Producers of aluminum semi-finished products (aluminum semis) counter existing overcapacities with high-quality products and efficient processes. Aluminum works that have been relying on sophisticated rolled or extruded products made with the aid of most modern equipment are enjoying very good utilization rates and continuously investing in capacity expansions and modernization of their plants. Producing light–and high–quality aluminum products for use in automotive construction and the aerospace or packaging industries requires profound knowledge of the complex production processes involved with special focus on precision and efficiency and, last but not least, on the right plant technology.
SMS group has been a leading equipment supplier and partner to the aluminum industry for decades. The company’s portfolio covers the entire process chain from the production of rolled and extruded products to special machinery for finished products. The successful merger of the former business areas SMS Meer and SMS Siemag under the roof of SMS group will contribute to further sharpen the company’s profile as integrated systems supplier. Being the Head of Aluminum Business within this new organization, Michael Schäfer who has been in charge of aluminum rolling mills, assumes additional tasks as central contact partner to the customers in the aluminum industry. Thanks to the cooperation with further responsible persons and specialists in his team, a comprehensive product portfolio for aluminium can be offered and professional expertise combined according to the customers requirements. This permits the right solutions for the customers needs to be found much faster.
The overarching view of the process routes opens up new possibilities for improving interfaces and developing new overall solutions. There are promising ideas and approaches available which will be advanced jointly with the customers. The strength of SMS group in the field of aluminum lies in individual solutions that incorporate the company’s special process knowledge. This knowledge is applied not only to designing new plants but also when services are performed or equipment is modernized.
As life-cycle partners, the aluminum experts of SMS group apply their know-how to the benefit of the customer. Through specific measures they help achieve significant competitive advantages in a demanding market environment. This applies to the whole product portfolio: plants and units for melting and casting works, hot and cold rolling mills including strip processing lines, continuous casters, forging plants – all plants built by the SMS group feature added values and unique selling points.
One such example is the SMS group X-Pact® electrical and automation system. Proven modules of the automation and electrical system were specifically tailored to the requirements of aluminium production in hot and cold rolling processes which led to the development of AluControl®. The automation solutions are optimized during the Plug & Work procedure in the test field prior to commissioning, and future operating staff is trained on the original equipment. The heart of Plug& Work is to visualize and simulate complex processes and procedures in the rolling mill in real time.
A further strength of SMS group is the adequate conceptual design and implementation of storage and logistics systems for aluminium rolling mills. One of the products included in the range of AMOVA, which emerged from SMS Logistiksysteme GmbH, is high-bay storage systems with dynamic coil cooling. A central store management system controls the complete coil logistics and provides intelligent connection to all production facilities involved in the process.
Aluminium has a brilliant future. The light-weight material offers impressive solutions for sustainable mobility, durable packaging or urban construction projects. SMS group sees its task in generating plants for the fabrication of aluminium products that stand out by high energy efficiency and excellent product quality. As key supplier to ALCOA Inc., SMS group established a most modern, two-stand aluminium cold tandem mill near Knoxville, U.S.A. This new cold rolling mill is part of the automotive growth project of ALCOA. The purpose behind the expansion is to produce wide aluminium plates to be used for light-weight car body applications.
Also to satisfy the rising demand of the North American automotive industry for aluminium car body parts, Aleris Inc. placed an order with SMS group for the supply of a single-stand sixhigh aluminium cold rolling mill enabling large-scale extension of its works at the U.S. site Lewisport in the federal state of Kentucky. As of 2017, the new plant will produce premiumquality strips with a width of up to 2,350 millimeters.
SMS group and Aleris have been enjoying a long-standing and trustful partnership. For the Aleris works in Koblenz, Germany, the aluminium experts of SMS group performed one of the most spectacular modernizations by replacing the existing 148“ plate mill by a new 160“ stand within merely 20 days. Before, SMS group had installed the new drive train within a conversion period of just 18 days. To carry out the conversion within a minimum of time, the complete stand was erected near the existing rolling line and tested in shadow mode. The new stand enabled Aleris to enhance its product range by thicker and wider plates for the aircraft industry.
To SMS group, size alone is not a value in itself. Hence, manufacturing one of the largest extrusion presses worldwide was not primarily a question of setting a record, but of achieving a particular competitive edge for the customer due to the size of the profiles. For the Chinese Jilin Liyuan Aluminium Company, SMS group manufactured a 160-MN extrusion press which is the largest state-of-the-art frontloading extrusion press around the globe. This press is designed to produce profiles featuring widths of up to 900 millimeters and lengths of more than 50 meters. Owing to the enormous profile widths, wagon construction, for example, can be done with less welding and stability is increased at lower weight. This, too, is an important contribution to sustainable mobilityOne major project of SMS group is the establishment of a new works complex of the joint venture Ma’aden and Alcoa in Saudi Arabia for the production of aluminium strips. All core components, including electrical and automation systems, were supplied by SMS group.
The package comprised a 1+4 aluminium hot rolling mill, a four-stand tandem cold rolling mill, a single-stand cold rolling mill as well as a combined heat treatment and chemical coating line for automotive plates. This plant configuration offers Ma’aden Aluminium great flexibility in production: hot rolling mill and and tandem mill produce strips for can bodies and can ends. High-quality automotive grades are made on the hot rolling mill, the single-stand cold rolling mill; then they are processed in the heat treatment and coating lines. AMAG Austria Metall AG (AMAG) in Austria and the Chinese company Tianjin Zhongwang Aluminium Co., Ltd., contracted SMS group to supply all core components for their new aluminium rolling mills. For information on these major projects concerning the progress of erection and commissioning please refer to the respective separate reports in this issue.
Only about five percent of the energy required to produce primary aluminium are needed in the recycling process for aluminium remelting. SMS group puts the focus on optimized recycling processes. With its Ecomelt furnaces, the SMS group’s subsidiary Hertwich Engineering is setting new standards.
Ecomelt furnaces are able to melt both clean and contaminated aluminium scrap with minimum metal loss. Franz Niedermair, CEO of Hertwich Engineering, says: “Even if the aluminium scrap is tainted with oil or color, this will not present a problem as the furnace will burn all impurities. We use the energy thus released to minimize the demand for natural gas. This way, the plant user benefits twice.” Also a double advantage is enjoyed by those plant users who operate HybrEx® extrusion presses from SMS group. Depending on the application, it is possible to achieve energy savings of up to 55 percent and to increase production by up to 20 percent. HybrEx® extrusion presses thus meet the stringent ecoplants criteria that characterize the economically and, at the same time, ecologically convincing solutions of SMS group.
In contrast to conventional presses, the hydraulic system is almost exclusively used for the extrusion process. The secondary movements of the HybrEx® extrusion press are generated by dynamic, electrical servo drives that achieve twice the speed of previous concepts and thus shorten non-productive times and increase productivity. Hence, the reduced hydraulic drive requires a distinctly lower tank volume, and that means a HybrEx ® has a smaller footprint compared to other machine types. Thanks to a new type of pumps for extrusion presses, additional measures to prevent sound emissions are not necessary.
SMS group, in cooperation with the American aluminium producer Golden Aluminum Inc., has started the innovation project NEXCAST which is targeted to advance the proven block caster for casting aluminium strip. Based on the motto “faster, wider, more flexible” the aim is to produce rolled products in most modern dimensions and even more efficiently. Similar to SMS group’s CSP® technology that revolutionized the production of hot steel strip, NEXCAST is a combined casting and rolling process in a minimill. The liquid aluminium is cast to strip shape and immediately rolled. So, all the steps required in a conventional process such as the production and processing of ingots, including sawing, grinding, heating and pre-rolling, can be dispensed with. In addition to significant CAPEX savings due to the omission of complete production facilities, NEXCAST reduces the production costs of aluminium hot strip.
The NEXCAST minimill is particularly suited for businesses with low or medium output and also for serving local markets. The Golden Aluminum partner will contribute to the project its many years of experience as a successful minimill operator. The company’s international customer base in the packaging and automotive industries appreciates the product quality, the high degree of flexibility and the short delivery times that Golden Aluminum is able to meet due to its casting/ rolling plant.
At an early stage already, SMS group has set the course for safeguarding the future. In-house automation solutions for its plants and machinery have been well established for decades. The advantages offered by digitalization are considered already in the stages of plant design and process optimization, for instance by using highly sophisticated applications of virtual reality.
Digitalization / Industry 4.0 presents further potential of making the production process more intelligent. The individual steps of the value added chains are networked via digital platforms. Large volumes of measurement data are automatically analyzed and used for cross-process control as well as prospective planning. The Product Quality Analyzer (PQA) developed by SMS group permanently records and evaluates quality-relevant data and allows the operator to react to any irregularities in the production process. Based on defined rules and instructions, PQA identifies inadequate material quality at an early stage and proposes alternative process routes and product applications. This makes PQA an important digital tool in quality management.
To pool and push the development of new, digital business models around the existing core business, SMS group has founded a startup company. SMS digital GmbH is an independent subsidiary with its own economic and entrepreneurial activities, developing digital products to market maturity in cooperation with the customers and the respective business units of SMS group. The new digital subsidiary continues to develop solutions initiated around the issue digitalization / Industry 4.0 and advances the results so far achieved.
SMS group further acquired a majority share in Quin- Logic, a start-up company domiciled in Aachen, Germany. QuinLogic GmbH develops software solutions to optimize the quality management in the steel, aluminium and paper industries. SMS group is already using QuinLogic products in customer projects with good results.