The revolution of aluminium industry driven by automation and robotics


Human vs Robotics

The recent research indicates the dramatic degree to which industrial robots are replacing human workers at factories and manufacturing units around the globe. With high speed, super accuracy, and artificial intelligence, industrial robots are able to perform a variety of complex activities that involve sophisticated actions and motion sequences, such as welding, painting, production inspection and many more, to generate higher productivity at a lower cost.

So to say, owing to persistent accuracy and ability to meet high manufacturing quality standards, industrial robotics is grabbing enough industry attention and has become almost indispensable in the manufacturing sector. But despite replacing human workforce, by and large, robotics could not yet devalue it at industries and factories, on contrary to many futuristic forecasts. Rather, what has changed is the distribution of personnel between various business roles.

Robotics in aluminium industry

As the aluminium industry strived to maximise its work efficiency and production, robotics began to play a key role in developing automated systems that could meet the changing requirements with time. Although the foundry sector in general and aluminium die-casting industry, in particular, has seen a slower adoption of Automation and Robotics compared to other manufacturing sectors, yet their contribution to the development of the aluminium industry since the mid-20th century is inescapable.

But before we go ahead with our discussion, it is important to understand a thin line between robotics and automation and their application to different footsteps in the aluminium industry. Robotics is a branch of engineering which incorporates multiple disciplines to design, build, programme and use robotic machines. On the other hand, automation means using computer software, machines or other technology to carry out a task that is otherwise done by a human worker. While automation is used in the entire value chain of aluminium while ensuring enhanced precision in product manufacturing, robotics is used in specific verticals of the industry.

For instance, deflashing, a particular process in aluminium casting industry that involves a lot of manual labour working in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. It consists of removal of all extra material in the casting after the trimming operation. But thanks to Robotic Deflashing of Aluminium Die-castings that comes as a solution for the aluminium industry, helping foundries to achieve better productivity along with consistency in output. It uses a combination of flexible deburring tools, belt grinding tools, gate cutting tools and milling spindles to fulfil a wide variety of process and configuration requirements.

The advantage of such setup is it lessens harzardous conditions for both man and machine caused by high temperature, dust, and fumes. The entire die casting line is automated, which improves the output quality while reducing checking, rejection and rework. Correct selection of application and wise implementation can ensure a Return on Investment of Robotic Deflashing Systems.

STAS: solutions for the aluminium industry

There are a large number of top companies in the world who produce process equipment using robotics to improve production quality. STAS Inc. is one such company specialised in the development, fabrication, and commercialisation of process equipment using robotics and automation for the aluminium industry. Aluminium producers that can benefit from such technologies are found throughout the spectrum of aluminium production, ranging from primary smelter plants down to secondary smelters and including rolling mills and aluminium extruders as well.

STAS offers equipment for five main segments of the aluminium industry.

1)    Smelter technologies that include the STARProbe, the Pot Ramming Machine, and fume hoods to reduce HF emissions, anode positioning systems, anode stub inspection systems and anode butt inspection systems.

2)    Molten metal handling technologies including crucible cleaners, shiphon tube cleaners, and crucible preheating systems.

3)    Casthouse technologies including Aluminium Compact Degasser (ACD), Rotary Flux Injector (RFI), Inert Gas Dross Cooler (IGDC), Treatment of Aluminium in Crucible (TAC), Automatic Crucible Skimmer (ACS) and molten metal filtration systems.

4)    Automation which includes programming, process control, plant support, training, secondment of staff.

5)    Engineering includes feasibility studies, design/detail/installation engineering, project management, safety and ergonomic reviews, design of custom-made equipment, R&D in new technologies, etc.

How TAC works?

TAC is a very effective and proven process for removing alkalis without using chlorine while metal is in the crucible. The process is extremely efficient compared to the traditional in-furnace treatment.

Key features:

  • The process enhances the metal quality while improving metal cleanliness and removing alkali (lithium and sodium) up to 95%.
  • It improves productivity by implementing 10 times faster treatment process and applying adjustable process parameters for product requirements.
  • It ensure safe operating environment with no use of chlorine. It encourages fully automatic cycle and complete recycling of spent AlF3 in cell room operations.

How ACS works?

ACS is an effective process to remove bath and dross from crucibles. When molten metal is siphoned into a crucible, it is possible that some electrolytic bath material is siphoned with it, which is likely to have negative effects on the furnace during the batching process. To prevent this problem, aluminium crucible skimmer (ACS) is used to the TAC operation.

Key features:

  • Removes bath and dross from crucibles effectively.
  • Increases the skimmed surface by 10%, improves metal cleanliness and reduces metal treatment operations in and downstream of the furnace.
  • Improves productivity with less than 4 minutes of treatment time and low operating cost.
  • Cuts human intervention.

The automation and robotics have driven a significant shift to superior quality products and process improvement in the aluminium industry all through its value chain, while cutting down human intervention and errors and enhancing accuracy in processes. Robotics are here to stay, only a proper balance needs to be maintained between manpower and machine.