Data and digital tools are key to managing performance in these areas at Ternium. Below is an overview of some of the company’s most innovative projects.
The steel industry is at the forefront of technological and management developments aimed at guaranteeing a continuous improvement in processes, product quality, efficiency, and productivity, as well as pioneering efforts to improve environmental and safety management.
The most recent developments, led by Ternium's Systems, Automation, and Control teams are moving in the direction of improving performance in these areas as they have a strategic impact on sustainability.
The following are six examples of projects which were recently launched at Ternium's main plants, highlighting the use of innovative technologies such as video analytics, artificial intelligence, drones, and virtual reality.
1) Transparency in environmental control
In 2019 alone, Ternium invested USD 120 million in projects to improve the company’s performance in environmental protection, safety, and energy use, in particular by modernizing its facilities as detailed in the company's 2019 Sustainability Report.
Launched in June 2020, the Environmental Monitoring Center at the Rio de Janeiro plant in Brazil is equipped with the latest technology to control and manage environmental data and indicators.
The facilities have 12 professional high-definition screens making up a video-wall, allowing environmental analysts to split up activities, such as the real-time analysis and management of the 74 parameters defining the quality of gaseous emissions from the plant’s 15 chimneys. They can also analyze and manage air quality parameters as displayed by the monitoring stations, and observe images captured by the four cameras monitoring fugitive emissions, in addition to the constant monitoring of process variables to control the quantity and quality of effluents. The screens and the extensive CCTV system allow the team to observe the entire plant and its surroundings in detail.
This data is evaluated 24/7 and performance data is continuously and automatically shared with the local Environmental Authority.
“The environment is a priority on our long-term agenda. Our plant is a key referent for technology and we are focusing our effort on ensuring that we develop the same standards when it comes to environmental care, employing state of the art equipment and systems,” explains Marcelo Chara, President of Ternium Brazil.
2) Emissions and back-trajectory modeling
Under normal conditions, smoke emissions from the direct reduction of iron and scrap metal fusion processes in electric arc furnaces are contained by the fume and dust extraction systems. However, in certain conditions, this can lead to emissions being released into the atmosphere, otherwise known as "fugitive emissions".
To monitor these emissions, an online tool was implemented at the Guerrero plant in Monterrey (Mexico), to autonomously detect and associate them with different possible stages in the process. The program processes the videos from the cameras installed on the periphery of the steel mill and uses mathematical algorithms to detect and classify fugitive emissions, taking into account duration, opacity levels, and the area covered by the emission.
This is integrated with a second system developed by Ternium that uses the metadata created by the emission event to correlate it with the process variables and operating conditions in the plant. In other words, it reproduces the event in order to analyze it and identify its root cause. The data set acquired from the videos and the process itself are presented on a descriptive-analytical dashboard, whose purpose is to help the Environment, Operations, and Process teams manage the processes more efficiently.
Another aspect concerns how potential sources of polluting particles arising from the context are identified using back-trajectory models. This is particularly useful in those areas where there are various sources and it becomes necessary to identify the contribution made by each one. At the Guerrero plant, a method for determining the potential sources of particles such as PM2.5 and PM10 was implemented using heat maps built on the basis of a non-parametric back-trajectory model, designed to analyze and manage the impact in the installation’s area of influence.
3) SIASSO: information and prevention
The Integrated System of Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health (SIASSO, for its acronym in Spanish) consolidates the main management indicators related to events (deviations and incidents) in these areas. Available to more than 10,000 users across the company, the system was relaunched in 2019 and adapted for mobile devices, such as those employed by supervisors and leaders on their plant tours, inspections, and talks with personnel.
SIASSO is connected to the Human Resources database and accesses information provided by both own personnel and contractors, which is processed in order to automatically and transparently create accident frequency indexes.
The tools on the platform allow the main risk factors or environmental aspects to be identified in each plant or area and subsequently develop actions to prevent them. The range of improvements undertaken has also helped to standardize processes on the basis of existing risks and their causes. The way behavioral regulations are generated was also automated to apply to personnel involved in relevant events, in particular when the cause is related to an issue of attitude or the breach of internal regulations.
“This tool is unique in the industry, as it is able to integrate data acquired from all plants and use it to provide detailed information about every event occurring. The information assembled is used for the purposes of verification and allows plant leaders to focus on those areas where it is necessary to reinforce safety and environmental protection behaviors in their areas,” highlights Alejandro Jacobsen, Safety Director at Ternium.
The recent redesign of the tool allows events with the potential for serious or fatal injury to be classified into exposure categories, using control checks to prevent accidents. Another improvement was the integration of a dashboard to measure the percentage indicators for serious or fatal injuries, as well as spills or other environmental incidents in each region, and in each plant or zone of the production process. This means that specific fronts can be identified as a focus for each kind of preventive activity.
Advances in digitalization, in this case, have unified investigation methodologies concerning relevant risk events as part of an initiative to help identify their causes and prevent future accidents.
4) Video Analytics
The video analytics system in place throughout Ternium locations involves a network of over 500 high-definition cameras. This technology allows data to be captured and processed using both images and videos.
In addition to its use for quality control and product traceability processes, it also helps to monitor work areas and detect situations of risk for workers in real-time.
The system works with artificial intelligence and was trained to identify specific events using algorithms developed in Ternium. It can detect risks such as moving vehicles and proximity to suspended loads, among others. For example, if a worker is near, or has entered, a restricted area or that could represent a risk, the image is captured and an alert issued to a supervisor.
“This is a concrete example of the value of applied technology being used to achieve significant improvements in the business process, a central concept in the development of our Digital Transformation Process," says Roberto Demidchuk, CIO of Ternium.
“The tool is key to consolidating safety leadership, as the supervisor can talk to their group about the risks detected and work on modifying behaviors. It’s also very useful when it comes to investigating and analyzing events,” adds Adriana Ramírez, Security and Central Hygiene manager.
Following the coronavirus emergency, the camera system was trained using algorithms to measure whether the distance between people is at least 1.5 meters and to detect whether face masks are being used. If these preventive measures are not followed, the system issues an alert to allow managers to take the relevant measures to avoid contagion in the workplace. The information is added to data generated by thermal imaging cameras, capable of detecting people who are running a fever, which were installed at the entrances to the plants.
5) Drone inspection
Plants require periodic maintenance activities and there are significant risks involved in inspecting the roofs of the manufacturing facilities to check the integrity of structures and drainage channels, for example.
Drones - Unmanned aerial vehicles - mean that inspections can be carried out at Ternium's plants in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina to check on works affecting areas such as the environment, confined spaces, structure shielding and protection, and central maintenance. These activities originally required several groups of workers to build temporary scaffolding and work at height, thus entailing significant exposure to risk, something which is now in the past.
The ability to integrate various data sources, such as images captured during drone inspections and the structural plans of inspection routes for critical facilities, for example, allow both preventive and corrective actions to be planned for the future.
6) Virtual Reality: learning without risks
Prevention begins with training. By applying virtual reality technology to training, plant workers can learn much of what is necessary for their tasks and acquire the ability to size up risks without actually exposing themselves to them.
Simulators reproduce risk perception situations at the steelworks and service centers, as well as in situations involving electrical safety, fire prevention, metallurgy, and electric furnace and crane operations.
Training is very similar to a video game, and using virtual reality makes it feasible to walk through a plant and be able to correctly identify the dangers of certain accidents occurring. For crane operators, for example, this technology allows them to manually operate the controls and learn to move large tons of parts in a safe and controlled environment.
Virtual reality has also played a leading role in communication and security awareness activities. The Security area issues a monthly video with a 3D recreation of a recent accident at a specific plant to explore its causes and portray the good practices needed to avoid this kind of incident.
“The main thing we are trying to show with these animated videos is the right and wrong behaviors, in particular the behavior that we want people to adopt, which is very different from the actions which cause accidents. This is part of an effort to create a cultural change in terms of safety,” closes Alejandro Jacobsen.