By NIRMALYA DEB

Focus on steel melt shop efficiency ought to incite investment interest of Indian steel biggies

While technological breakthroughs are inevitable if the steel industry has to chart out a new course at a time when climate concerns and sustainable development have assumed paramount significance, cost considerations are vital in the formulation of technological choices.

And techno-economics, as Cleveland-Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves recently said before the company’s announcement to acquire ArcelorMittal’s US operations, basically hinges on cost efficiency and economies of scale.

In addition, the pandemic has reinforced the industry’s perception that the process of adopting automation and digitalisation – integral pillars of Industry 4.0 – needs to be hastened in order to achieve techno-economic objectives.

And if cost efficiency is the goal, melt shop efficiency needs to be prioritised.

RHI Magnesita, a global leader in refractory products and solutions, has introduced its innovative INTERSTOP® flow control technology for Indian steel-makers as part of the company’s Refractory 4.0 initiative.

The new flow control solutions that include high-end automation and robotics also combine refractory solutions such as ladle to mould and gas purging systems, not to mention additional innovation in the form of robotics and automation.

­Reinhard Ehrengruber, Global Vice-President, RHI Magnesita Interstop, says, “INTERSTOP® flow control solutions are highly innovative offerings which help steel makers improve operating cost efficiency, achieve better metallurgical results with enhanced process performance and improve operational safety standards.”

“Customers worldwide have benefited from these immensely and we are now ready to offer the solutions for the benefits of our customers in India with greater efficiency and thrust,” he informs.

Ladle To Mould Solutions

Among advanced tundish systems like stopper control, monotube changer and tundish slide gates, the INTERSTOP® ladle gate is a high-performance system focused on optimising total cost of ownership as well as safety and ease of operations.

The advanced refractory concept is leading to higher efficiency. The smart handling characteristics enable easy and safe operations and are incorporated within a maintenance-friendly design. The S gate has a positive impact on the overall operating costs and an increased safety standard during handling and operation.

Moreover, the S type gate provides the possibility to perform an “open check”, a feature allowing the personnel in the ladle preparation area to assess the refractory plates more reliably.

Parmod Sagar, President – India, West Asia & Africa, RHI Magnesita, says: “We have been working closely with some of our Indian customers to deploy Refractory 4.0 solutions in their plants. The INTERSTOP® offering is a further addition. With a dedicated regional technical and solutions team, under the newly restructured organisation of ours, we are well prepared to serve our Indian customers in their automation efforts with these modern and innovative flow control technology solutions.”

Gas Purging Systems

RHI Magnesita Interstop experts say inert gas purging systems have a positive impact on metallurgical results. Improved distribution of the temperature as well as alloying elements in the molten metal is the result of the sophisticated gas control box concept.

Here, number, type and arrangement of plugs, flow rate patterns and the kind and quality of purging gases and their regulation have a significant influence on the metallurgical results and customer process.­­­

Automation: Ladle Slide Gate

“The mission of RHI Magnesita is to support our customers in making steel production safe and economical, while complying with the highest quality standards,” says Sagar.

“In order to achieve this goal, RHI Magnesita is following a modular scope of supply, centred around our core business of systems engineering. For ladle gate systems, INTERSTOP® offers solutions at the ladle preparation area and on the continuous casting floor that allow for manual and robotic operations. The full package contains the latest slide gate technology, fully equipped with casting cylinder and media coupling, all being operated by our customised robotic system,” states Sagar.

RHI Magnesita is the leading global supplier of high-grade refractory products, systems and solutions which are indispensable for industrial high-temperature processes exceeding 1,200°C in a wide range of industries, including steel, cement, non-ferrous metals and glass.

With a vertically integrated value chain, from raw materials to refractory products and full performance-based solutions, RHI Magnesita serves customers in nearly all countries around the world, Sagar further informs.

The company has a high level of geographic diversification with more than 13,650 employees in 32 main production sites and more than 70 sales offices around the world.

According to Sagar, “RHI Magnesita intends to leverage its global leadership in terms of revenue, scale, product portfolio and diversified geographic presence to target strategically those countries and regions benefitting from more dynamic economic growth prospects.”

In order to automate processes, the systems or subsystems are required to permit an automated operation as well. Currently, an important contributor, considered in the development of new slide gate systems for the steel industry, is the swift and easy manual operation and handling aspect.

However, an easy manual operation does not necessarily result in an easy-to-automate operation. “For that reason, in new developments specific emphasis is being placed on defining concepts and interfaces that can be adequately operated in automatic mode, while allowing manual operation in case of emergency situations,” clarifies Sagar.­

Automation On CC Floor

The casting floor is one of the areas in a steel plant with high safety concern for operators. Removing people from dangerous areas is the goal. For this reason, a special automated casting cylinder has been developed that is designed to be handled by a robot. The operator is only required to monitor the process from the operating room.

The automated casting cylinder can be installed on INTERSTOP® slide gates by simply replacing the drive unit. A special built-in safety anti-opening device locks the slide gate during the transfer process without external intervention, Sagar informs.

The RHI Magnesita INTERSTOP® MTC-ESP stands for a mono tube changer with integrated safety plate. The safety plate is part of the mechanic and is always in position for emergency close event. For example, MTC-ESP offers to the operators outstanding comfort in terms of minimal manual interventions: no cylinder handling and no handling of a blind plate is required in the event of mono tube change, which results also in reduced presence time of the operator in the harsh caster area. Besides it’s operator friendliness, the MTC-ESP is also ready for robotic change of mono tube.

The system also offers the incorporation of an automated slag detection connector and a gate air cooling. With this development, in a single move, the cylinder and all the utilities are connected and ready to use, reducing the handling time, explains Sagar.

Dwelling on the technological services the company provides to steel-makers, Sagar tells Steel360: “We have expertise in flow control technology. Most big steel plants in India and across the globe have adopted our slide gate mechanism to regulate flow control. We also offer state-of-the-art services in tundish metallurgy. RHI Magnesita already has a strong presence in the long steel segment and we are strengthening our presence in the flat segment. We are evenly spread in the alloy, construction and stainless steel markets.”

“As global refractory leaders,” continued Sagar, “we are in a position to drive positive change in our industry and the industries that rely on us. We offer a complete product and services portfolio for all steel industry processes, ranging from reduction up to reheating furnaces, through steel making and ingot casting. A global sales and service network ensures the best and most reliable service to the industry. From basic and non-basic bricks and mixes, slide gate plates, isostatic products and prefab components to special machinery, mechanisms and repair systems, our products and customised services are delivered to customers worldwide.”

Automation At Ladle Preparation Area

The ladle preparation area is where critical tasks are carried out by operators under very harsh conditions at a steel plant. Heat, dust and time pressure can influence the performance quality, in addition to a constant issue with safety.

INTERSTOP® is working towards the development of a fully automated ladle preparation area.

The basic approach is that human intelligence is used in combination with sensors for diagnostics and robots to carry out the dangerous and heavy tasks. To fulfil this aim, a re-examination of current practices is necessary in several process steps, informed a technical expert from RHI Magnesita.

The company has hosted a series of discussions with Indian steel-makers – its would-be customers – on the new-age flow control solutions that include high-end automation and robotics. More than 100 technical experts from Tata Steel, AM/NS India, JSW, JSPL, SAIL, RINL and others actively participated in those technical discussions conducted online recently.

The major Indian integrated steel makers have evinced interest in the technology, as divulged by sources in RHI Magnesita.­