We live in an era of unprecedented technological innovation. Digital technologies manage almost every aspect of our modern lives; the very air is permeated with radio and microwaves transmitting huge amounts of information; a run-of-the-mill smartphone gives the user access to almost the sum-total of human knowledge via the internet and puts them in reach of any of the 5.13 billion other people around the planet with such a device.
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One of the underlying themes of the digital age has been its close adherence to Moore’s Law. In 1965, Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel Corp., accurately predicted that the number of transistors it would be possible to place in a square inch of integrated circuit would double every 12 months – the upshot being a rapid increase in computing power. In recent years, the pace has slowed to doubling every 18 months as manufacturers grapple with the laws of physics and attempt to produce transistors on the single-digit nanometre scale. But the advances over the last 59 years have been dramatic. To put things in perspective, the first integrated circuit (circa 1960) held 10 transistors; today’s high-end chips can hold as many as 10 billion.
Where might the next big leap come from, then? The answer appears to be the decidedly science-fiction sounding field of quantum computing. Quantum computing uses various quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as ‘superposition’ and ‘entanglement’ to perform calculations beyond the capabilities of currently-available machines. I won’t risk butchering the science any further by trying (and failing) to explain exactly how quantum computing works, but according to a recently leaked paper from Google, we might be on the dawn of the quantum revolution. The paper claimed that a quantum processor had completed a calculation in 200 seconds, which would have taken a conventional super-computer 10 000 years.
Whilst quantum computing is unlikely to see any practical use for a while (it remains prohibitively complicated and expensive), various industries are undergoing their own digital revolutions, cement included.
This issue of World Cement features several examples of the cement industry’s own digital transition: BinMaster (pp. 33 – 38) explains how new sensors and software are making inventory measurement in piles, silos, and bunkers easier. ABB (pp. 64 – 68) reviews a new process control system that allows for improved operational efficiency. And Kespry (pp. 83 – 86) explains how drones and data analytics are modernising mine planning.
Speaking of all things digital, if you haven’t already done so, make sure to sign up to World Cement’s Optimisation 2019 online conference (www.worldcement.com/optimisation), featuring content from Siemens, Gebr. Pfieffer, BEUMER Group, and more!