Exploring process automation and big data opportunities

A two day GlassTrend seminar held in Munich last September addressed opportunities to increase efficiencies in glass production via the utilisation of enhanced process automation and big data. Glass Worldwide, preferred journal of GlassTrend, was among those in attendance. The full version of this article appears in the November/December issue *.

Exploring process automation and big data opportunities

In excess of 70 international glassmaking specialists and leading suppliers of manufacturing technologies registered for the recent GlassTrend meeting in Munich, Germany, emphasising the importance attributed to the subject. Hosted by Linde AG, the two day seminar attracted GlassTrend members and guests from 10 different countries, including representatives from the float, fibre and container sectors. This was a valuable opportunity to discover that by progressing automation and utilising ‘big data’ effectively, significant production efficiency gains can be realised by glassmakers.

A combination of glassmaking specialists and experts who possess extensive knowledge of other industries presented their views on Industry 4.0, sensors, control systems and other relevant development opportunities. The 15 separate presentations were grouped in sessions devoted to ‘Digitisation in the glass industry’, ‘Sensors in the high temperature process industry’ and ‘Analysis of big data’, followed by an interactive session with break-out groups that evaluated what big data brings to the glass industry.

The theme of this meeting aligned closely with the aims and activities of GlassTrend, whose purpose is to identify the needs and requirements for improved and innovative production technologies and to define and co-ordinate appropriate research and development initiatives. Facilitated by CelSian Glass & Solar BV of Eindhoven, the Netherlands, GlassTrend is an international consortium of industrial glass producers, raw materials suppliers and related industrial partners, operating in the field of glass and glass production. The organisation strives to make basic/fundamental knowledge related to glass science and glass technology accessible for the industry, to derive innovative technologies from this basic knowledge and to find practical and feasible solutions for production and glass quality problems.

Digitisation potential

‘Looking ahead: Join us on the journey to the digital industry’ was the title of a presentation by Tobias Wachtmann of Siemens. As well as discussing successful glass industry projects undertaken by the group to date, Mr Wachtmann emphasised that the prerequisites for digital transformation are foresight, investment sense, expertise, corporate culture, people and partners. Siemens supports that transformation by providing kick-off assessments, digitalisation workshops, consultations and digital expertise. The group’s glass industry customers include Slovenian holloware producer Steklarna Hrstnik, who is working towards the creation of a ‘smart’ factory within five years and float glass cold end equipment specialist Grenzebach Maschinenbau, who worked with Siemens to develop its latest stacker.

TAZ Spiegelau’s Harald Zimmerman emphasised that Industry 4.0 is not a new invention but a different direction, drawing attention to a rapid process that brings a change of paradigm for the glass industry. “The glassmaker with knowhow will increasingly be replaced by process engineers and technicians with ‘know why’” he suggested. Mr Zimmerman discussed some of the glass industry’s process achievements in recent years and opportunities for the future. This includes the use of robots to perform simple jobs, the potential for retooling jobs automatically, automated administrative duties and the use of drones to monitor plant operations.
Braincube founder and CEO, Laurent Laporte identified what glassmakers can expect from an artificial intelligence (AI) project and how to achieve digital transformation. Current industry customers include Ardagh, Guardian, Saint-Gobain and Verallia, as well as inspection and quality control solutions specialist Tiama, with whom a shared vision was created in 2015 to modify production processes. Over the past four years, Tiama has used Braincube software to identify optimisation opportunities that could not be isolated previously from raw data analysis.

Part of the SMS Group, SMS digital, has achieved considerable success in the international metals industry, in particular the steel sector for its Industry 4.0 software solutions. Jesper Mellenthin discussed how the platform economy has been enabling ‘the learning factory’ throughout manufacturing industries in recent years. Such platforms benefit all business partners, including manufacturers (providing easy and cheap access to new services and applications), machine builders (giving better understanding of their machines and new business models), software suppliers (easy access to data and infrastructure) and service suppliers (better access to data, with new business models).
A presentation by Owens Corning’s Bruno Purnode highlighted the benefits of advanced techniques and modelling to improve process efficiencies in glass fibre manufacture. A selection of results was provided to illustrate practical applications of modelling in design and operations. In addition, the development of innovative sensors was discussed, illustrating their importance in providing better process understanding. “We need to integrate new sensor measurements to improve” Bruno Purnode emphasised. “Beware of making conclusions based on bad or untrustworthy data.”

Sensor innovations

Another five papers were devoted to the importance of accurate sensors in high temperature process industries like glassmaking. This included a presentation by Paul Laimbock of ReadOx, who described his company’s development of a disposable oxygen sensor for the continuous measurement of the redox state in glass container forehearths. The measuring principle and technical implementation of this small and economical in-line sensor were summarised, with practical examples of redox control given for emerald, olive and antique green glasses.

Secopta analytics has brought together advanced photonic technologies with the latest development in LIBS spectroscopy for customers in the steel, aluminium and mining industries. Amit Ahsan explained how the company is working with CelSian to bring this advanced technology to the glass industry as well. The system’s enhanced functionality was discussed, as well as its versatile potential areas of application in industrial process control, ‘alloy-to-alloy’ recycling and volumetric flow analysis etc.

A joint presentation by Peter Droegmueller of AMETEK Land and Simpson Combustion and Energy’s Neil Simpson highlighted the development of in-furnace thermal imagery and its application in glass melting furnaces. Case studies in cross- and end-fired regenerative furnaces have shown that flame shape and associated thermal profile for heat transfer can be monitored and used as a combustion optimising and troubleshooting tool. According to the speakers, the integration of long-term data is key to the analysis of flames and batch flow.

Ardagh Group’s Sven-Roger Kahl discussed his company’s use of the CelSian O2 and CO sensor at the Moerdijk glass container factory in the Netherlands over the past three years. According to Mr Kahl, a 1-2% reduction in O2 consumption has been recorded, as well as energy savings. Now, six more sensors have been scheduled for installation on three end-fired furnaces in Dongen.

‘Furnace risk and life monitoring with SmartMelter radar inspections’ was the theme of a paper delivered jointly by Fred Aker of PaneraTech and former Global Furnace Leader at Libbey Glass, Elmer Sperry. Several case studies were covered, showing how SmartMelter technology has assisted Libbey and other glassmakers. Also discussed was Libbey’s approach to merging multiple sensory information, such as SmartMelter refractory thickness data, endoscopy, thermal and visual inspections and maintenance information to make critical furnace repair decisions.

Analysis of big data

The final five presentations were devoted to the analysis of big data, starting with a paper by Linde’s Dexin Luo, describing the company’s launch of a global digitalisation team in 2016 to explore and capture the value of digitalisation for Linde. This team is active in four main areas: Acceleration, transformation, partnerships and replication. Ms Luo identified how this set up has helped to drive Linde’s digital journey, presenting specific projects in the areas of data and process automation.

Hans Mahrenholz of Glass Service summarised the evolution, definition, characteristics, analytics, industrial applications and scope of big data, before focusing on applicable Glass Service products and services. This includes the company’s ESMIII expert system for glass melting and conditioning, which provides better process stability, greater flexibility, enhanced glass quality, lower energy cost and emissions, as well as the need for less labour.

A spin-off from Radboud University in the Netherlands, Machine2Learn specialises in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Ali Bahrramisharif focused on the automated quality control of glass production using artificial intelligence. Using historical glass plant data, approximately 16% of anomalies have been correctly identified that can explain the occurrence of blisters and bubbles in the final output, 24 hours in advance. Root cause analysis has been applied to determine the underlying causes of anomalies and according to Mr Bahrramisharif, the results allow for defining measures to prevent them.

Eurotherm by Schneider Electric’s René Meuleman delivered a pragmatic approach to Industry 4.0, emphasising that while a change of attitude is required within the industry to overcome ongoing energy challenges, the change needs to be justified. “And data is what is needed to provide that justification” he asserted. “Some high end glass manufacturers are already investing a huge amount of money and resources into data analytics because the complexity of their process can no longer do without it. Others will need to follow and we, the suppliers of this technology, have an obligation to keep it pragmatic and at an acceptable price to enable glass manufacturers to remain competitive.”

Wrapping up the third session was Sisecam’s Atilla Ünsal, who provided a glassmaker’s perspective of what is possible with process automation and big data. Mr Ünsal is responsible for Sisecam’s engineering activities, including its implementation of digitalisation strategies. This requires plant-wide automation, as well as next generation IoT sensor developments, for example. His presentation discussed the results of a readiness level assessment in conjunction with potential pitfalls, as well as addressing ongoing real use cases based on actual production data. Examples covered specific equipment energy performance and POC results, based on end-to-end production site data and preliminary analyses. “Industry 4.0 is not an IT project but a collaborative action” he warned fellow glassmakers.

Interactive session

During the concluding interactive session, sub-groups of participants were invited to build arguments on big data and sensor-related statements to convince the voting audience in a plenary discussion. In spite of the progress of big data trends, voters were unconvinced that in 10 years’ time, glass furnaces will be operated completely automatically, without human intervention.

The audience believed strongly that adequate use of big data for improving glass furnace operation and yield requires detailed process knowledge. The glass industry remains attached to CFD modelling, as the audience voted by a large majority against a statement suggesting that big data will make CFD furnace modelling calculation redundant. A lively interactive session, showing green and red cards (for and against the statements raised), concluded a highly interesting seminar.

Dedicated to raw materials, the next GlassTrend seminar has been scheduled for 30 March to 2 April 2020. The event will be hosted in Belgium by Sibelco.

Further Information: 

GlassTrend, Eindhoven, the Netherlands
tel: +31 402 490 100
email: glasstrend@celsian.nl
web: www.glasstrend.nl

* The full version of this article appears in the November/December issue, alongside a series of exclusive interviews with industry figureheads, topical market reports, events round-up and technology updates. Subscribe now to receive the full paper and digital versions (subscribers receive a free copy of the Who’s Who / Annual Review yearbook!).

Click here for our Hot Topics latest news round-up