Research and Development an Ally of Operations

A real relay race recently took place around the Alma Works rolling mill, with several players passing the torch to each other to find a solution to the production problem with TiC, a refiner used to produce aluminium wire. Thanks to remarkable teamwork, the problem was solved in record time.

The rolling mill at Alma Works is a piece of equipment used to produce aluminium wire for customers who then draw it to make electrical and welding cables. “In the past, we used a refiner to produce this kind of aluminium and give it certain properties,” says Patrice Bergeron, Operations Director at Alma Works. “But this limited our production speed. So, we switched production to TiC, which is a different type of refiner that optimises aluminium’s properties, allowing us to work faster and produce more tonnage. However, we found that the final product contained more anomalies than before, so we had to go back to the old method.”

Operations teamed up with the Arvida Research and Development Centre (ARDC) to investigate the problem and fully understand the underlying mechanisms to avoid damaging the wire again, while at the same time continuing to meet customer expectations. Bergeron says: “To return to the same level of performance, we had to find a feasible and economically viable solution. The researchers came up with one, which was implemented with the help of suppliers and all sector employees to get the equipment up and running.”

“The project’s success can be attributed to a range of people coming together and sharing their expertise to benefit others,” says Josette Ross, Director of the ARDC. “At the end of the day, the project could only work if we had equipment manufacturers who could make it happen, and team members who were willing to accept and apply potential solutions, which involves some risk to production and performance.”

An ARDC modeller eventually came up with an ingenious solution to prevent inclusions from mixing with the wire and making it defective for our customers.  Ross says: “That’s what the research and development team is all about: finding solutions that the people at Alma Works can use to maintain their performance. Scientists need to have a good understanding of operations to do this effectively.”

“Operations had to accept the risk of applying the solution in the plant,” says Bergeron. “But despite our uncertainty, we were confident that we’d find a solution and make up for the production loss caused by this challenge.”

The refractory team and 40 rolling mill operators were also involved, and they were trained in the new operating parameters. This fine achievement was made possible by the commitment of everyone involved.