The Future Aluminium Forum opened its two-day online event on Wednesday 1st December with over 200 attendees. The event provided its delegates with a detailed platform which contained a full conference program, exhibition centre, networking centre, resources and more.

Opened by Nadine Bloxsome, Programme Director and Head Editor of the Aluminium International Today magazine, she noted that the digital event hopefully marks the end of the hardships presented by COVID-19 as there is hope of holding the event live and in person in 2022.

The first presentation of the conference was given by the keynote speaker André Barten, President and CEO of Achenbach Buschhütten GmbH &Co. KG. Representing the company, which was founded in 1452, Mr Barten discussed the steps the company take towards a more productive, efficient production. Introducing the ‘Green, Lean, Digital’ concept, he stated that by ‘saving emissions [you in turn] save resources and save money.’ This concept was followed by data analysis proving, as an example, that a faster rolling speed is more productive as it uses less energy, less time, whilst producing more material with lower Carbon footprint. Mr Barten also introduced listeners to the companies Optilink Systems which is designed to optimise production as previously discussed.

Following Mr Barten were two Hatch speakers, Thessy Moodley, Regional Director – Digital AEM and Daniel Richard, Subject Matter Expert – Aluminium processing. Discussing the role of Artificial intelligence in the new Hatch Blast Furnace Digital Twin and its potential in other areas. The two focused on the integration of intelligent technology from a cellular level through to the end product, analysing data collected to better understand the changes and its effects.

After a Networking break, where delegates were able to interact from across the globe – from Turkey to Norway, Singapore, Austria and Dorset, Johann Reps, Global Technology Manger for Digital Innovation, Connected Worker and Automation, spoke on behalf of Alcoa. Starting off with an introduction to the company, which has 25 manufacturing facilities globally and employs around 14,000 people, Mr Reps introduced listeners to the importance digitalisation when connecting the global company. Mr Reps presented his audience with an example of how Industry 4.0 is also essential to optimising humans in the production line, and how it is designed to improve human performance rather than replace it.

Next was Fives representative Sébastian Gauguier, CEO of Fives Aluminium sector. Mr Gauguier discussed the digital tools designed by Fives. With these digital tools and implementations, Mr Gauguier stated that the ‘digital solutions allow for factual data-based designs.’ Fives’ digital tools aim to provide a tailored design for each customer, where their products are ‘personalised in response to our deep understanding of our costumers’ needs’, Mr Gauguier explained.

Hans Erik Vatne, Chief Technology Officer and Interim head of Battery Technology at Norsk Hydro, presented next on the’ Digital experiences in Hydro.’ Discussing three key categories of Industry 4.0: Automation, Digital Twins and Creating Value from Data. Automisation covered the successes and targets for the automisation of practices and robotisation. One example presented by Hydro was their ‘digital maintenance toolbox which improved the lifespan and reduced the risk for workers’. Moving onto the Digital twins, Mr Vatne emphasised the importance of hybrid intelligence: Using both automated and human knowledge as previously noted by Johann Reps. Mr Vatne stated, ‘data science is not the solution to everything, we need a combination of artificial intelligence with our own human competence’.

To conclude day one of the Future Aluminium Forum, Jonathan Silvestre, Systems Engineer at AVEVA spoke on ‘How a Data Platform Powers Digital Transformation in the Aluminium Industry’. Mr Silvestre stated that, from research on aluminium producers, ‘looking forward, 74% of respondents believe that a Data Platform, AI and Machine Learning will have the biggest impact in the next 12 months… but this will come with challenges.’ Using digital transformation, AVEVA presents a method of digital transformation where it requires the ‘consolidation and organisation of data to allow advanced analytics and visualisation’. With this, a data platform can become available where it can be analysed and integrated. Mr Silvestre emphasises that the digital transformation of the industry is a journey.

Opening the second day of the event was Juliana Bruwer, Solution Management and Sustainability Expert, Mills Products and Mining Industry Business Unit at SAP. Ms Bruwer quoted SPA CEO Christian Klein that, despite the industries infamous contribution to global emissions, ‘together as intelligent enterprises, we can turn the worlds biggest challenge into our greatest opportunities.’ SAP aims to assist companies with end-to-end sustainability using digitalisation and technology to utilise the best of the industry. One example being the evaluation of global recourse shortages using digital analytics and connecting the world to bridge any gaps and create transparency. Ms Brewer went on to explain the ‘3 zero’ approach taken by SAP, whereby all aspects of sustainability are considered.

Moving on, Craig Phasey, solutions from EnergyFlex, presented on ‘Dynamic Control for Carbon Neutral Industries.’ In his presentation he discussed the benefits of Variable energy Systems. Mr Phasey cover several topics mentioning the benefits of a Hybrid Twin (also noted by Mr Vatne), and the use of digital operations which, he states ‘[provides] operators with what did happen, is happening and what will happen’. Mr Phasey went onto emphasise that the adoption of variable energy is key to the aluminium industries transition to sustainability. ‘Green aluminium will underpin renewable energy’’

Speaking next was David D’Aoust from PyroGenesis. He began his presentation with a global overview on the climate crisis and emission levels, his figures stated that the industry sector contributes to 21% of global emission, which he believes PyroGenesis can reduce as a part of their ‘ethical duty.’ Having presented previously at the Future of Furnace event which took place in September 2021; Mr D’Aoust discussed the benefits of the company’s product, the plasma torch. Next he discussed PyroGenesis aim to assist the industries move to a closed loop production, including Dross into the production line. To conclude, Mr D’Aoust summarised that the industry must decarbonise primary and secondary production of aluminium and eliminate waste stream landfills.

After a brief networking break, where there were over 60 delegates online and interacting, Polina Gurnane, data analyst and Hilbrand Kuiken, CEO for Quantillion gave their presentation on ‘implementing Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) with Quantillion’s Traffic Management System (TMS): Automated Anode Transport.’ Quantillion aims to ‘connect all assets of a plant into a unified dynamic data system and implement intelligent algorithms over the systems using AI.’ A key issue that they deal with, for example, is safety of workers. Replacing people with technology reduces health and safety risks dramatically. This, however, creates a secondary issue of a barrier between humans and understanding the technology efficiently. ‘With technology improving, humans are unable to analyse data’, meaning the technological solutions are not long term. This is where Quantillion bring TMS. With TMS, AGVs can be integrated withing the system whist also being presented in a way understandable to humans. Quantillion enables ‘collaborative intelligence’ between humans and AI.

Following the two Quantillion speakers was Thore Hauptmann, Key Account Director, Visavi. Presenting the audience with Visavi’s solution to improving a company’s operational efficiency, Mr Hauptmann introduced the digital tool designed to improve human performance. With the use of the digital tool, clients found a ’25% increase in tool time’ and a ‘utilisation of 30% increase in floor staff’ as well as an ‘increase of plan attainment by 80%.’ Mr Hauptmann stated that Visavi ‘aim to present the whole picture, to use the resources available to their full extent.’ The tool is designed to make plans realistic, tackling issues in real time by the intervention of digital technology and smart systems. The system provides a solution, prioritising optimising resources to operate smarted and meet requirements.

‘Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future’ – Niels Bohr.

Gunther Schober, Sales Manager at PSI Metals Non-Ferrous, started his presentation on ‘predicting the future is a matter of trust’ quoting Niels Bohr, Nobel Laureate in Physics. Looking at the complexities of prediction when looking at the stages of aluminium production, Mr Schober states that machine learning is the key to resolving the complexity of prediction. Using ‘machine learning interpretability’ where the acquisition of data is then revalued and retrained to explore defects. However, reiterating a common theme across the forum, ‘we do not trust data we do not understand.’ With this in mind, PSI have ensures a detailed breakdown of predictions to allow communication between intelligent software and humans.

The penultimate presentation of the event was presented by speaker Steffen Zendler, Asset Performance Management for Metals at Rockwell Automation. Mr Zendler presented a tool designed to bridge the gap between the automated technology and human intelligence, regarding a more efficient outlook on the maintenance of machinery. ‘Maintenance cost takes between 10-15% of a total production cost’, but with the use of digitalisation provided by Rockwell automation these costs can be reduced. The Reliability- Centred Maintenance (RCM) tool is designed to monitor the performance of machinery, to ensure ultimate optimisation and efficiency. By implementing ‘predictive and protective actions’ companies can optimise and prevent run to failure of their technology.

Closing the event was surprise speaker Mark Bumford, Sales Director at RiA Cast House. Discussing the benefits of an in- furnace camera, first implemented by RiA Cast house in 2014, which was designed to ‘remove operators from risky stages of the melting process.’ From this safety concept, the camera has become an integral piece enabling the transition to an Industry 4.0 production. Developing the cameras from just giving an image, now paired with Furnace Monitoring Systems they can measure, create data, and respond to data by completing tasks, without risk to humans.

The Future Aluminium Forum provided the industry with a platform to keep connected. Using technology to keep us connected during the difficult times presented by Covid- 19; we can now hope for a brighter future, where we hold in-person conferences and where the technology enabling the transition to Industry 4.0 production develops further. Together we can make the future possible.

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