Autonomous Concrete Plants
We are currently immersed in the fourth industrial revolution, caused by the simultaneous development of enabling technologies that are altering the way in which companies design, produce and distribute their products from the beginning of the production chain.
This revolution affects all industrial sectors, such as textiles or automotive, the latter being considered one of the most advanced, especially with regard to technological advances in autonomous vehicles.
Innovations in the automotive world have been possible thanks to the development and implementation of digital technologies typical of Industry 4.0, which allow greater automation, predictive maintenance, process improvement and, above all, a new level of efficiency and capacity to respond to clients or users that was not traditionally possible in this and other sectors.
However, if the focus is placed on the construction sector in general, and on the concrete production sector in particular, it can be seen that technological advances arrive more slowly, finding a significant technological leap, being equivalent to 20 years of evolution, between this industry and those that are already fully immersed in the fourth industrial revolution.
The design and implementation of Industry 4.0 technology in the field of concrete plants encounters the problem of the low level of technological skills of the machinery operators to be able to operate, even using the most traditional technologies.
As the most advanced, technologies are implemented in plants, albeit slowly, the operator’s knowledge gap will grow and will be a brake on technological advancement in this industry. For this reason, it is necessary that 4.0 technologies are also part of the solution to this problem, allowing automating and assisting the processes that the operator usually carries out, such as planning and production of concrete in plants, as well as those related to the maintenance of installations, as is the case in other industries.
This problem not only occurs at the regional or national level, but is repeated on a global scale, being increased in developing countries, where it is estimated that the growth of the construction sector (and, therefore, of the production of concrete) is higher. This will entail a lack of qualified personnel to carry out all the functions of planter and the need to guarantee that the concrete produced meets quality standards so that the works are durable and safe.
The digitization of concrete production plants provides greater sustainability when consuming raw materials and supplies, which will make it possible to contribute to achieving the circular economy objective. Not only because greater control of the process will lead to a reduction in these consumptions and less influence the environment, but also because it will also allow for the systematic inclusion in production of manufactured concrete that is ultimately not used in the work for which it was intended. . This is how these wastes are valued, being able to use Lean Manufacturing technologies for this.
Collaboration with the UPCT
The path of FRUMECAR and the UPCT in the field of R&D is not new, but they have been collaborating since the year 2000 to research and develop technologies that allow the customer to be given a product or service with added value.
These needs have led the company FRUMECAR and the Grupo de Investigación de Ingeniería Eléctrica y Energías Renovables (UPCT) to set an ambitious goal to ensure that concrete plants can be self-operated based on enabling technologies 4.0. The first objective will be the development of an advanced control system that uses all these enabling technologies: IIoT, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Edge Computing, Cloud Computing and Business Intelligence.
In this way, concrete production is allowed to be carried out autonomously, supervised by a user, and tasks such as maintenance, sustainable production planning and supervision of this are assisted at all times.
In the initial approach of the project, the intelligent control system will be integrated into a platform to which users will have access either as a tool to manage their plants remotely or as a service for FRUMECAR to operate them.
Thus, the opportunity arises for concrete batching plants to evolve towards Industry 4.0, through the intensive use of 4.0 enabling technologies, or KET (Key Enabling Technology) that mitigate the aforementioned problems.
In conclusion, we can affirm the strategic importance of advancing towards the digital transformation of plants for the concrete sector, evolving towards new lines of products and services, in which a new generation of highly automated, sustainable, self-operated plants is developed and unattended, eliminating dependence on factors beyond the control of the company or decision maker.
This new generation of concrete plants will guarantee the correct use of the functionalities that lead to efficient, quality production, with production traceability and respect for the environment, and Frumecar, very aware of this need, intends to be at the forefront of its research and development.
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