Industrial automation has changed the face of global aluminium industry. From optimizing power conversion systems and re-tuning engineered power utility interfaces to equipping plants with cutting-edge statistical quality control systems, leading automation providers have helped the otherwise energy-intensive industry address its power consumption issues more effectively while ensuring enhanced precision in product manufacturing. With the increased use of mechanized equipment and logical programming commands human error in decision making and manual command-response activities has been reduced to the lowest. Be it in primary aluminium production or in extrusions manufacturing or 3D printing with aluminium, automation has added a whole new dimension to the lightmetal engineering.
Following are the top ten automation companies that stand to rewrite the growth story for aluminium industry in the next five years:
(Please note the list is dynamic and not based on market share or sales as the companies mentioned here have highly differentiated product portfolios, and each of them caters to a different segment of aluminium industry value chain with minimal overlap).
1. ABB: The automation company provides tailored distributed control solutions that use real-time data – enabling constant monitoring and analysis of aluminium smelting process and energy for improved asset availability. ABB’s distributed control solutions provide easy access through a single point of entry to the power supply, process, production, quality and business information systems. The company also offers a complete range of instrumentation products for the primary aluminium industry, such as hydrogen analysers, inclusion analysers, melt cleanliness analysers, as well as inclusion identification and quantification analysers.
ABB’s offerings for the aluminium industry include:
- Automation control and architecture
- Motors & drives
- Optimization and information management
- Electromagnetic stirring for aluminium furnaces
2. Allen Bradley: The holding group of Rockwell Automation and Rockwell Software, Allen Bradley is a noted provider of both software and the mechanical part of automation used in manufacturing. In September 2016, Rockwell Automation acquired Automation Control Products (ACP), a supplier of centralised thin client, remote desktop and server management software. The group’s key products include energy monitoring devices, programmable controllers, sensors and switches, power supplies and circuit and load protection systems.
In recent times, Rockwell Automation has worked in collaboration with NHP Electrical Engineering to design and deliver a machining cell solution for a client in the aluminium extrusion industry. The solution developed encompasses an industry first robotic CNC system that delivers the flexibility to efficiently process small batch orders without compromising on quality. The company has also recently worked in partnership to undertake a hugely significant migration project for Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C. (Alba).
3. Siemens: Siemens is the world’s one-stop leader of automation technology products engineered and manufactured for all industrial sectors. Its subsidiary company Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) provides the decisive components needed to optimize companywide processes. TIA offers a unique range of products and systems that deliver end-to-end solutions, and comprise the core technology capabilities for the manufacturing and processing industry.
Of the latest aluminium industry projects, Hydro Aluminium AS’ climate-friendly, energy-efficient aluminium smelting plant in Norway’s Karmøy peninsula deserves a special mention. Siemens is supplying a VB1 high-current switchgear with vacuum switching technology and the high-current supply unit for production. Measuring 34 meters long with 26 switchgear panels, it will be the longest high-current and generator switchgear ever built by Siemens. This type of system protects equipment such as generators and transformers from overvoltage and short-circuits.
4. Fanuc: The Japanese automation leader Fanuc offers the most complete range of industry-leading products and services for robotics, CNC systems, and factory automation solutions. Its key aluminium manufacturing solutions include Fanuc Control 4 Axis Milling machine with CNC, FANUC CNC 5-axis milling machines, die cast robots, aluminium welding robots such as FANUC / Servo Robot Welding Aluminum, FANUC PaintMate industrial robots, Fanuc Robodrill T14i HPC Fräsen Aluminium etc.
The Japanese industrial robot maker boasts very strong financials. As per data released by the company for October-December 2016 period, demand for industrial robots looks robust. As manufacturers ramp up investment for factory automation, Fanuc’s sales seem to be trending upward, particularly for products sold to the auto industry, in China and the U.S. Currently, Fanuc controls more than half of the global market for CNC systems and looks to boost sales in industrial robots, where it has only a 20% share.
5. Areva: A French multinational group, Areva specializes in nuclear power and renewable energy. The company offers technological solutions for CO2-free energy. Aluminium smelting which has been long grappling with energy savings and harmful gas emission issues has found in Areva a great automation provider. The company’s mining business combines operations related to aluminium ore exploration, extraction, processing and reclamation of sites as well.
6. Mitsubishi: The world leader in electric systems manufacturing, Mitsubishi Electric offers cutting-edge mechanical automation for the aluminium industry. Its aluminium frame induction motor is highly relied on by the industry players. The motor is produced with high-tech die-casting injection technology. The motor is lighter weight and smaller size with great performance.
Mitsubishi’s India automation business has been clocking a 30-40% growth rate over the years and is one of the fastest growing segments for the company. Makoto Kitai, managing director, Mitsubishi Electric India Private Ltd, recently said in a press release that India is an important emerging market for the company. Mitsubishi Electric’s consolidated group turnover was around $39.3 billion in FY14. By 2020, the target is to touch $ 50 billion in consolidated revenues.
7. Fuji: Located in Singapore, Fuji Automation is one of the major suppliers and distributors for automation and control related products. Its product portfolio features some of the most powerful alarm, monitoring and control systems used in the aluminium industry.
8. Schneider Electric: The Mining Metals and Minerals automation division of this German company helps aluminium industry players achieve process and energy efficiency and beyond. The solutions ensure sustainable development, improve worker safety, and enhance product manufacturing precision thereby maximizing output, revenue and margins. The technology and best practices help aluminium producers, fabricators and recyclers exceed their environmental performance by reducing CO2 and other harmful gas emission levels. Schneider also provides water management systems, energy management and sustainability solutions, migration-modernization and retrofit services, turnkey projects and smart crane control systems for the new-age manufacturing.
9. Camozzi: Since 1964, Camozzi has been involved in Pneumatic Automation, designing and manufacturing increasingly sophisticated components, utilizing air to generate motion. Its complete range of automation comprises single components and integrated mechtronic solutions designed to ensure the highest quality and reliability. The company has evolved on a strong groundwork of innovation. The manufacturing process is vertically integrated and all major operations are carried out internally.
Camozzi’s complete range of pneumatic components used in the field of industrial automation includes:
- Pneumatic actuators (cylinders, slide units, rotary cylinders, grippers)
- Valves (directly-operated valves, pneumatically-operated valves, mechanically-operated valves, manually-operated valves and automatic valves, valves for special applications)
- Flow regulators, filters, pressure regulators and lubricators
- Fittings and accessories
- Vacuum components
10. Kuka: The German company is a specialist in the field of robotics and automation technology. With its wide selection of robots, KUKA covers virtually all payload ranges and robot types, and sets standards in the field of human-robot collaboration (HRC). KUKA has been manufacturing industrial robots for more than 40 years. Today, it offers a wide product range for various industries and tailor-made automation solutions. Some of the key aluminium industry automation solutions include:
- Heat, dirt and water-resistant robots
- Cleanroom versions
- Palletizing robots
- Welding robots
- Press-to-press robots
- High-accuracy robots
The company also supplies controllers, software and a broad range of services for Arc welding and many other welding processes, machine tools industry, and foundry and forging industry.