Aluminium industry gathers to discuss the impact of Industry 4.0 and smart technology solutions.

The first edition of the Future Aluminium Forum took place in Milan, Italy on 8th & 9th May.

Organised by Quartz Business Media, the event was held in association with Aluminium International Today and consisted of a two-day conference and table top exhibition.

More than 150 delegates from across the globe gathered to hear from technical experts and uncover the myths behind Industry 4.0 and what this means for the manufacturing value chain.

Stefan Koch, Global Lead Metals at SAP SE, presented the Keynote speech, which focused on automating knowledge and use cases for the aluminium industry to go digital.

The message was clear from the beginning; digitalisation is not debatable and asset management in advanced manufacturing requires connectivity, collaboration and cross-industry data, information and knowledge sharing.

Stefan emphasised to delegates that, “digital transformation is a marathon, even though it may start as a sprint.” The industry is already moving into an era of digitalisation, but key areas need to be addressed and these first steps must be taken together in order to stay ahead.

What is Industry 4.0?
The following sessions set about unravelling the origins of the concept and processes the industry can follow in order to successfully implement Industry 4.0 technologies.

Data and what to do with it, was a huge talking point. Dan Miller, Senior Process Consultant at Innoval Technology Ltd made it clear in his presentation that you have to transform data into tangible information in order to get the most out of it. He discussed the need to improve and monitor key parameters in order to prevent disappointing ‘data mining’.

Mark Breeden from HSO seconded the need for accurate data and announced that we are “set for a tsunami of great technology, which is heading our way,” in an engaging presentation. Mark presented ‘HoloLens’ and how it will enable the integration of augmented reality into the factory for manufacturers to use onsite.

Next to take to the stage was Hans Erik Vatne, Chief Technology Officer at Norsk Hydro, who reassured delegates that Industry 4.0 does not necessarily mean “goodbye to knowledge”. In order to approach machine learning in aluminium extrusion, he explained that traditional domain competences must be combined with technology developments.

These thoughts were shared by the following speakers. Hans Peintinger, General Manager, QuinLogic GmbH, presented the importance of correct tracking and data in order to form an educated decision. His presentation included the ‘quote of the morning’, which was: “Garbage in, gives garbage out,” meaning that data quality is essential.

Touching again on the need for knowledge, Roger Feist from Achenbach Buschhütten GmbH & Co KG., said that sometimes human knowledge is the only valid tool for managing risk. This was an interesting point and raised a number of questions on the balance between a human and digital workforce. He went on to introduce a data platform for industrial cloud applications as a way of optimising efficiency.

Smarter safety
By now, delegates had hopefully gained a better understanding of how the industry can begin to approach the looming digital era, but what challenges lie ahead and how can we protect our plants and workers? With data harnessing and management comes cyber security threats and with automation and robotics come new challenges for workers with regards to workplace safety; therefore the next session was designed to look at these areas.

Alexeis Garcia-Perez, a Reader in Cyber Security Management at the Centre of Business Society of Coventry University (UK) told delegates, “It is important to know the risks of manufacturing and the digital landscape so that you can understand and react to confidentiality, integrity and availability.”

This sparked an interesting discussion, as cyber-security and prevention of data hacking will become more relevant as we begin to store and collect information more remotely.

The next presentation from Mary Connie from Coltraco Ultrasonics explained the importance of protecting your assets, with a particular focus on fire safety and a system developed using the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor-to-sensor technology.

Mary revealed to the audience that instead of waiting for annual checks, owners and building managers can now identify any changes to their installed fire suppression system contents in real time and dispatch their servicing or maintenance team as soon as notification is received about a change happening to the installed system. This is now entirely possible through the reliance on recent IoT developments.

The smelter of the future
With smarter technologies already being applied in smelters and the opening of the Karmøy Technology Pilot, it was more than appropriate to dedicate a session to what the smelter of the future will look like and how autonomy can create a safe zone, as well as increase efficiency in aluminium manufacturing.

Claude Vanvoren, President of the AVTAL Association led the panel, which also saw the return of Hans Erik Vatne, alongside Geoff Matthews, Vice President Energia Potior and Maarten Meijer, President of GLAMA Maschinenbau GmbH.

Hans Erik presented the Karmøy Technology Pilot as an example of a smelter of the future and raised the question of whether we are heading towards more of a ‘micro-smelter’ approach in order to achieve maximum efficiency.

Geoff Matthews supported the importance of a sustainability aspect in the smelter of the future and stressed the need for more renewable energy usage. He told delegates, “We are in the age of seeking a low emissions future.”

While, Maarten Meijer brought the element of automation to the forefront and discussed how operators and robots can and should work hand-in-hand to create a more efficient aluminium smelter.

Sustainable technologies
After a night of entertainment at a local restaurant and an open bar, thankfully all delegates were present and correct for the opening of the first session on Day Two.

Jerome Lucaes, Marketing and Sustainability Director at UC Rusal took on the role of Chair and focused on how the latest technology is aiding the move towards a greener aluminium industry.

His presentation showed a new low-carbon aluminium market segment emerging and called upon the industry to pay more attention towards end of life recycling and not recycled content.

David D’Aoust, Sales Manager for PyroGenesis Canada continued the green theme with a process designed for better recovery of aluminium waste and the need to eliminate landfill usage.

Dr Melanie Williams rounded off the session and made an interesting point about how blockchain could play a role in sustainability certification and traceability. Melanie also told delegates: "As European Aluminium said in its comment on the Plastics Strategy, all packaging must be treated equally. However, industry cannot just rely on the EU and consumers, it must play its part as well."

Innovation Hub
European Aluminium played a pivotal role in the early stages of planning the Future Aluminium Forum. It was realised from the beginning that the Forum would provide the perfect platform to present the Innovation Hub, which is a proactive community of innovative companies from across Europe’s aluminium value chain.
The goal is to trigger research projects that advance a sustainable future and tackle technological challenges, thereby advancing the industry’s Sustainability Roadmap to 2025.

The Innovation Hub Session saw Hans Erik Vatne, Serge Despinasse from Fives Aluminium Division, Claudio Pastrone from Instituto Superiore Mario Boella and Christian Leroy, Manager of the Innovation Hub at European Aluminium come together to discuss how digitalisation can boost innovation and sustainability in the aluminium sector, especially through collaborative public-private funded projects and a cross-sectoral approach.

The panel discussion pressed the point that collaboration is crucial for innovation in areas such as safety. Hans Erik Vatne told the audience that he does not believe humans will be replaced by automation, but automation can increase workplace safety and create more interesting jobs by eliminating repetitive tasks.

Training is also the key to safety prevention and the panel agreed that in order to aid digitalisation, staff must be properly trained to fill the skills gap in certain domains. By going digital, it is hoped that the aluminium industry will also become more attractive to a younger workforce.

What does the future look like?
The remaining sessions of Day 2 took a look at products and processes working to help streamline the supply chain and what the future of aluminium manufacturing will look like.

Claudio Goldbach, Business Development Manager at Termica demonstrated a system he had developed, which can allow the furnace to talk to you!

Claudio became known as the ‘Dr Doolittle’ of the industry and his engaging presentation demonstrated digitalisation of heat treatment and was a great example of Industry 4.0 in action in an aluminium manufacturing plant. It was for this reason, that Claudio was announced as the winner of the Innovation Award at the close of the conference.

The Innovation Award is in collaboration with Aluminium International and recognises an innovative product or project from the Forum, deemed to make a difference to a process or optimise production. Congratulations to Claudio on being the first winner!

Networking opportunities
As well as a providing a wealth of content and a stepping stone for the industry to work towards digital production, the Future Aluminium Forum also hosted a number of networking breaks and a delegate dinner.

The breaks were held alongside a dedicated table top exhibition, which saw companies such as ALTEK, QuinLogic GmbH, Innoval Technology Ltd, Achenbach Buschhütten, Ametek Land, Claudius Peters, GHI Hornos Industriales S.L, GLAMA Maschinenbau GmbH, Lintec Europe, PyroGenesis Canada and Thermo Fisher all present their products and processes.

Delegates were able to engage with exhibitors in an informal environment and view the technologies on display, which included Virtual Reality concepts and cloud based applications.

A networking dinner was also held on the first night, which saw more than 100 delegates gather to enjoy the local Italian hospitality in relaxed surroundings.

Closing remarks
One of the most important points to take away from this inaugural event is that the industry needs to work together in order to streamline efficiency and create an environment open to innovation. Companies and even competitors need to support each other, sharing ideas and practices in order to allow us to move seamlessly into a digital age.

The Forum highlighted that Industry 4.0 plays a role in research projects, applications, equipment, processes, efficiency and even the workforce.

Delegates learned how best to collect and store data, the importance of reliable data and its protection against security threats.

It is clear that new technologies are being put in place to prevent risks, increase safety, reduce energy usage and improve the impact of aluminium manufacturing on the environment. However, this integration of new technologies will not happen overnight and delegates expressed their gratitude to the organisers that the Future Aluminium Forum helped to solidify relationships across the value chain and with solution providers; making the industry more prepared than ever to enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution.