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The Future is AI

Published by , Assistant Editor
World Fertilizer,

Fred Coelho, Bagtech, South Africa, reviews the design and development of the largest capacity fertilizer blending plant in Africa.

IIn 2018, a project was accepted and plant functionality for a facility was developed together with a customer in Africa. A just-in-time fertilizer blending plant was commissioned in South Africa, which can blend at up to 200 tph and can bag out at up to 240 tph.

The operating philosophy for the facility is based on a high capacity production plant with relatively low resources required to run it. This affords flexibility to the owners to serve a market that is driven by unpredictable forces. At this facility, a customer could arrive to site and have their blend produced and ready for a full load in just 10 min. All critical points of the plant are monitored automatically by an online system. Certain deviations are dealt with automatically without any operator intervention, while more serious issues are clearly pointed out to the operator by a series of displays located around the plant.

The project was undertaken in collaboration with Festo, who are at the forefront of Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 makes monitoring efficiencies and optimising processes simple. Every device used in the plant is connected to the PLC via ethernet and is Industry 4.0 ready, thus serving the main plant controller a plethora of information, which is not only available globally, but also available for direct use in cases beyond the plant. Maintenance is also tracked with digital maintenance technologies known as 'Smartenance', where every device’s usage and vital metrics are monitored.

The project has presented new opportunities to bring the application of machine learning technology and artificial intelligence to the challenges that fertilizer processing presents. Bagtech have begun implementing machine learning algorithms, which learn how different raw materials flow over time. These algorithms send this valuable information over to the accurately controlled servo radial dosing gates, resulting in near perfect blends from the offset.

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