Turning scrap metal into steel requires temperatures that are hotter than the sun’s surface. Modern steelmakers use electric-arc furnaces (EAFs) that reach upward of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit to melt scrap metal, such as old cars or appliances, into molten steel.
This recycling process produces 60 percent of the steel made in the United States.
GrafTech, based in Independence, Ohio, is a major manufacturer of graphite electrodes used to generate heat inside of these blazing furnaces. In addition to producing graphite materials, GrafTech also develops hardware and software systems to help manage thermal processes within EAFs.
One of GrafTech’s proprietary products, the ArchiTech™ furnace productivity system, was designed to help GrafTech and its customers monitor EAF data.
The ArchiTech system is a compact, self-contained product that is easy for customers to install in their EAFs. It collects electrical and programmable logic controller data from EAFs – approximately 100 data tags per customer – via Ethernet integration to help operators troubleshoot issues and spot trends.
GrafTech wanted to improve the reporting capabilities of the ArchiTech system to provide additional support for its customer base.
With better visibility into the EAF, GrafTech could help its customers save time and money associated with furnace maintenance, and electrical inefficiencies.
For the new system, GrafTech knew its customers were hesitant about storing their information on the GrafTech server for accessibility issues.
If the server went down due to lost power or interrupted Internet connectivity, customers would lose access to their furnace data.
In addition, customers were concerned about potential security risks of incoming and outgoing data, and looking for a solution that could easily scale to monitor additional furnaces.
GrafTech needed a secure, out-of-the-box, scalable solution that provided improved visibility into machine operations. The company partnered with Rockwell Automation to incorporate FactoryTalk® VantagePoint® EMI software into GrafTech’s newest version of the ArchiTech system.
“We transitioned to FactoryTalk VantagePoint software using four virtualized servers in the cloud,” said Andy Messineo, ArchiTech technical development manager, GrafTech. “Now we have managed backups with 24-hour monitoring and availability.”
Real-time, server-based alarms notify operators when issues both big and small arise. For example, a voltage drop could affect the electrical balance of the EAF, making the furnace inefficient.
With FactoryTalk VantagePoint software, GrafTech has improved the trending and real-time reporting capabilities of its ArchiTech system.
FactoryTalk VantagePoint software aggregates EAF information and produces real-time dashboards and reports with situational and historical context to help inform decision-making and provide access to the right information at the right time.
“Sometimes the problems uncovered by the ArchiTech system end up being the proverbial needle in a haystack,” said Messineo. “The system allows customers a level of visibility into operations that they haven’t experienced before.”
Operational data is collected via a Microsoft SMTP server and compiled in a Microsoft SQL Server® database.
This allows operators to see alert statistics in real time, as well as overall trend reports that are customizable and dynamic.
The addition of FactoryTalk VantagePoint software into the ArchiTech system has been well-received by GrafTech customers.
The complex EAF data is easily translated and simplified to offer actionable information, helping reduce and control costs. “In addition to troubleshooting, customers can also uncover opportunities to increase productivity, eliminate waste and streamline production.
Our customers have reported estimated financial savings from $100,000 to over $1 million annually with the improved reporting provided through the FactoryTalk solution,” said Messineo.
Remote access to real-time EAF data provides GrafTech engineers the ability to see issues as they happen and to proactively plan for similar furnace issues that could occur in the future.
The GrafTech team can monitor and analyze data pulled from the ArchiTech system and notify the customer of something they might not see on their own. For example, if technicians see a customer’s EAF hydraulic pressure rise out of standard variance, they will contact customer support.
The support team will then notify the customer to look into it, find the root of the specific problem, and fix it. This enables GrafTech to have additional touchpoints for issues the customer may not have even noticed.
With 300 current users, GrafTech has been able to simplify and streamline the installation, configuration and visualization of the ArchiTech manufacturing intelligence solution using cloud-based, FactoryTalk VantagePoint.
FactoryTalk and VantagePoint are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.
ArchiTech is a trademark of GrafTech.