Starting with the hot metal requirements of the steelmaking plant, the production and quality targets are defined for the upstream ironmaking plants. As a first step, operating points (with respect to hot metal rate, blast and oxygen amount, and fuel rates) are derived for every blast furnace—which are then executed by the local optimization systems. Potential boundary conditions, such as limited oxygen contingents, are considered.
- Coordination of steel shop and ironmaking plants
- Material tracking, process analysis, production planning, and control for ironmaking
- Coordination of gas demand and generation
- Automatic calculation of key performance indicators
Additionally, the hot stoves switchover of the different blast furnaces is synchronized, minimizing the impact on the pressure fluctuations and flaring losses in the plant-wide gas network. In a similar way, the operating points for the sinter-, pelletizing-, and coke-making plants are calculated. The Ironmaking Expert connects process tracking information from individual plants and integrates this information into a single display to analyze correlations and impacts beyond the individual aggregate borders, allowing for cross-process data mining and sensitivity analyses. Thanks to central data collection, key performance indicators (KPIs) can easily be calculated for the whole ironmaking area. The main feature of this application becomes apparent when trends from different areas are shown at the same time. The system is able to track the genealogy of the material flows, allowing for direct comparison of related trends from different plants. This enables the user to analyze the process conditions and material properties throughout the whole ironmaking production chain.
As an excellent example of an Industry 4.0 solution, Holistic Ironmaking Optimization enhances the performance of ironmaking plants by the consistent, methodical, and comprehensive consideration of the global optimum rather than aiming at local optima for each plant. The resulting traceable production decisions and the increase in transparency allow for thorough process optimization, which leads to reduced conversion costs and more consistent quality, higher efficiency, and increased production.