Steel is an engineering and construction material of paramount importance. Some of the central resources steel production requires are electricity and oxygen. Glitches in the flow of these resources, such as partial discharges and oxygen leaks, will increase the risks of downtime and safety hazards and lower the quality of the end product. Our steel industry expert David Palomá shares how to avoid these problems.
Partial Discharges Hinder Steel Giants
Steel is everywhere: in transportation means, at construction sites, and in everyday electrical appliances such as washing machines. In 2021, the world’s crude steel production amounted to 1,950.5 million tonnes (Mt). For steel production to run efficiently and maintain a competitive edge, it is crucial for the industry to keep production costs low while saving resources such as electricity which is growing more expensive.
Partial discharges are a hazard not just to a steel plant’s own electricity production but also to the operation of the furnaces. During the steel manufacturing process, the electrical insulation in MV and LV switchgear and cables as well as epoxy resin supports and bushings of the furnaces are exposed to extremely high temperatures and maximal stress. In time, the insulations can fail and cause the electricity to escape, resulting in a very costly halt in production. In the case of a single partial discharge in a Taiwanese steel processing plant’s MV circuit’s 33kV XLPE cable, the progression of the undetected partial discharge would have led to an outage with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars caused by lost production.
“Component faults and malfunctions often remain undetected until it is too late, which can lead to expensive downtime and serious safety hazards, such as fires, explosions, and toxic gas leaks,” confirms steel industry expert David Palomá, also NL Acoustics’ Area Manager, LATAM.
Oxygen Leaks Jeopardize Product Quality
The unhindered flow of electricity is also required to compress one of the key energy resources used in several stages of steel production: oxygen. Compressed oxygen enables steel-making by converters, iron-making by blast furnaces, and non-ferrous metal smelting.
“In steel manufacturing, using exactly the correct amount of oxygen is critical in producing a proper combustion process and obtaining the highest quality in the finished product”, Palomá describes.
The amount of oxygen needed can vary, but detecting partial discharges before they can trigger downtime and grow the gap between oxygen compression and consumption adds to the optimized workflow and keeps steel production costs low.
Leaks in the oxygen system are another thing for steel plants to keep an eye on to avoid energy and resource waste, as leaks are the culprit to higher production costs and lowered quality in the end product.
NL Camera Uncovers Steel Production Risks
Palomá has worked with several major steel production companies that use NL Acoustics’ solutions to detect partial discharges and oxygen leaks and knows what the unique products offer to the industry’s maintenance teams. The NL Camera uses both sonic and ultrasonic frequencies to accurately detect partial discharges in their early stages. The camera also finds even very small oxygen leaks that can have immense consequences regardless of their minute size. The ultrasonic frequencies of the NL Camera even have the advantage of detecting these possibly grave interferences to steel production over a steel plant’s high noise levels.
See our case studies to find out in what other industries the NL Acoustics products help solve problems.