Bridging the gap to a digital future

Bridging the gap to a digital future
22 May 2020

Cemtech hosted a live webinar this week to explore how cement producers could best approach the digital transformation of cement plants.

The ideal speaker to explain some of the challenges that they would need to overcome was Titan's Group Engineering & Technology Executive Director, Fokion Tasoulas. Over the past three years, Titan has been setting up a digital platform for its entire group, including its network of 14 cement plants, spanning 10 countries and five continents. The company's senior management viewed digital transformation as an opportunity to work with the more than 1TB of data generated by each of its plants every year, using big data analysis to improve its decision-making.

What do you want from Industry 4.0?
Titan's senior management began the process by trying to understand how Industry 4.0 could impact the cement sector. They agreed that, while it was not yet disrupting the cement sector, it could bring significant operational efficiencies to their business and make them more competitive.

Industry 4.0 meant using real-time data from cement plants, customers, logistics, planning, sales and suppliers. From this pool of big data, Titan could build tools using artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive new levels of plant performance in new areas, such as predictive maintenance and asset optimisation, data-driven demand forecasting, as well as its real-time customer experience. Other areas  included optimising its fleet monitoring, inventory and supply network systems.

Mr Tasoulas said, "We wanted a whole value chain, from supplier to customer, integrated within the real-time data platform.

"Our vison was to be fully-sensored, web-connected with predictive maintenance and self-optimisation," continued Mr Tasoulas.

The digital transformation would need to take in dynamic, real-time and transparent anaylsis for the whole supply chain. Titan wanted to make data-based decisions more analytical and make the organisation paperless. "This would need the best in-house teams and new capabilities of support," added Mr Tasoulas.

How to approach the digital transformation
Titan organised their approach in two ways. It would be a test-and-learn approach. The company would experiment with small groups of people working on pilots to verify and implement their requirements in five or six weeks, and then build digital capabilities and infrastructures around this. The next phase would be to scale up and roll out the pilot projects to capture the impact across all plant areas and to align it with Titan’s existing strategy.

After 18 months, the company had rolled out several successful digital pilots, including:
• asset optimisation trialled at Titan’s plants in Brazil, Kosovo and US 

• asset failure prediction/remote monitoring centre trialled in North Macedonia, Egypt, USA and Bulgaria
• customer app in Brazil, USA and North Macedonia
• BIM in USA, Egypt and Greece
• supply chain network modelling in Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and USA
• spare parts inventory optimisation carried out in USA and Greece.

From this test-and-learn approach, Titan has seen 8-10 per cent productivity improvements in asset optimisation machine learning, a three per cent reduction in logistic costs and a 8-10 per cent improvement in equipment maintenance failure prediction (with an annual saving of US$1m). BIM now has 6D dimensions incorporated on future projects.

Basic infrastructure requirements
To achieve these successes, Titan needed to upgrade its infrastructure, connectivity and data management platform. It upgraded all its sensors at every plant four years ago. Laboratory and sensor data can now be fed to the company’s SCADA servers and then to the Cloud, where data can be downloaded for real-time reporting and analytical machine learning.

The upgrades included a comprehensive cybersecurity plan to connect plants’ process control networks with the corporate network and the outside world.

The company has learned much since the project started, and Mr Tasoulas stressed the need for starting the digital transformation as early as possible, because digital tools need large historical data sets from sensors, as well as appropriate connectivity, storage and other capabilities.

"Moreover, analytics capability is required on a different scale," said Mr Tasoulas. "Results also come from combining complementary skill sets." Titan required a combination of domain experts, data analysts and agents of change to realise each project. "If you only have technical expertise it is not enough to succeed," added Mr Tasoulas.

Digital transformation – the new normal
Mr Tasoulas concluded that the digital transformation will be the new normal after COVID-19. "There will be a lot of requests for improvements on efficiencies and effectiveness of our plants and cost reduction. So, we need to work in different ways to accelerate the way in which we use technology," he explained.

Furthermore, he argued, cement companies also need to attract non-traditional partnerships outside the business for a successful digital transformation. They need OEMs looking to develop solutions, consultants with new service lines, start-ups with their own algorithms and academics wanting to try pilot projects in the real world.

The plan now is to roll out and scale up the successful pilot projects. Titan is also working on a pipeline of new digital pilots to predict energy and alternative fuels prices, help lower supplier prices and to establish e-learning and virtual reality tools.

The next Cemtech Live Webinar takes place on Wednesday, 3 June. Register today.

Published under Cement News