Metalworkers in primary and precious metal processing plants operate 24/7 in harsh environments where worker safety, the reliability and durability of the systems, and process automation top a long list of priorities. For optimal production, they must closely control the speeds, feeds, controls, additive consumption, labor allocation, and energy consumption of the melting process. A key challenge they face is how to best monitor this process, which is contained within closed metallurgical vessels, typically involves toxic additives and happens at extreme temperatures (steelmaking, for example, is approx. 2,912 °F / 1600 °C). Direct visual observation of a melting process is impossible with modern safety standards. Metalworkers have long relied on a heuristic time-based approach to manage the operation of their furnaces and smelters because there were no means to see precisely what was happening inside.
Metallurgical Sensors Inc. (Metsen) has developed an industrial camera system called the EVCamX to bring direct human observation safely back into the smelting process. This technology helps metalworkers “keep an eye on the fire.” The high-temperature-rated vision system keeps workers out of harm’s way and provides a direct line of sight into an extreme environment that is not physically accessible. Now operators can watch the effects as oxidizing or reducing agents are introduced into the process and make precise adjustments to achieve their desired results.
They can react rapidly to changing situations discerned from continuous close-up observation of reactions inside the smelter instead of relying on guesswork. In the steel industry, for example, downtime can cost upwards of $10,000 per hour — seconds count. If enhanced vision can shave 15 seconds off a critical process, over $100K can be saved each month by not having to slow down the machines (realizing a production increase of 1.4%).
Other industries that also have very noxious encapsulated environments such as petrochemical, aggregates, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical would benefit significantly from the integration of this technology to safely monitor their processes.
Designed from in-depth metallurgical experience
The EVCamX design, a unique composite of copper and stainless-steel, evolved from years of practical experience in the metals industry and in-depth knowledge of physics and metallurgy. Most noteworthy is the protective technology designed into the camera’s optics to keep it clean. The ultra-high thermal conductivity of the materials combined with a proprietary gas-cooling rocket-nozzle design protects the camera viewport from being fouled by the molten splash and debris that regularly defeat conventional high-temperature camera systems. The near-supersonic flow of industrial gas or air creates an almost impenetrable barrier to protect the optics.
The second purpose of the protective technology is to keep the camera system cool. All high-temperature camera work requires a cooling system. Once smelting operations start, the furnaces typically run continuously for weeks or months at extremely high temperatures without shutting down. The structures surrounding the furnace become heat soaked, up to 575 °F (300 °C), which is hazardous to workers.
Water can also be used as secondary cooling in environments where air-cooling alone is insufficient. This additional water cooling ensures the camera and its components remain safe for human touch during any maintenance.
The EVCamX system features high-definition optical camera sensors and can be customized with optional LiDAR profilers, spectrometers, and a variety of thermal measurement devices. The system is designed to be a platform for synchronized multi-sensor fusion for advanced monitoring and control of applications in extremely harsh environments.
Imagery helps accelerate process improvements
The camera system is supported by a software and imaging package that can be fully integrated into the operator’s processes and information systems to provide real-time data for better decision-making and optimized production. It can be customized to meet an operator’s specific needs. It also includes a database historical viewer that continuously-archives the digital imagery streams, the customer’s level-1 and level-2 data, and any other custom ancillary sub-systems such as acoustic and vibration data to provide an innovative means of synchronized process visualization.
The EVCamX has helped minimize risk and protect workers. Images and data collected by the system allow managers to study and understand high-temperature processes like never before and make modifications that keep people safe while enabling plants to function with optimum efficiency. The camera system also supports an operator’s commitment to reduce pollution and energy consumption. If the images and data collected reveal that the work can be performed more efficiently, the operator can choose to consume the same amount of energy and produce more product or reduce energy consumption to meet operational and environmental needs.
Choosing the right visualization system for use in extremely harsh and high-temperature production environments requires careful consideration. A solution that can run for an extended period with no adverse effect on the furnace or smelter requires technology with process engineering knowledge built into its design. It should also be constructed in suitable, durable materials, supported by a software and imaging package, and backed by a service agreement to ensure optimal system performance, care, and maintenance throughout the product lifecycle.