The evolution of digital twins is one that we are beginning to see providing valuable business benefits to a range of industries across the globe. The concept of creating a digitised copy of an asset opens endless opportunities for businesses to have around-the-clock monitoring capabilities across a variety of factors, that would otherwise require staff to carry out routine checks throughout the working day.
Multinational conglomerate GE, along with Aluminium of Greece (AOG, a Mytilineos Group subsidiary, signed a 10-year agreement in Dubai to implement the world’s “first-of-their-kind” digital smelter solutions. The project will be executed by a team of engineers and developers based at GE Power’s Digital Smelter Centre of Excellence (COE) in Dubai, while the solutions will be implemented at the AOG site located in Agios Nikolaos, Viotia, Greece.
The aim of the partnership is to enhance AOG’s smelting process by lowering raw materials’ consumption, decreasing energy consumption, and reducing pot leakages. By creating a digital twin of the aluminium plant, the company can consistently monitor a variety of factors in order to maximise productivity, while utilising the solution’s predictive analytics to predict potential issues and reduce downtime.
GE claims that a one percent increase in efficiency of aluminium smelter operations can contribute to annual global savings of $970 million across the total cost of production, US$936 million in output increase, and US$464 million in operations and maintenance costs.
In the GCC region alone, the same one percent increase translates into $28 million in savings on operations and maintenance. Today, the region’s aluminium smelting industry accounts for up to ten percent of the world’s total production.
“A significant part of the world’s aluminium smelters are located in the Gulf GCC region,” said Bhanu Shekhar, chief digital officer, GE Power, Middle East and Africa. “Almost every country in the GCC has invested in smelters, and the sector is a very important part of their industrial strategy – despite the fact that the raw material required for the sector isn’t found in the region, unlike in countries such as China and India. The growth of the industry in the GCC has been facilitated largely by the availability of fuel supplies.”
He continued, “When the aluminium smelting industry faced cost pressures due to the falling global prices of the commodity, different countries responded in different ways. Here in the GCC, our customers focused on energy efficiency and process optimisation. The smelters here are also very advanced and forward-looking, always on the lookout to adopt the latest innovations, including digital industrial solutions.”
It was for these reasons that GE saw it appropriate to develop the COE here in the UAE. The centre is the first of its kind for GE globally, and is taking on projects with worldwide customers.
“By bringing together the strengths of our multi-locational teams and GE Power’s Digital Smelter COE in Dubai, we will collaborate with AOG to create a new chapter in the history of smelting operations,” said Joseph Anis, president and CEO of GE’s Power Services business in the Middle East and Africa.
“As the largest vertically integrated bauxite, alumina and aluminium production and trading unit in the European Union, we are constantly looking at innovative technologies to enhance our performance standards,” said Dimitris Stefanidis, CEO of Aluminium of Greece. “With GE’s digital smelter solutions, we are setting a global first for the aluminium industry that will contribute to our operational efficiency and set new benchmarks in the sector.”
GE has supported AOG’s growth and development over a period of decades, having supplied it with advanced technologies and signing multi-year agreements to cover the maintenance of gas turbines and associated generators.
“Our partnership with AOG dates back to the 1990s, but the company understands the need to digitise if they are to set themselves apart from others in the industry,” said Dr Lana El Chaar, general manager, Middle East and Africa, professional services, GE Power. “When we first decided to move forward with this agreement, we sat with AOG representatives and identified specific KPIs to determine the level of efficiency that we could help them with, and how much downtime we could save them. Predictive analytics have a heavy involvement in this solution, which allows us to notify the company of any potential problems in advance.”
The digital solutions will operate on GE’s cloud platform, ‘Predix’. Virtual sensors will facilitate the ongoing evaluation of parameters such as temperature and chemistry that are not ordinarily monitored continuously. This, in turn, will help to anticipate the health and condition of the pot, providing timely monitoring reports on the operations of the plant.
“We will be able to recreate an actual smelter using artificial intelligence and physics-based models,” Shekhar said. “This is a living digital model that will continuously generate smelter data, and will be a game changer in helping to address the challenges of power usage and the consumption of raw materials in the smelting industry.”