Sustainable production, the ability to respond more flexibly to changing circumstances, in a more manageable process and at a lower cost: it sounds almost too good to be true. For VBI, however, this is daily reality. Due to the integration of quality control software and mixer control from Command Alkon into VBI's own ERP system, VBI has an increasingly tight grip on processes. Thus, we can steer for the best results and avoid wastage.
VBI and Command Alkon have been working together for years. VBI has its own ERP system, which, by means of smart interfaces, works together with CL (Conactive Quality Control) and CP (Conactive Process Control) of Command Alkon. "What I like about the cooperation with, and the attitude of Command Alkon, is that they are willing to adjust things if necessary," says Peter Harpe, Manager of Quality & Materials at VBI.
"Together, we have been able to develop a package that is tailored to the situation at VBI. This has allowed us to make great strides in sustainability and process manageability," Harpe said. We can now respond in a much more flexible way to changing circumstances and customer demand. A lot is happening in our industry; one day there is no more filler, the next day one or more raw materials suddenly become much more expensive. Circumstances beyond our control affect not only the market, but also our recipes. Consider the shutdown of coal-fired power plants or congestion on the river Meuse (The Netherlands). Previously, sudden switches to ‘new raw materials’ caused headaches, including for our concrete technologists. Thanks to the CL system, we can recalculate recipes based on new raw materials at the touch of a button.
Automatic mix design
VBI moved to fully systematic mix design last year. “By using so-called 'virtual materials', it is possible to use the same mix structure for all plants. This is very special because these factories do not necessarily have the same raw materials. Using a planning module within the ERP software, the most environmentally friendly mix is chosen for each application, meeting all requirements."
Mitigate price increases
In turbulent times, when material and energy costs are going through the roof, good and dynamic cost control is of great importance. For several months now, VBI has turned on the ‘minimum cost’ option in CL (Conactive Quality Control). "That option means choosing the ideal mix design that meets all durability, strength and environmental requirements, but at the lowest possible cost. Since we produce large quantities of concrete, this option allows us to mitigate some of the current price increases." In addition to grip on sustainability, cost and quality, there is another major benefit for VBI to point out. "In the past we were constantly adjusting the mix according to the weather conditions; in each season the mix had to be adjusted. That too is no longer necessary. The great thing is that CL, CP and our scheduling system are in constant communication with each other, taking into account seasonal factors."
In the old situation (with comparing the plants among themselves), this was a laborious process. "With the current system, the statistics are much purer, and the results from multiple plants can be compared easily and quickly because the same design system and mix coding are used everywhere."
The processes in the plant are also more streamlined. For example, the control of the production track heating is now automatic for each product and recipe. "We were able to achieve this great result together with Command Alkon. We are also very satisfied with the operation of the moisture measurement of aggregates. In the Netherlands we always have to deal with unstable weather: sometimes it is dry for a protracted period of time and next it is extremely wet. This has a great effect on the variation of raw material dosage. Many concrete plants have moisture probes, but these are often turned off because they do not function properly (anymore). In the current versions of CP, the operation of the moisture probes is easily adjustable, allowing the correct amounts of materials to be weighed. Through these real-time moisture measurements and other smart adaptive corrections, e.g. mortar temperature, the moisture content and also the workability are more constant. This leads to more efficient production and therefore carbon reduction."
For VBI, the integration of control systems delivers major environmental benefits. The concrete industry (ready-mix concrete and precast) faces a huge challenge; its carbon footprint must be halved by 2030 and must be net zero by 2050. "Partly as a result of the integration of the Command Alkon software, we are able to quickly adapt and respond to challenging sustainability requirements, and drive for the most environmentally friendly recipe selection at the lowest possible cost."
Command Alkon also benefits from the collaboration. "From the steps VBI has taken, there is a flywheel effect. We have learned a great deal, which helps us to further adapt and tailor our systems to the concrete products industry," says Rob Verburg, Sales Manager at Command Alkon. "That's good for the whole industry."