From running our cars’ exhaust systems to beautifying our jewellery collections, platinum is a highly prized material, and the process of refining it is highly involved. Anglo American Platinum, the world’s leader in refined platinum, produces approximately 37 per cent of this precious metal.
|Anglo American’s platinum operations benefiting from a new data platform|
Unfortunately, platinum extraction provides very small yields. Out of the 29.7 million tonnes of rock Anglo American Platinum mined in 2017, the company extracted only 78 tonnes of platinum. Each piece of platinum is smaller than a speck of dust – some as small as 5 microns – so efficiency in the refinery process is crucial.
To keep all Anglo American Platinum’s equipment up and running and maintain ingot quality assurance, the company collected operations data manually, which required many man-hours to extract from spreadsheets. After putting together a list of requirements for a new data platform, the company opted to unroll the PI System™ as their digital transformation solution.
The complex dance of resource management
Creating high-purity platinum ingots requires a slow cooling of the metal in gigantic concrete moulds, taking several days and multiple steps.
Warren Armstrong, a Control Technology Specialist for Anglo American Platinum, said that it is crucial to know where the ingots were in the process.
“If you have cast too many, you don’t have any moulds available, and production would potentially stop because you would need to wait for those to go through,” Mr Armstrong explained.
Tracking the ingots in real time was vital for engineers who needed to know the answers to critical equipment life cycle questions: How many ingots were casted into a specific mould? How many ingots must be pulled from moulds on a given day? How many moulds are available for casting? What is the average mould fill?
Additionally, all the company’s equipment requires regular maintenance and eventually, replacement. Managing these assets is a high-stakes endeavour.
“If you mess up in this area, you would have messed up the entire process line for the company,” Mr Armstrong said.
Unfortunately, analysing equipment performance and life cycle wasn’t simple, especially when cross-month comparisons were needed. Mr Armstrong described a familiar situation to many industries: their Excel-based system worked, but “if you wanted to actually find performance metrics, someone would have to dig through multiple Excel sheets and collate the data [manually].”
Real-time equipment and ingot statuses were out of the question. The team needed to find a way to have that information at their fingertips sustainably and integrate that solution with their existing data storage and user needs.
A customisable solution off the shelf
The PI System™, in conjunction with Asset Framework (AF) – a data contextualisation layer of the PI Server – was a perfect fit. Engineers used AF to create a data hierarchy to structure and contextualise the data from ingots and equipment. With AF acting as a digital twin for the plant, the team set up Event Frames to capture critical process events – from casting and cooling to lid removal and crushing.
Engineers gave each life cycle event a start and end time associated with specific equipment to get real-time information about the ingots, ladles, and moulds. They used Event Frame templates, which were easy to set up and replicate and had all the necessary calculations built in.
“It was almost a no brainer to let the Event Frames and Asset Framework do the heavy lifting,” Mr Armstrong said.
“All the end user needs to do is actually enter data.”
Now the team can pull a wide variety of useful searches out of the PI System, from finding out which ingots need to be removed from moulds to chemical information on the contents of each ladle.
The new system was a tremendous success. For the first time, Anglo American Platinum was able to get live information into its manual process, and dramatically reduce the time required for manual data entry. Using existing tools meant less to implement and less to maintain.
“Utilising existing functionality, we estimated that we conserved about 400 hours of development time, because we didn’t have to rebuild. We could just utilise it and build the front end on top of it,” explained Mr Armstrong.
The PI System kept all the data in one place, which allowed users to easily access the information required for critical insights.
Today, the PI System™ is an integral part of Anglo American Platinum’ overall process, from recording furnace pressure events to tracking the efficiency of their trucks.
Over the past few years, Anglo American Platinum has generated over six million Event Frames. They are now looking to upgrade their architecture and visualisation tools, as the PI Web API and other functionality were not available five years ago when they first began to implement their Asset Framework solution.