31.03.2021 — Success Story

Voestalpine about their experience with the digital twin

voestalpine, one of Europe’s leading steel producers, runs a fully integrated smelting works in Linz, Austria – with all process stages at the one facility: a coking plant, blast furnace, steelworks, hot and cold rolling mill, galvanising and coil coating. The products supplied by voestalpine are used in the automotive, electrical, cottage and processing industries.

Below is an interview with Herbert Pirklbauer, methods and process engineer at voestalpine, and Roland Bogenhuber, process manager power plant operation at voestalpine.

Mr Pirklbauer, Mr Bogenhuber, you have opted for a training tool in the form of a digital twin, and are a customer of EKu.SIM by way of the steelworks in Linz, Austria. How did this come about?

Voestalpine: It started about ten years ago, when we were planning the latest block-unit power station. As a project team, we were looking for technology that helped us optimally secure our operators’ know-how and thus operate our systems as economically as possible.

And it took that long to find it…?

Voestalpine: Yes, on the one hand, the technology was not as advanced as it is today. The current model quality cannot be compared with the one from back then. On the other hand, our project ten years ago was virtually unaffordable – this, too, has since changed.

So the digital twin is designed for the latest of your block-unit power stations….

Voestalpine: Yes, and it is also our largest block unit, and the most efficient of all six.It has enabled us to significantly increase the amount of power we produce. We are able to meet approx. 75% of the entire Linz facility’s power requirements with our self-generated energy, which is why maintaining and sharing system knowledge, as well as optimising the processes here, is particularly important to us.

So your primary focus is on optimising the energy-generation process?

Voestalpine: Not exclusively. In addition to efficiency, we also always keep an eye on the overall costs we save by using the digital twin. Another of our focuses was to reduce the size of the operating team. In other words, protecting and being able to keep using the knowledge and experience of staff members who leave the company, such as those retiring.

What is, for you, the greatest appeal of digital modelling?

Voestalpine: We find it fascinating how rapidly this technology has developed in recent years. Processes and workflows can be represented in a high degree of detail. And this was critical in our decision to buy a simulator.

The first time we took a look at it in Essen, we were thrilled at how much the simulator was already meeting our expectations. This experienced confirmed to us that we had chosen the right partner for this project.

How exactly can we expect to see digital twins in use?

Voestalpine: Our primary focus is on practising special situations, such as start-ups and shutdowns or failures, securing the resulting operator know-how, and enabling new system operators to use the block unit safely and optimally as quickly as possible. We also believe the information on the simulated system data offers great potential for operating our highly automated system in optimised fashion, and further improving it. This was confirmed to us right in the early phase of implementation when we were able to use individual configured modules almost instantly.

When exactly did the implementation phase start?

Voestalpine: The digital twin was delivered in December 2020. Now, some three months later, implementation is virtually complete. We were advised and assisted the entire time – from handover and installation of add-ons to the acceptance test. Plus, we are in direct contact with the Essen-based experts, who are on hand to answer all our questions.

How did you hear about the Essen-based facility?

We had long known about the simulator centre in Essen – through the training courses our power-plant staff regularly undertake there. That’s also how we know that the experts at the Energy Campus are thoroughly familiar with critical infrastructures in the energy sector – which is of course also thanks to the company’s history and nuclear background. We have total confidence in the Essen team, and have also been impressed by the many top-quality projects the team has successfully completed there. So it wasn’t a huge step to then commission the digital twin through EKu.SIM.

Copyright Bild: voestalpine AG, Quelle: voestalpine.com