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Smart factories: the future of the aluminum industry

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By Mr. Naveen Mehta

Smart factories or intelligent factories are the future of a sustainable world, and one of its most vital elements in this journey is the role of engineered aluminum. Having a different combination of modern technologies, a smart factory strives to create a hyper-flexible and self-adaptive manufacturing capability to produce materials essential for human progress. It attempts to develop new forms of efficiency and flexibility by connecting different processes, information flows and stakeholders in a streamlined way to build a better future – a future where value-added aluminum products will play an even greater role. in creating engineering machines and solving challenges in a carbon constrained world.

Introduction to Industry 4.0:

After the computerization of all processes and the establishment of digital activities in industries in the late 1990s marked the beginning of the Third Industrial Revolution, we are now moving towards Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Revolution Industrial. In the aluminum industry, worldwide, this refers to the concept of factories in which machines are complemented by wireless connectivity, sensors, artificial intelligence and, in all possibilities, connected to a improved system capable of making decisions and operating intelligently.

Although digitization is rapidly becoming an integral part of factories, the changes brought about by new technologies in metal production are not yet fully realized in the metal industry. Digitization, the basic framework of Industry 4.0, includes interconnectivity, automation and robotics, machine learning, real-time data, industrial Internet of Things, smart manufacturing and augmented reality , many of which are still in their early stages of implementation. However, some major players in aluminum have moved from carriers to transformers. By introducing breakthrough technologies, they have already implemented some framework elements and are slowly moving towards creating futuristic state-of-the-art manufacturing plants, making smart factories a reality in time.

Smart factories, the way forward:

As the aluminum industry is fundamental to a country’s growth, companies are reinventing themselves to meet changing socio-economic standards. Faced with the challenges of a volatile economy, environmental concerns, and stricter safety and carbon regulations, this energy-intensive sector is improving its efficiency and productivity by making smart use of the data and information available in its plant. And at the same time, it provides better safety and crucial environmental sustainability for the future generation.

The industry as it is:

Although many companies are still gathering information on digitization or developing a strategy, major players in the sector are already deploying Industry 4.0 applications in production, R&D, distribution, logistics and Supply Chain. In addition, state-of-the-art technologies are applied in production control, machine networking and production processes. Simultaneously, companies are connecting with partners on mobile devices and through cloud computing. However, in the aluminum industry, which includes alumina refining to aluminum smelting and various downstream processes and recycling, the meaning of digitization and automation is slightly different.

An overview of smart factories:

The digital production process and control system in an aluminum factory revolves around a computer system so that the entire process can be effectively monitored, analyzed and optimized in real time. This also includes facilitating smooth operations, maintenance and better error diagnosis. Automation and robotics technologies are gone
to a level where daily tasks can now be carried out in a high-risk, high-temperature area without any human intervention. On the one hand, manufacturing units make extensive use of robotics in the construction of ingot bundles; on the other hand, automatic guided vehicles (AGV) are now part of potrooms and foundries. Next comes the Industrial Internet of Things, which uses
sensors and actuators to improve all manufacturing and industrial processes. Last but not least is AI, which enables a computer program to act intelligently like a human brain. Yet, at a nascent stage, AI is poised to transform the aluminum industry by keeping tabs on energy consumption and more.

In conclusion:

Looking at the previous revolutionary developments in manufacturing from its inception until today, it is noticeable that the period between these revolutions has shrunk considerably and we are taking rapid steps towards a sustainable future. Therefore, industry players need to reassess their production process and strategize for their operations under comprehensive digital engagements as digital manufacturing is the future. And if there’s a sector that can’t afford
to take a back seat in this transformational change is the aluminum industry.

(The author is President of Operations at Jindal Aluminum. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited.)