Technology challenge

How do you make one of the oldest cement plants in the UK competitive with its often rather younger counterparts?


Before and after: Control panel in the 1960s and a typical process screen of today

Fit for the future

In the 1960s, the technology that underpins much of South Ferriby’s cement making process was state-of-the-art. Fifty years later, the job of bringing it into the 21st century and equipping the plant for the future is a big one.

As Engineering Development Manager, Damian Marsden is the man responsible for the
implementation of new projects. Since starting at the site in 2001, he has been involved with a string of major capital improvement schemes to improve the automatic control of equipment using advanced computer techniques.

Damian joined as Assistant Systems Engineer after completing a BSc in Microelectronics and Control. In 2010, he completed a Masters in Chemical Engineering (Process Automation) at Newcastle University.

“Since 2001, the whole process has become much more streamlined,” he says. “Operators are now being presented with more information about the equipment from the control system than ever before. This in turn has helped to reduce downtime.

“I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work on projects from conception, applying for the money right the way through to contractor management on the installation, final hands-on commissioning, and development of application software.”

In recent years, Damian and his colleagues have been working on systematically upgrading sections of the plant and have now completed automation of cement mill 4’s main motor and auxiliary components.

“The control system is currently monitoring no fewer than 6,300 inputs per second, and that will increase as our improvement projects continue,” he says.

“Mill 4 is a two-megawatt motor which was previously started using what is known as an excitation panel that had been in service for many years. It has been converted to a state-of-the-art automatic voltage regulator which gives the process operator better flexibility over the motor and allows the plant to optimise its power consumption.”

Given that each start of the cement mill costs the plant over £400 for the seven-second start-up period, improving the efficiency of such equipment and minimising downtime is essential in driving down the plant’s electricity costs.

Projects ahead

Projects planned for the future include replacement of the entire ten-year-old control system with latest technology in order to keep abreast of changes in software from Microsoft. The new control system will provide a platform for all future projects and will ultimately enable the plant to move to centralised control. It will give operators benefits from better fault diagnostics and alarm management.

South Ferriby will be only the second cement plant in the world to receive this technology. Meanwhile, at the raw mill plant (which prepares raw materials for the kiln), important changes are set to improve operational efficiency. Since January 2013, work has been underway to thermally insulate a hot air duct, which allows exhaust air from the kiln to be used by raw meal process to aid drying of the raw materials. As a consequence of the project, supplementary heating using gas oil is greatly reduced.

Also at the raw mills, the site team are replacing two 1980s combustion management panels – again with latest technology. These panels ensure the safe operation of the raw mill furnaces.

“Our strategy of continual improvement will help ensure efficient cement manufacturing for many years to come,” says Damian. “I can only hope that the next ten years here are as exciting and interesting as the last ten.”

Contact Information

To make a comment or for further information please contact us at