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Automatic Efficiency

Published by , Deputy Editor
World Cement,

Laurent Delade, IBITEK, explains how an end-to-end automated truck and dispatch flow management solution has helped optimise and increase the efficiency of the Aliénor Ciments grinding plant.

Just as automation became an essential part of industry in the 1970s, Industry 4.0 is now pushing industrial businesses to consider smart solutions as they re-think their production models. Without a global automation system, it seems hard to imagine that a modern production site would ever be able to receive and dispatch the millions of tons of product they process each year. In the same way, Industry 4.0 is a part of the response which will allow industrial businesses to maintain their agility and performance in today’s highly competitive business environment.

Figure 1. The Aliénor Ciments plant has been operational since the second half of 2018, and has a production capacity of 240 000 tpy.

For a solution to become an effective tool it must be open and connected in such a way that it can integrate fully with the increasingly complex and globalised information systems of today.

IBITEK recently deployed its end to end truck and dispatch flow management solution at the grinding plant of Aliénor Ciments, part of the Cem’In’Eu Group. It handles everything from sales data to the automated loading systems as well as generating the necessary administrative documents. IBITruck has been in place since 2018; it optimises and increases plant efficiency and even made it possible to continue dispatches during the strict coronavirus lockdown situation. The current public health crisis has made certain business activities much more complicated. Industry 4.0 and the arrival of digitalisation are responses that can make progress possible even in the face of such uncertainty.

The Aliénor Ciments site deployment

In 2018, Cem’in’Eu decided to establish its grinding plants near to end client locations. The combination of 25 years of experience and an accumulation of electricity, automation and IT skills facilitated IBITEK’s proposition, which was to implement complete solutions, and concentrated on increasing on-site staff productivity and profitability.

The Aliénor Ciments plant was constructed on a site owned by the Group in Tonneins (Lot and Garonne) and is connected to the railway network by its own private branch-line. It supplies all of the markets of the Greater South West of France (Grand Sud-Ouest) – ‘Nouvelle Aquitaine’ and ‘Occitanie’.

Load better, quicker, safer

Since the implementation of the IBITruck solution, the average time on the site (from the arrival of the truck until the exit at the gate) necessary to load 25 t of bulk cement has been reduced to 20 minutes. With a more conventional solution, the average time varies from 40 minutes to a number of hours during busy periods or when attribution errors require the physical intervention of the logistics team.

To achieve this, IBITruck needed to be easy to use for everyone involved, and able to link up all of the site’s different machines and systems. Vital to a perfectly operational automation system are ergonomics and staff/driver training. By developing simple, intuitive interfaces, the risk of operator error was reduced to a minimum. The IBITruck system manages 98% of bulk dispatch without error, and drivers can load rapidly and autonomously as and when they need to, since the site operates 24 hours a day, six days a week. This kind of agility is much appreciated by clients, who can receive deliveries to meet their own constraints, and for transporters in terms of logistics (loading times, driver rest periods, etc.).

Figure 2. Driver control panel for independent bulk loading.

Third party declaration and registration, truck/trailer registration management, weighing management, reading and writing ERP data security, inventory and sales management, and lading and administrative document generation and backup are tasks which take time and do not generate profit if they have to be done by hand. IBITruck’s connectivity allows logistics staff to concentrate on their real work: dispatch chain performance and client service quality. The driver terminal system (Figure 2) at the Aliénor grinding plant not only handles bulk loading but also palletised shipments of bags. This type of flow is completely different to the bulk one due to different client typologies and transport issues. A truck can be used for more than one product or client to make delivery rounds more efficient.

But here the IBITruck solution optimises this type of loading due to its connectivity and modular architecture. It assists the driver who can validate that the right product has been loaded onto the right truck in real-time and then corroborate the theoretical load weight with the actual load weight. The multi-zone loading also allows for the loading and managing of several trucks simultaneously. Finally, a recent development to the system optimises truck loading, reducing transport costs and maximising load efficiency.

IBITruck’s automation can include a number of different bulk and palletised raw material dispatch and delivery scenarios. It does this by interfacing with the IT systems and existing installations to load better, more quickly and more safely.

Modular integration

A number of different operating modules are necessary to make up a completely automated solution. They are all interdependent, which means that the IBITruck solution can be adapted to each site’s individual requirements. This modular approach makes the system entirely flexible and the investment involved agile.

IBITruck can include these operating modules:

  • Site access management.
  • Parking and waiting/allocation time management.
  • Weighbridge reading management.
  • Bulk loading.
  • Pallet loading.
  • Document generation.

An ERP link-up with two-way communication and real-time data security.

Some modules can be custom developed which means that the solution does not have to operate in a rigid and closed way. It is, furthermore, the scalability of the system which encouraged the Cem’In’Eu Group to deploy other IBITruck systems, maintaining a shared operating core with specific developments to suit the needs of each individual site.

Whilst IBITEK has been working with the cement industry for almost 15 years, its solutions can also be adapted and opened up to other sectors, such as mineral extraction or the lime, glass or paper industries, or any other domain which has to manage the reception and delivery flows of finished or semi-finished products which must be fully traceable once they leave the factory.

Technological compatibility

Different technologies can be used depending on the complexity of the site and the flows to be handled. At the Aliénor’s Ciments site the main motivation was to maintain a simple and agile system with a reduced environmental impact. QR code technology was selected for truck and loading sequence identification where at more complex sites (more than one entrance/exit, complete transformation lines) IBITruck provides controls access with RFID badges and OCR cameras. This QR code is unique and is used throughout the loading process, allowing for the hard or soft copy generation of a delivery slip.

The choice of system architecture is based on balancing the critical importance of the loading system with the investment cost. The IBITruck software structure can be integrated into a 100% cloud version, reducing hardware costs and able to remain operational, to a limited degree, in the event of a system failure. This is a useful option for medium priority installations without their own internal IT departments.

The Aliénor site has its own server which guarantees local and off-line operation whilst also physically separating the industrial network on which IBITruck interfaces with the hardware and the internet.


The Aliénor Ciments case demonstrates that Industry 4.0 could lead towards the emergence of the totally autonomous factory. The IBITruck solution demonstrates that these various functions are largely concentrated on the interests of the user, reducing time-consuming tasks and minimising error. Using smart and connected tools, clients can increase the profitability of their industrial processes.

It is easy to measure and quantify the return on investment of a flow management solution. The most direct identifiable statistic is the number of loading operations completed in a day.

But other indicators such as the application of safety rules, customer satisfaction (error rate), time spent on-site, traceability and anticipated detection to optimise loading operations (GVWR excess, detecting unused max. vehicle load, etc.) have all contributed to an increased profitability of about 20%. During the strict COVID-19 lockdown period, the site remained operational and all of its dispatches were processed contact-free which led to gains in market share, visibility and reputation.

About the author

Laurent Delade is a Business Developer at IBITEK Marseille, specialising in connected solutions for the industry.

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