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To optimise both individual processes and entire process chains we develop tailor-made solutions aiming to improve product quality while increasing energy and resource efficiency. At the same time, we also focus on reducing costs and increasing productivity. Besides improving process regimes, modifying plant and equipment and shortening process chains, and introducing innovative automation concepts, improving the process aids used also contributes to overall optimisation. In steelmaking the work spans the entire process chain from the production of hot metal to the forming processes and through to the finished product.
Process management and process engineering
One of the first steps in any approach is continuous data recording in order to be able to determine the current process regime and its parameters. Intensive data analyses and possibly FEM simulations of the processes then support the drafting of concepts to optimise the different process stages such as hot metal and crude steel production or steel forming and surface treatment.
One example is the targeted adjustment of the surface properties of a product (see project Elotop). The surface of the material can be adjusted to a particular requirements profile by different mechanical (temper rolling, embossing) or chemical (pickling, coating) processes that produce a defined surface finish. Work in the laboratory and industrial trials are supported by topographical and other measurements of the surface to determine its characteristics. The methods used help to identify process errors at the rolling or coating stages.
Many projects focus on optimising the utilisation/maintenance of plant and production equipment. By analysing and assessing individual subsystems in plants it is possible to adapt them as needed when processing new and innovative materials. Corrosion and wear mechanisms in the mills and forming tools are also analysed and targeted measures taken to minimise them. For example, an FEM simulation of the mechanical and thermal influences on the integrity of the work rolls can help to identify areas exposed to particularly high loading, to quantify stresses and to take appropriate measures such as localised application of anti-wear coatings.
Other examples include the optimisation of extraction systems in the steel mill or the development of form-fit bending technology to replace tension levelling, or using a combined tension levelling temper rolling process as a way of shortening the process chain in the rolling mill.
Suppression of dust generation
A large part of the dust emissions generated during iron and steel making are attributable to transport operations and the handling of input and output materials in the sintering lines. The BFI is therefore investigating dust generation mechanisms within the scope of an international research project (see PreventSecDust) and assessing existing dust suppression methods as well as developing new approaches, such as by spraying material with purpose-developed binders.
Automation of processes
In this area, model-based process management and control concepts are developed and implemented online. This includes online monitoring of the current process state and calculation of process variables that cannot be measured continuously. It provides plant operators with additional information on how the treatment process is running. The process is also controlled and regulated by defining pre-calculated model-based set values (see BOFdePhos). The aim is to achieve the process targets reproducibly with the least possible
In the downstream stages, the emphasis is on innovative online-capable control concepts based on the latest findings in system theory. Examples are the cooling section controls in the hot rolling mill, automated optimisation of the pass schedule and roll crowning in cold rolling mills, integrated thickness and flatness controlling in Sendzimir stands, and a coating thickness control in steel coil coating operations.
Process auxiliaries (lubricants, coatings, etc.)
The use of improved process auxiliaries can make a major contribution to enhancing product quality, improving productivity and reducing energy demand. Innovative lubricant and coolant use (see project Rolloilfree) can reduce the required forming energy while enhancing the product quality at the same time. The use of corrosion and wear protection coatings (see HiPerScale, NanoZunKonLub) reduces scrap rates and allows maintenance intervals to be extended. In the laboratory suitable process auxiliaries and consumables are first preselected under near-real conditions and then tested on industrial equipment to demonstrate their fitness for use.
Process optimisation relies to a major extent on the large variety of methods for mathematical modelling of processes and plant. These may be rigorous models (also known as first principal models), e.g. based on coupled differential equations, finite element (FEM) and finite volume (FVM) models, or data-based methods (e.g. statistical models or deep learning methods), or semantic modelling approaches. The most suitable method or combination of methods is selected for each specific case.