The right dose of digitalization

The trade show duo Solids and Recycling-Technik provides an important information platform to get bulk solids technology on track for a sustainable and digital future.

When it comes to non-metallic minerals and construction materials, outsiders tend to think about rugged technology, ton-weight loads, lots of noise and dirt. Probably only very few make the association with recycling and sensitive measurement data. But insiders know that there is a lot more behind it all, to recover key raw materials, whether new or after a first use, and to recycle them. Already during removal and comminution, during separation or mixing, storage up to pinpoint processing and supply of the raw and construction materials, numerous data are collected and evaluated. The percentage of recycled raw and construction materials is much higher than one might perhaps expect.

Digital solutions are already in use today, starting from digital surveying at extraction sites to internal inventory management of the finished products. In comparison with other industry sectors, however, the bulk solids industry is still largely at the orientation stage in respect of integrated digitalization of the entire chain, from the customer to order-driven production of finished products. To assert a position in global competition in future, it is becoming increasingly important for companies to utilize the possibilities of networking, data collection and evaluation over the entire process chain. While there is agreement about the necessity to optimize and network process sequences, there is still indecision regarding how and to what extent the digital possibilities can be utilized efficiently and profitably. It is difficult to define in the individual case what information in what way and to what extent should be used efficiently; an increased amount of data does not automatically improve the overall process nor increase the availability of the plant machines and equipment. The means to electronically collect and evaluate numerous data from the customer order over the entire processing to delivery is already available in standalone solutions.

Robustness meets sensitive data

But how can such data be networked and processed to best advantage to make operations more efficient, to save energy and to reduce the burden on people and the environment? Answers to this and many other questions are given by numerous experts on bulk solids technology and its digitalization at the Solids and Recycling-Technik in Dortmund. They are showcasing solutions for mechanical systems to increase their availability by means of digitalization of the equipment and software.

The goal of modern data collection/networking in the bulk solids industry is primarily to safeguard the extraction, processing and supply of products while increasing availability as well as improving processes and lowering energy costs at the same time.

In the non-metallic minerals sector, for example, the requirements to be met by machine equipment and sensors are very high: vibrations, dust, caking are common. At the trade show duo, in talks with the different specialists, the opportunity is available to define suitable machine equipment with higher availability and feedback to meet tomorrow’s special requirements. Experts provide on-site advice in talks on the necessity and extent of potential digitalization in the measurement process, e.g. with the application of appropriate sensors that enable self-monitoring of a plant: What data and information are really important and useful for digitalization?

The noble art of silo technology

In the storage of bulk solids in silos alone, considerable measurement technology is deployed. In the operation of almost all silos and containers, level measurements are performed, either intermittently or continuously, to prevent the silos overfilling or running empty. Here not only the right physical measurement principle is crucial for reliable continuous operation but also the correct installation situation, adapted to the bulk solids itself and the on-site conditions. In the storage of dust-forming bulk solids, the functionality of the filters used for cleaning the pneumatic conveying air is continuously monitored by means of differential pressure measurement to ensure that there is no damage to the material or harm to the operatives. Whether a collection of this data in the scope of digitalization can increase the availability of the deposit, so that one gets from unscheduled maintenance to scheduled maintenance tasks, can be clarified by the trade visitors with the experts in Dortmund. In addition, for silo storage, possibilities are shown to go from inventory on site to an automated inventory management solution that goes beyond the boundaries of one’s own company, reducing order mistakes and freeing up resources.

The silos and their components are designed based on the type and flow properties of the product. It is necessary to prevent discharge problems like bridging or segregation and design the silo so it is sufficiently stable. It is necessary to clarify whether bulk solids harden when they are stored for a relatively long time in the silo and what measures can be taken to combat this. This information is also necessary for the design of the downstream discharge aids and conveyors. Not only in the design of a new silo, for existing silos there is equipment that improves the run-out behaviour of the bulk solids. Here the trade show duo is useful for dialogue with the various system suppliers to find a tailored solution to meet individual requirements.

Asphalt recycling – leading in recycling

A good example of lived sustainability in bulk solids technology is asphalt recycling. For a long time now, more road kilometres are being refurbished than built new in industrial nations. Millions of tonnes of asphalt have been removed, and a large percentage is processed. In Germany alone, more than 85 % of the asphalt removed lands back on the roads, making a big contribution to the conservation of natural resources. It certainly makes a difference how long the asphalt surface has laid on the road before it is removed and sent for recycling. Aging processes change the bitumen contained in the asphalt. This influences material reuse, as does the increased content of fines and filler in the removed asphalt. Storage of the unmixed materials by particle size and bitumen properties is therefore essential for production of high-grade mixes. Especially for the plant technology, the requirements have risen considerably with the increased addition of the recycled material and the existing emissions regulations. The mixing plants are designed for the production of different asphalt qualities and depending on the formulations and plant engineering, different percentages of recycled asphalt can be added.

What starts with cold milling continues with crushing and screening and ends in a modern asphalt mixing plant needs innovation processes and modern technologies. In Dortmund, exhibitors are presenting the latest recycling technologies and size reduction processes. Trade visitors can quickly and easily find out in talks about the latest trends in this sector. Here, the solutions also go beyond the conventional. In their consultations, suppliers take into consideration the integrated production process. In asphalt recycling, for example, besides the main product asphalt, one topic is the availability of combustion materials. Feasible would be, for example, a digital solution for networking with the fuel supplier to enable automatic reordering. This would ensure that the next order would not have to be refused on account of a lack of resources in the secondary product.

The right dose of digitalization

The examples from the world of bulk solids technology show how far digital possibilities are already reaching. A further improvement of the processes in depth appears often costly at the current time. For a company to position itself securely in the global environment with increasing environment requirements, it is therefore important to optimize the interaction of the individual components within the entire process chain. Using digitalization over the breadth to network process stages ideally, give people an overview and reduce the burden on them should be the goal of future change. At Solids and Recycling-Technik, decision-makers in bulk solids technology can share ideas on this and other important topics with specialists in the industry and find viable solutions for their company.

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