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Too often, cement plants spend money fixing problems they don’t understand. Without a proper investigation into the root cause of a problem, plants are wasting capital that could be spent on more profitable projects, with no guarantees that the same issues won’t recur. What may seem like a quick fix at the time could end up causing more problems, or result in the plant being unable to make other changes that really would optimise performance.

Instead, when problems occur, the starting point should always be to identify exactly what the issue is and why it is happening before any solutions are proposed. These four steps are crucial to any troubleshooting project.

1. Compare plant performance vs design conditions

Use proper process engineering measurements to determine plant performance and then take those metrics and compare them with the equipment suppliers’ data. Where are the differences occurring? How severe are they?

2. Identify what has changed

We all know that design conditions are not the same as operating conditions. Raw material chemistry and fuel composition are likely to change over time, perhaps in such small degrees that no one is taking much notice. But your process will feel the impact. Identify the changes and when they occurred.

3. Ask the equipment suppliers

Talk to the equipment suppliers about why they’re equipment isn’t operating as designed. Don’t let them blind you with science, or promise some kind of unrealistic panacea – the goal of this exercise is to understand the problem, not just fix it.

4. Perform trials

The information you’ve gathered should lead you to an idea of where the problem began and what you can do to fix it. Whether you can solve the issue in-house, or you need to bring in outside help, it’s good practice to perform trials before making any permanent changes.

These trials need to be planned properly, if they’re to be successful. Establish which parameters will be changed and which will be constant, as well as the ultimate aims of the trials. Ensure there are sufficient personnel to support the trial. Remember that the clinker and cement produced during this period needs to be separated and ground separately to assess the impact of the process changes.

Problem solved

With effort and attention, the route cause of non-performance can normally be identified. Quick fixes may seem appealing, but they can end up costing a lot more time and money in the long run.

Most importantly, it should be the cement producer providing the answers. Be wary of equipment suppliers suggesting expensive solutions to the problem simply to sell more equipment.

If you’d like unbiased support with your troubleshooting project, or you want to increase the skill level of your personnel, JAMCEM Consulting can help. Please contact us on sales@jamcem.com