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Online support service meets new market demands

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World Cement,

Optimising cement plant productivity is high on the agenda of today’s cement producers. Facing greater competition and tighter margins, cement producers are increasingly focused on improving their operational capabilities with minimal investments. Lack of availability of qualified resources is a significant barrier to improvement – a problem compounded by the remoteness of many cement plants. But even for plants closer to highly populated areas, producers need to deal with the issue of staffing up with qualified personnel as well as getting fast assistance from specialists when things do go wrong.

For the Kjøpsvik cement plant in Nordland, Norway, the remoteness of its location brings special challenges. The 0.5 million tpy plant is the northern-most cement plant in the world, operating inside the Arctic Circle at 68° North. It is owned by Norcem AS, Norway’s sole producer of cement and part of HeidelbergCement, itself the second-largest global cement producer in the world.

Being so remote, Norcem Kjøpsvik can face challenges in sourcing external specialists and contractors specialised in various disciplines, according to Plant Manager Klaus Hvassing:

“In the event of breakdowns or other critical incidents, it can take several days – or longer – to get onsite assistance. We were therefore looking for a way to ensure we could optimise productivity while also minimising production costs.”

Outsourcing plant control

The cement plant control room is a crucial function of the cement plant, as it is where all operations are monitored and controlled. Via an array of screens hooked up to every piece of equipment in the plant, operators can monitor all aspects of the cement production process. Traditionally, the control room is located onsite, which has demanded the presence of a team of qualified staff. But with today’s internet-based communications technologies, it doesn’t necessarily need to be located onsite, which is presenting new opportunities for cement plant owners.

Not only can the control room be located anywhere in the world, but it does not need to be run by the cement plant owner itself; the function can be outsourced.  

Norcem Kjøpsvik Plant Manager Klaus Hvassing believes that online support services will play an increasingly important role in the cement production industry:

“With the tremendous improvements in communication capacities, we are seeing remote online services being used in more and more industries, so why shouldn’t we be able to take advantage of this when running a cement plant? We need to keep looking for more efficient ways of operating our plant, and getting real-time access to a pool of highly skilled experts who can monitor the same production parameters and indicators as our own cement control room operators offers many advantages.”

He believes the advantages are particularly significant for large plants running at high capacity and fully sold out, where even a small improvement in run factor will have a huge impact on bottom line. What it requires, however, is a service supplier with the right setup and skills to provide owners the assurance that their operations will be monitored as if by their own team. In fact, this setup will actually boost control room capabilities by ensuring access to a full range of highly specialised engineers for any given situation.

Global network of specialists

With its huge amount of specialist expertise available around the world covering all aspects of cement production, FLSmidth is the first to meet the growing need for this type of outsourcing service to the global cement industry.

FLSmidth has provided this service to the Kjøpsvik plant in Norway from its operations centre in Chennai, India. Here, operators monitor and diagnose the plant in real time through an online operational support system. This allows them to advise Kjøpsvik’s operators and production and maintenance engineers on daily improvements and emergency trouble-shooting issues.

When an issue arises, the FLSmidth operator identifies and discusses it with Kjøpsvik’s local plant management, together deciding on a course of action. At the same time, the operator can call upon specialists within FLSmidth’s international network – from wherever they are in the world – to address a specific issue. Often, the issue can be solved by the specialists from afar working together with the plant operator; only in the most critical or extreme circumstances would it be necessary for them to travel to Kjøpsvik.

Continuous improvement

Teamwork and trust are crucial elements of the long-distance relationship. In addition to regular online meetings between the FLSmidth’s team in Chennai and Kjøpsvik plant management, FLSmidth provides regular reports and feedback about any aspect of plant operations.

Jens Vinther Nørgaard, Project Manager at FLSmidth, explains that ‘continuous improvement’ is top of mind in FLSmidth’s support package. He says:

“We like to take a proactive approach, meaning that our online support team looks for any opportunity to improve any aspect of plant operations. We then suggest our ideas to Kjøpsvik plant management and discuss possible solutions.”

In one instance, FLSmidth identified potential issues with a key part of the plant, the ‘vertical raw mill’.

“We saw a problem with the setup of the mill internals, which was affecting its production and operation stability. We discussed this with the customer and together agreed on how to address the issue. We then helped make the necessary adjustments to the configuration of the equipment, which resulted in a much better performing mill.”

Plant Manager Klaus Hvassing observes with great satisfaction that because of the improvements on Norcem Kjøpsvik’s raw mill, the previous challenges of raw meal quality and quantities now seems to be history: “Not only did this improve the operation of the mill, it also allowed our team to focus on other areas of plant productivity, which has a positive spin-off effect. We learned a lot from the discussions with the FLSmidth team, and as a result, our own capabilities have improved. I believe this will have a long-term sustainable impact on the way we run the plant.”

Thanks to the successful contribution to Norcem Kjøpsvik’s operations, HeidelbergCement sees great potential in FLSmidth’s online support service. Akhilesh Gupta, Director Global HTC (Heidelberg Technology Centre) says, “HeidelbergCement is keen to extend this service to other remote plants, such as our African locations, based on the value addition and cost benefit analysis.”

Greater stability through uncertain times

In addition to providing FLSmidth’s customers with operational and cost-reduction benefits, this online support service answers an important need in the market. At a time when capital investments are limited, cement plant owners are increasingly focused on getting maximum value from their current installed base. Traditionally, this has not been a primary focus area in the cement industry. Now, however, there is a stronger demand for services that help operators achieve continuous improvement in their operations. They are also focused on minimising the environmental impact of their operations, in particular, gaseous emissions, and improving all aspects of employee safety and well-being.

Through the online support service, FLSmidth is leading the cement production industry in helping plant owners to address these needs. The demand for this type of approach can be seen in the growth of FLSmidth’s service business, which grew by 24 percent in revenues in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter in 2015. It means offering an unprecedented level of customer intimacy, while allowing the customer instantaneous access to everything they need to continually improve any aspect of their operations.

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