Enabling intelligent cement plant operations with a modern and holistic monitoring framework

Historically, cement plant operators have maintained laser-sharp focus on maximizing production volume and efficiency through technical and process-level interventions. However, evolving market factors are now pushing the industry to make significant alterations in its operating model. 

Presently, the global cement industry comprises nearly 3000 plants operating in 160+ countries. In the coming years, the industry is expected to experience up to 23% increase in demand by 2050, fuelled by rising solid urban infrastructure demand. As the competition heats up, operational efficiency and production cost optimization, along with consistent product quality will be the key focus for leading players. Moreover, because the industry contributes to 6-9% of global carbon emissions, it is also attracting increasing regulatory interest. These factors, coupled with aging equipment across most plants, call for a rethinking of the traditional operating model.

This shift will be driven by intelligent cement plant equipment monitoring technologies, which will help cement businesses meet three key strategic imperatives: maximizing equipment lifespan, optimizing production processes, and monitoring emissions.

An intelligent, holistic monitoring framework for cement plants

Industry 4.0 technologies like IoT, AI, and ML enable asset-intensive sectors like cement manufacturing to activate various use-cases to improve their operations. While the industry is lagging in adoption compared to other sectors like automotive and manufacturing, cement plant operators can exploit mature use-cases to differentiate themselves in the industry. 

To this end, cement plant operators must focus on three key areas:

  1. Maximizing equipment lifespan: This can be achieved by monitoring the condition of key equipment like shaft kilns, roller presses, ball mills, and conveyor belts with the right sensor technology.
  2. Optimizing production processes: Considering that 75% cement plants are integrated clinker and cement production facilities, monitoring key processes like raw material grinding, proportioning, clinker production,  and cooling in real-time is instrumental to maximizing operational efficiency.
  3. Monitoring emissions: Cement production consumes ~4,000 MJ, and results in nearly 925 kg CO2 emissions per ton of final product. In addition, it also results in particulate and toxic gas emissions. Monitoring equipment can help log these emissions and help operators stay compliant with regulations like CFR and NESHAP.

Take a look at each of these areas in detail below.

Maximizing equipment lifespan with continuous equipment condition monitoring

Rotary kiln condition monitoring

Rotary kilns are a central asset in the clinker production process, and must be monitored for damage due to heat, shell wear and deformation, and travel position drift. 

Rotary kiln damage can now be anticipated in advance, with a number of predictive analytics techniques. For instance, heat signature anomalies can be sensed in advance to prevent deformation using infrared thermography. Similarly, creep, crank, and travel monitors can be used to pre-empt mechanical calibration issues or drift due to operation – which will otherwise result in wear, damage, or worse, safety hazards.

Preventing gearbox failure in vertical roller mills

Gearbox failure is one of the most common failure modes for vertical roller mills. Each breakdown can bring the grinding process to a halt, and result in significant downtime for cement plants.

By measuring the mechanical torque and power acting on the shaft, it is possible to detect high levels of gearbox strain – which, if left unmonitored, eventually results in gearbox failure. Using historical data, automated alerts can be set up for such high-torque events, and corrective action can be automated with appropriate control systems.

Vibration monitoring to identify machinery faults

Vibration monitoring remains one of the most effective techniques for preventing equipment failure in cement plants – especially because it can be applied for various systems.

Vibration analysis is enabled by a variety of accelerometers, which can be used to detect bearing damage, blower / fan imbalance, misalignment, or bent shafts. High-temperature areas (for example, those close to the kiln) require accelerometers with high temperature tolerance, whereas bearing damage detection uses high-frequency accelerometers. The output from these sensors is measured against the ‘normal operation’ signatures derived from historical data, and anomalous events are mapped to failure modes to detect the cause of failure.

Monitoring techniques to optimize the production processes

Overfill protection and level monitoring in conveyor belt transfer stations and aggregation silos

To ensure optimal process feed and minimize wear on rock crushers, radar-based non-contact techniques are used for level measurement. This technique is also effective for high-dust environments like belt-transfer stations, and raw meal silos. 

Aggregation silos can also use capacitive level detection sensors, as they typically offer a longer lifespan compared to alternatives. 

Conveyor belt volume flow monitoring and drift detection with infrared

In order to measure the volume of material on conveyor belts, static LiDAR sensors can be used. Their data streams can be leveraged to optimize the flow of materials, which helps optimize the production process. The same technique can also be used to measure the volume of piles of raw material – only here, the sensor is usually mounted on a movable stacker.

Emissions monitoring technologies for cement plants

Monitoring toxic gas and CO2 emissions with CEMS, and particulate emissions with light scattering

Cement industry releases more than 500,000 tons of toxic gasses into the atmosphere on an annual basis. Regulators like the EPA have regularly fined cement producers who have failed to comply with emissions norms. Leading cement producers can now leverage Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to continuously monitor their toxic gas and CO2 emissions, and comply with regulators. Investment into such monitoring techniques can also help them comply with emerging GHG regulations, which are being enforced in more and more geographies by the day.

Cement production also contributes to a significant volume of particulate and fine-dust pollution. To monitor particulate emissions, cement operators can now make use of light scattering techniques. For detecting larger particles, forward scattering should be leveraged.

Final words

IoT and AI-driven monitoring techniques can be used to achieve 3 key end-goals in the cement industry. While equipment condition monitoring is the most straightforward and high-RoI use-case, the use of monitoring in production optimization cannot be ignored either. As more and more regulators pass emissions-related legislations, emissions monitoring will also become crucial.

Cement plant operators should start incorporating this technology into their operating model in an incremental fashion. By using it to reduce maintenance costs through improved equipment lifespan, and achieving better efficiency with production optimization, they will be better equipped to take high-investment steps towards a net-zero cement business. 

Start your journey towards intelligent cement operations and AI-powered equipment monitoring with Uptime AI. Contact now.