Preventing Disaster at Steel Mills 

A steel mill disaster isn’t a simple issue of casting a mold badly and ruining an amount of raw material with a lost value. It typically involves a spillage of molten metal heated up to over 1,400 degrees Celsius, which in turn burns or disintegrates most other things in its path aside from other steel. And even the metal it does touch is permanently warped by the same heat the molten metal radiates at the time.

No surprise, the damage is tremendous, and the risk to workers is fatal if they are too close at the time of the disaster. However, the very nature of steel production requires risk, especially as large ladles and big torpedoes of molten metal are regularly moved from heating to casting in the production process. 

Periodic Inspections and Hand-Held Cameras Aren’t Enough

The typical monitoring process today usually involves workers performing spot checks with heat cameras to look for any signs of heat weakness in the equipment moving the molten metal, such as stress warps, cracks, holes, hot spots and similar.

However, these are random checks at best, and more often than not miss the real risk occurring until it becomes a serious and obvious problem. Sometimes those issues get caught, but other times the spill occurs and then significant damage results to the entire immediate facility area. 

The minimum standards expectation of weekly checks and report development leave gaps in monitoring that can produce risk windows. The greater the infrequency of manual inspections and reports, the greater the risk of a problem developing and being missed. This is a common problem found as a preventable trend in steel mill disasters that have been researched.

However, due to training, cost and production demands, many mills continue on the same path. And for some, where the monitoring is frequent, or every few days, it may work. However, as equipment ages, failure risks increase, which can be sudden and catastrophic as they develop in minutes or hours. It is not surprising for a hot spot to develop from nothing in the space of a minute or less. 

Graduate to a Fully-Automated Monitoring Thermal Camera System

Full process or constant monitoring is the ideal approach. This strategy involves automated camera monitoring designed to trigger alarms with known danger variance limits programmed. Instead of relying on the eyes of a periodic manual view, automated thermal camera observation will flag issues that oftentimes aren’t fully visible on the floor or when the equipment is cool enough for a worker to be near for inspection. 

Machine vision systems utilizing thermal cameras are able to use computer analysis to monitor all the temperature variances of mill equipment during the entire production process, carry, pour and casting. Because such systems remain in constant tracking mode, they often see risks developing long before they would be noticed otherwise with periodic inspection.

Computer programs track and spot the variance immediately and compare whether they are in range or moved into a danger zone based on temperature levels, radiance and even shape distortion. By being able to compare unique equipment shapes and performance with new development, hot spots in ladles are caught before they trigger failure, not afterwards.

Working With the Right Equipment 

Among all the equipment available, FLIR thermal camera systems have come out on top with their performance and durability. They are one of the key camera components Conners Industrial relies on when installing thermal camera systems. Running a camera in general in a hot environment is a challenging tech accomplishment.

It has to be sensitive enough to pick up the imagery observed but robust enough to handle the ambient temperature and not malfunction. Too often, cameras exposed to heat go dark and black out. FLIR thermal cameras have instead shown themselves dependable and capable of high heat conditions, including steel mill foundries. 

FLIR cameras are also extremely compatible with monitoring systems for remote management and monitoring. They can be positioned in key locations and wired to central circuits for full facility observation.

This provides the dual benefit of technological programming for commands, parameters and variance triggers as well as removing the human factor that requires accepting less than perfect observation.

Even the best of employees and inspections can miss things; a programmed monitoring combined with the accuracy and detail capture of FLIR cameras is in a class of its own with regards to monitoring performance.

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Take Into Account the Big Picture

Spillovers and spark flares in metal mills are going to happen. Steel milling is a tremendously hazardous manufacturing process, and the high temperature of molten metal practically ensures that at some point there will be mechanical failure or enough strain that a human mistake tips things over the edge.

Even minor splashes can be a serious risk and life-endangering, as well as trigger cascading failures in adjacent equipment. While adopting a remote FLIR thermal camera system installed by an expert like Conners Industrial might seem like a huge investment with related commitments, the loss of an entire factory or foundry is far more significant. And most important of all, the lives of the workers involved shouldn’t be considered a risk management factor. All of this prevention is possible with remote thermal camera protection and monitoring