Alcoa San Ciprian, Spain
Located in Spain, the San Ciprián smelter produces ingots for casting, billets for extrusion and sheets for rolling. Mechatherm were contracted to install hands free casting equipment - Automated “Mould Metal Level Control” (MMLC) for vertical direct chill casting of rolling ingots.
Mechatherm has been supplying VDC casting machines for many years now for producing both extrusion billets and Rolling Ingots. In today’s ever evolving aluminium cast houses, innovative solutions are being sought by our customers to offer maximum protection to their plant operators in what is a very hazardous environment.
One such area identified is the actual casting machine mould table where molten aluminium is fed to the table to be solidified by using water cooled moulds. In order to maintain safe and trouble free casting, operators have traditionally supervised the moulds at the table to quickly recognise and respond to any cast abort situations from events such as “bleed-outs” and “hang-ups”. In these events operators must act quickly to abort the casting process before potentially unsafe events occur such as water coming into contact with the molten aluminium. As most of us know this can lead to a highly explosive situation putting the lives of the plant operators at significant risk.
With a new age of automation and control gear evolving, especially in devices such as laser measurement devices, detection cameras and accurate positioning actuators, Mechatherm has invested significant time in research and development to come up with new ways to ultimately keep operators away from the casting table during casting. However, this is a concept which has taken time to adjust to as it makes casthouse operators very nervous as they are not used to being away from the table during a cast. They are only too aware of the dangers of what can happen when things go wrong.
In conjunction with one of our long standing customers ALCOA, Mechatherm has worked on developing a solution and have recently obtained orders for upgrading some of their existing VDC rolling ingot casting pits at their various plants. Mechatherm has designed, engineered, manufactured and implemented an automated mould metal level control (MMLC) system which accurately measures, controls and monitors the level and flow of aluminium into each mould on the casting table. The system ultimately replaces the traditional manual “Steddy Eddy” float and pin stopper control system allowing the operators to remain in the casting control room and out of potential harm’s way.
MMLC and distribution trough ready for first cast
Traditional manual “Steddy Eddy” float and pin stopper control system
First cast success at Alcoa San Ciprián
Mechatherm’s first order with ALCOA (San Ciprián, Spain) on such a project was to supply an automated MMLC to replace a “Steddy Eddy” system which was quite unique in the shape of the existing launder trough. Mechatherm had to keep the supplied trough design to typically to the same shape and operating invert levels to the existing design and also supply the complete assembled MMLC unit to a design weight limit of less than 3 tonnes. This was due to the customers’ existing jib crane safe working load limits.
Mechatherm has worked closely with the company “Precimeter” of Sweden over the last few years to integrate their laser and positioning actuator technologies that make up the supplied auto metal level control system. Mechatherm has also invested time and money in having its commissioning engineers trained at “Precimeter” facilities for ensuring we have the know how to accurately setup and configure their devices and offering the right level of competency as well as an ongoing after sales service. Mechatherm’s automated MMLC unit are ultimately designed to control metal levels in the moulds to +/- 1mm except for the start of a cast through to a steady state condition.
To further ensure that the operators have no need to be at the mould table during a cast, Mechatherm has also recently introduced automated combo bag shaking devices, skim dams and also closed circuit detection cameras to monitor the casting process to raise alarms if any problem trigger actions arise. All of these operations are designed to be run from the casting control room, monitored live on HMI/LCD viewing screens as well as visually by the operator from a safe distance in the safety of the control room.
Mechatherm also specialises in the supply and integration of the control software for complete casting systems and can be flexible in adding new HMI/SCADA screens to customers existing setups.
After the successful completion of the project at ALCOA San Ciprian, they are now considering a similar upgrade to another one of their casting pits. ALOCA have also been supplied with a bespoke Mechatherm designed MMLC system at their plant in Samara, Russia again with orders for more being placed. ALCOA have also purchased a complete new Mechatherm VDC casting machine with automated MMLC at ALCOA Bohai which is a repeat order of one previously supplied. Mechatherm is very grateful in ALCOA’s confidence in our hands free casting systems as well as our VDC casting machines and hope to continue and develop our products further with them in the future.
In addition to this Mechatherm is also making big efforts to market and supply our hands free casting products to our other customers. So far we have successfully supplied this equipment to our customers at Bridgnorth Aluminium, UK and CSAC, Taiwan as part of complete new VDC casting machines for casting rolling ingot. Mechatherm hopes that these automated MMLC systems will prove successful in not only casting our customer’s products but also for ensuring the safety of their operators which of course is most important of all.