Holcim Cement commissions smart cement plants to drive more sustainable business operations

This is the second in a 2-part blog series about smart cement plants. In part 1, I covered the “theory.” In this blog, I’ll share a case study. Let’s provide a refresher on some background.

The challenge: Leveraging data analysis to lower CO2 emissions

smart cement

Heavy industries, like cement manufacturing, are challenged every day by government regulators and consumers to lower their CO2 emissions. According to EY Parthenon, cement manufacturers are responsible for 6% to 9% of global CO2 emissions. Until just recently, efforts by manufacturers to streamline processes, reduce energy consumption, and recycle raw materials were cost prohibitive. But thanks to breakthroughs in digital technologies that now drive smart cement plants, cement industry stakeholders can now quickly and cost-effectively capture and analyze more data than ever before, empowering their staff of equipment operators to save energy and reduce carbon footprints while still maintaining profit margins.

The volume of data drives decisions in smart cement plants

The sheer volume of data being gathered, stored, analyzed, and connected is changing the way that both process and sustainability decisions are made. In this new world order, those who learn to master the nuances of this new relationship between data, analysis, and revenue generation will be the winners. According to McKinsey, applying digitization and sustainability benefits together across the cement industry can increase profit margins by $4 to $9 per tonne of cement.

Holcim, the world’s largest cement maker is a great example of how new smart cement plants are redefining the way cement is being processed and manufactured. Holcim is automating and digitizing its operations through its “Plants of Tomorrow” initiative. This four-year initiative is one of the largest rollouts of Industry 4.0 technologies in the building materials industry. Holcim is targeting a global network of over 270 integrated cement plants and grinding stations across more than 50 countries. The Holcim corporate goal is to increase overall efficiency by 15% to 20%.

Holcim Maroc Meknès smart cement plant serves as a benchmark

These efficiency gains are being achieved by applying smart sensors, big data analysis, remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, and digital twin technologies to core cement manufacturing operations. One of the Holcim plants, the Maroc Meknès plant, is being used as a benchmark site for the adoption and large-scale implementation of digital solutions, including a new condition-based predictive maintenance approach for managing their equipment asset base.

As opposed to traditional reactive and time-based maintenance approaches, predictive or condition-based maintenance uses advanced analytics to mitigate accelerated aging due to usage and challenging environmental conditions and optimizes both productivity and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). In this process, analytical models are used to predict abnormal asset behavior and to enable corrective action long before a problem materializes.

Partnership with Schneider Electric helps drive the change

To achieve production level targets, Holcim worked with Schneider Electric to modernize its production line. A top project priority was to improve the safety of operations and maintenance personnel while increasing reliability and optimizing maintenance resources.

As an initial step, Schneider Electric audited the plant’s electrical installation to help create a modernization plan and to identify obsolescence, safety, and maintenance issues. Over just two weeks, Schneider experts installed approximately 200 smart sensors at the cable, busbar, and circuit breaker connections, and in the switchboards that were being used to monitor environmental humidity.

The data from the sensors were then aggregated using the EcoStruxure™ Asset Advisor software tool. This tool allowed plant personnel to monitor, track, and analyze equipment condition in real-time and to detect anomalies at an early stage. The remote monitoring of equipment conditions has also resulted in improved safety for workers.

The Meknès plant now has direct access to the Schneider Connected Services Hub, a staff of experts who provide 24/7 monitoring, recommendations, and alerts whenever any electrical system issues are detected.

With real-time insights into the condition of their electrical equipment, the staff at the Meknès plant can now detect thermal hot spots in equipment during the early stages and act to avoid unanticipated downtime, thereby increasing business continuity. The predictive maintenance approach also helps prevent premature aging of equipment by identifying high levels of corrosive condensation and pollution when they occur.

Learn how predictive maintenance and digitization can boost your success

Industrial sites like the Holcim Maroc Meknès Plant have successfully transitioned from costly traditional and reactive, time-based maintenance to a more sustainable predictive maintenance approach (watch this video of the Holcim implementation). With the help of Schneider Electric experts, the plant succeeded in improving the safety of personnel while increasing reliability and optimizing maintenance.

To learn more about how modern digitization services can help drive safer and more sustainable operations, download the new Reuters and Schneider Electric white paper “Services in the Age of the IoT.”


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