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Any primary metal industry poses a challenge to any software vendor who wants to build a manufacturing software for it. That is why there are not many software vendors around who claim to possess a manufacturing software which fits the requirements of any primary metal industry.

Any primary metal industry is huge by any measurement. Capacity is generally more than 10,000 tonnes per annum and in many big plants it is more than 30 million tonnes per annum. Raw materials consumed are also in huge quantities; be it ore, lime stone, dolomite or any other raw material. Properties of these raw materials vary greatly. As these raw materials come from nature, despite the fact that mixing and blending is done at the mines before shipping to the plant; variation in properties is still present when it reaches the plant. Other problem is that due to huge requirement of raw materials, sourcing is done from many sources and raw material properties from these places will vary greatly. For example, ore found in one geographical area will have greatly different properties than ore found in some other geographical area.

Properties of incoming raw materials greatly influence the properties of intermediate and finished products as well as the process parameters at each stage of production. Due to this reason properties of raw materials and products as well as process parameters are to be measured and managed at every stage of production.

At the same time, this evolution of finished product from the raw material to many intermediate products on the way is like a journey and the halts along the journey.

Any manufacturing software to be useful in primary metal industry should be able to meet these fundamental requirements. This aspect of halts along the journey as well as the journey itself can be captured and described only if the software vendor has deep knowledge of processes involved in primary metal industry.

Stages of production and Intermediate Products:

Any primary metal industry produces either finished products in the form of rolled or extruded products or semi finished products in the form of ingots, blooms, billets or slabs from ore. Rolled finished products include hot and cold rolled sheets, coils and plates. Extruded products include bars, wires, rails, channels and many other products.

From ore, liquid metal is produced after refining. This liquid metal is sent to either continuous casting plant or it is poured in molds and cooled to make ingots. If sent to continuous casting plant, the liquid steel is poured from top into a mold whose bottom end is open and water cooled. During the passage through the mold the liquid metal gets solidified and takes the shape of the bottom end of the mold generally in form of slab or bloom. This solidified steel is removed continuously from bottom at the same rate at which liquid steel is poured into the mould. This slab is then rolled into form of various shapes of plates, sheets or coils. If it is bloom then it is rolled and then extruded into shapes of rails, channels, wires, rods, bars etc. In case of ingots, they are first reheated into reheating furnaces and then rolled into form of blooms or billets and then these are extruded into finished products like rails, bars, rods, wires and other products. These products are then optionally heat treated to achieve many physical properties. Some metal products are also surface treated or surface coated (like Galvanized Sheets). Finally these products are cut in length as per customer orders and sent for shipping.

For finished products to have stringent quality; the intermediate products all through the plant at various stages of production need to have stringent quality. Physical and chemical properties like temperature, chemical composition, micro-structure, surface finish etc. need to have within acceptable norms. It is this requirement which dictates that a thorough quality control regime is maintained at every stage of production.

This translates to the need to keep product and its property data about each intermediate and final products. All of these product and product data are to be recorded into the manufacturing software system.

Critical Issues

  • Raw material property variations
    Chemical compositions of raw materials vary from batch to batch. Physical properties also vary. These factors greatly affect production scheduling as well as product properties leading to unacceptable or unfavorable finished product quality. The manufacturing software should be able to accurately record raw material properties so that the process parameters can be adjusted as per incoming raw material.
  • Intermediate products property variation
    Due to variation in properties of input materials, variation in process etc. the output intermediate product will have variation in properties. This again adversely affects properties of finished products. The manufacturing software should be able to accurately record product properties so that the process parameters can be adjusted as per incoming intermediate material.

Variation in process:

Variation in process is in terms of processing time, variation in controlling of product temperature, product properties etc. This leads to variation in finished product properties. The manufacturing software should be able to measure the external process factors which affect product properties.

  • Mixed mode manufacturing
    Some of the production stages conform to flow manufacturing, some to process manufacturing and some to mill manufacturing. The software should be good enough to incorporate all these types of manufacturing capability.
  • Physical State of product
    Some of the intermediate products are in liquid state while some are in solid state. This results in differences of ways measurements can be taken of each product. The manufacturing software should be able to take this fact into account.
  • Product Yield
    At each stage of production there is a yield factor which will determine how much production of a product takes place in comparison to the amount of material which had gone in. So the manufacturing software should be able to measure product yield accurately.

Manufacturing Management Techniques

The entire manufacturing process of any primary metal industry cannot be covered through a single manufacturing process. Some of the manufacturing steps come under flow manufacturing, some under process manufacturing and final products come under mill industry. So it is a mixed mode manufacturing environment as a whole. This greatly affects the techniques which measure, manage and control each intermediate product at each stage of production.

Some of the techniques include:

  • Total Quality Management
    The most suitable technique to control quality at all levels is “Total Quality Management”. In accordance with flow and process manufacturing, total quality management practices are adopted. For example liquid metal samples are taken for testing directly from the liquid metal inside the furnace and production is not stopped when samples are taken. This sample is sent to the laboratory for analysis. Once analysis results are known, some steps are taken to conform to the quality of the product with the required quality as per orders. Thus production staff is responsible for quality management. If any samples show results which are not conforming to norms, the adjustment in quality of produce is done by the production staff; off course without stopping the production line. The manufacturing software should be able to record this series of product quality data.
  • Flow Manufacturing
    Production is never planned in batch mode (even in the case of raw material processing) and production is only stopped at shift ends. Production is reported at the end of shift and production figures are accumulated for the day, for the month and for the year. The product requirements (product chemical and physical properties and product quantity) are communicated on the shift / daily / weekly / monthly (depending on the production run length) basis from the internal customer. For example; internal orders are issued from a rolling mill to continuous casting plant. The manufacturing software should be able to record this kind of product quality data.
  • Internal customers
    One more interesting technique is used; what is called the concept of internal customer. This is very useful concept to make executive at each plant which makes intermediate products responsible to the executives of the plant to whom they supply their final product. This way executives at upstream plants are liable for their product quality, lead times, product quantity to the executives of the immediate downstream plants. The manufacturing software should have facility to define many internal orders for these internal customers.
  • Internal customer orders
    Most of the upstream plants produce intermediate products which do not have properties which can be directly derived from the ordered finished products. So the internal customer lying downstream in the flow of product manufacturing; sets these product properties.
  • Scrap Generation
    At each production stage, there is scrap generation and product yield. The internal customer sets the intermediate product quantity required and the plant sets its own product quantity keeping in view of internal customer orders and the percentage product yield and scrap generation. The manufacturing software should have facility to define internal customer order quantity of intermediate products for these internal customers.

Conclusion

Any primary metal industry consumes huge quantities of raw materials in bulk and the properties of these raw materials vary considerably. First this variation is minimized by mixing and blending operations and then by changing process parameters so that intermediate products properties are as close to internal customer orders as possible. Similarly properties of intermediate products are controlled by mixing (if intermediate products are in liquid state) and changing process parameters so that the next intermediate / final product properties downstream conforms to customer order product properties.

At each stage of production, product properties are to be measured and controlled using a manufacturing management Software which is capable of taking into account all these factors.

The need of such features in the software cannot be emphasized more.

Optimization Engine to your rescue

Optimization EngineTM for primary metals industry from GoldenEmbryo Technology is a readymade tool for all primary metals industry’s needs of advance production planning, scheduling & optimization. It can not only help you achieve the goals mentioned above, it will help you to reduce your manufacturing lead times substantially. Using Optimization EngineTM you can do scenario analysis, profitability analysis, product mix analysis, achieve profitable to promise functionality and many more benefits.