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Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Technology Dec. 2013, Vol. 1 Iss. 3, PP.


Implementation of an Advanced Process Automation

System for Improvement of Sinter Machine # 3
Operation at Bokaro Steel Plant
Somnath Mitra R. Soni
Rishi Sumeet Kumar P. K. Mishra
S. Dhara D. Thiyagarajan
M. Gangadaran V.K.Shrivastava
B. K. Prasad Bokaro Steel Plant
D. S. Nigam Steel Authority of India Limited
R & D Centre for Iron & Steel Bokaro Steel City – 827 001, India
Steel Authority of India Limited
Ranchi – 834 002, India

Abstract- Sinter making process in an integrated steel plant substantially depends on efficacious functioning of series of operations.
Owing to their complex nature and frequent process fluctuations, a precision automation system is imperative in each of these
operations. A state-of-the-art Programmable Automation Controller (PAC) based automation system has been developed and
successfully implemented for operation and control of Sinter Machine # 3 at Bokaro Steel Plant of Steel Authority of India Limited,
India. The new system renders a comprehensive process control and visualization system for entire Sinter Machine. The application
of advanced process automation system has significantly improved the plant performance and reduced the energy consumption.
Keywords- PAC; Sinter Machine; Furnace; Weigh Feeder; BTP; HMI

Bokaro Steel Plant is one of the premier integrated steel plant of foremost Indian steel producer, Steel Authority of India
Limited (SAIL). The plant is located at the eastern part of the country in the state of Jharkhand. The Sinter Plant of Bokaro is
one of the key feeders of input iron ore for the five Blast Furnaces of the plant. The Sinter Plant in Bokaro is equipped with
three nos. of Sinter Machines each with rated productivity 1.2 t/m2/hr.
Sintering is a crucial part in iron making process. The natural iron ore occurring in the mines contains impurities like
alumina, silicate, phosphorous, sulphur etc. The ores are generally beneficiated to minimise these impurities and enrich iron
percentage. However, this beneficiation process creates some fine grains with size less than 10 mm, which cannot be charged
directly into Blast Furnaces. This is because it is not possible to charge too many fine materials in Blast Furnace as it would
lead to a blockage of flow of the reducing gas. Further, coal also cannot be charged into a blast furnace due to the lack of
physical strength required to withstand the conditions inside the furnace. Mainly due to the above reasons, prior to charging in
Blast Furnaces, Iron Ores fines are pre-treated for Sinter Formation. The sintering process involves agglomeration i.e. heating
of raw mix which primarily consists of iron ore fines, coke breeze, metallurgical wastes, lime, dolomite etc. to produce a semi-
molten mass that solidifies into porous pieces of sinter with the size and strength characteristics necessary for feeding into the
blast furnace. The sintering of iron ore is imperative for improving Blast Furnace productivity, hot metal quality and
minimising resource utilization in iron making process.
The sinter making process substantially depends on efficacious functioning of series of operations. Raw materials enter the
sinter plant from storage bins. They are mixed in the correct proportions using weigh hoppers and transferred to a rotating
drum called Balling Drum or Nodulizing Drum through weigh feeder conveyors. Water is sprinkled on the raw mix in the
rotating balling drum for proper granule/nucleolus formation. The moisture content in the granulated material is extremely
important for quality of sinter, which is generally controlled through feed-water flow control and moisture measurement.
Balling drum rotation, input feed rate and spraying water flow are all interlinked in a cascaded control system with an objective
to achieve desired moisture for optimum granulation of raw sinter mix. After balling drum material is charged through roll
feeder and hoppers onto continuous horizontally travelling grate/palette of sinter machine. The material level control in the
hopper is another crucial control parameter. The hopper level is controlled by adjusting input feed rate of raw material in
balling drum by an automatic weigh feeder control mechanism.
The bed of granulated material on sinter grate is first heated inside an Ignition Furnace. The fuel used in the furnace is a
combination of gas emanated from Blast Furnace and Coke Oven called Mixed Gas. The ignition furnace temperature, which
is a critical parameter in sinter making process, is controlled by adjusting ratio of mixed gas and combustion air. The furnace

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Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Technology Dec. 2013, Vol. 1 Iss. 3, PP. 88-91

temperature, fuel gas and air flow rates are key input variables of this control action. The surface of the bed is ignited by
furnace burners. The sinter mix emerging out from Ignition Furnace at Bokaro Steel Plant is depicted in Fig. 1. Air is
continuously drawn downwards from top to bottom permeated through material bed all along the length of travelling palette
grate by suction created through exhauster fans. The carbon present in raw mix material burns with the aid of air. The heat or
flame front thus created moves vertically down the material bed layer by layer as the palette travels in forward direction. The
heat wave or flame front passes through the bed in such a way that a zone of incipient or partial fusion passes through the bed
in order to agglomerate (sinter) the fines in the bed to a porous lumpy material suitable for feeding to blast furnace. The
sintering process is completed once the flame front has passed through entire layer and all carbon has been burnt. The hot air is
sucked out by exhauster through a series of channels called Wind-Boxes mounted below the palette. The progress of sintering
along the length of grate is determined by measuring hot air temperature in different wind boxes by thermocouples. An
important part of the sintering is Burn Through Point (BTP). This is location along palette, where the bottommost sinter layer
has completely burned through its section. BTP is detected by Wind Box location, where hot air temperature attains maximum
value indicating complete burn-out of sinter layer, which implies completion of raw mix sintering. Burn through should occur
near the end of sintering ideally just prior to last wind box. BTP is generally regulated by adjusting the palette speed in such a
way that it occurs in the second last wind-box. However it also depends on bed height, moisture and raw mix quality.

Fig. 1 Sinter Mix emerging out from ignition furnace in Sinter Palette at
Sinter plant, Bokaro Steel Plant

After leaving the palette, the hot sinters are cooled by series of blower fans in straight line coolers or rotary coolers. In
straight line cooler the hot sinters are dropped on another travelling strand and air is blowed from the bottom. The rate of
cooling is controlled by adjusting speed of cooler strand and blower fans. The cold sinters are finally sent to Blast Furnaces
through conveyor belts.
An advanced integrated automation system has been implemented at Sinter Machine # 3 of Sinter Plant, Bokaro Steel Plant
jointly by RDCIS and Plant. RDCIS is corporate R&D centre of Steel Authority of India Limited and located at Ranchi, India.
The automation system facilitates a comprehensive control panacea for controlling various process parameters from balling
drum weigh feeders to sinter coolers as mentioned above through state-of-the-art Programmable Automation Controller (PAC)
based process control system. A user’s friendly Human Machine Interface (HMI) has also been developed for centralized
monitoring and control of sinter machine. The automation system has resulted in significant improvement in plant performance
in terms of productivity and energy savings.


The architecture of automation system has been carefully designed to cater the requirement of cascaded process control
loops of Sinter Plant as explained above. The overall performance of Sinter Machine depends on accuracy of individual control
actions each contributing to sinter quality. The automation system facilitates an on-line PAC based control and visualization
system for Sinter Machine # 3 of Bokaro Steel Plant. To ensure uninterrupted plant operation, PAC is selected with high
availability, fault tolerant and dual redundant configuration w.r.t. processor, communication and networking. The field
instrumentation is connected with the system through various analog and digital input / output cards. The I/O cards are linked
with processors through redundant networks. The operation of Sinter Machine is controlled and monitored from two dedicated
operators’ console. The processor and operator’s consoles are also connected through redundant Ethernet networks. The PAC
system is dovetailed with weigh feeder and hopper level control system for seamless operation. The schematic of automation
system with process control modules is depicted in Fig. 2.

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Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Technology Dec. 2013, Vol. 1 Iss. 3, PP. 88-91

Fig. 2 Schematic of control system


Sinter Machine No. 3 at Bokaro Steel Plant is facilitated by two nos. of secondary balling/nodulizing drums. Raw mix is
fed into the balling drums through two dedicated weigh feeders for each drum. After the water mixing in the balling drum,
material falls through two conveyors into the hopper. The primary control variable in this segment of Sinter Machine is feed
rates of weigh feeders, which are controlled through dedicated controller panels. The load cell and conveyor speed signals are
the key process inputs. Based on hopper level signal as estimated through weight of raw mix in hopper, a dedicated controller
in hopper level control panel generates set points for individual weigh feeder feed rates. Based on actual and set feed rates, the
individual controllers in weigh feeder panels generate reference signal for Variable Frequency Drives (VFD), which finally
controls the feed rates of conveyors. The safety and other electrical interlocks are also taken care by the weigh feeder panels.
All the weigh feeder control panels, hopper level control panel and PAC system have been seamlessly integrated for bi-
directional communication. The desired hopper level set point is communicated to hopper level control panel from PAC. The
PAC also has provision of directly adjusting feed rates of individual feeders. All the salient weigh feeder and hopper level
control signals are available in PAC HMI for monitoring and control.
The moisture content in raw mix after balling drum is very crucial parameter for sinter quality. Water is sprinkled on the
raw mix inside the rotating baling drum. Moisture is controlled by regulating water flow rates through glove valve mounted
electro-mechanical actuators in feed water flow pipes. The actual water flow rate and output raw mix moisture are salient
process inputs. The desired water flow rate is computed by PAC based on actual input weigh feeder feed rates. Based on the
above signals, PAC controls the water flow rate by continuously regulating the water pipe actuators. The rotational speeds of
balling drums are also controlled by PAC.
Temperature control of Ignition Furnace is another critical parameter for Sinter Machine. The temperature control is
accomplished through cascaded heating gas and combustion air ratio control. The furnace temperature is measured by two nos.
thermocouples. Based on actual temperature signal, the primary temperature controller module generates set points for heating
gas and combustion air flow controllers. The latter controllers are coupled through gas/air ratio and their input variables are
respective flow signals. The flow controllers regulate the heating gas and combustion air to achieve desired Ignition Furnace
Temperature. Hearth suction, gas and air pressure are other variables used for monitoring. All the above control and
monitoring are accomplished by PAC.
Wind-box pressure and temperature are extremely crucial for Sinter Plant operation. Sinter Machine # 3 of Bokaro Steel
plant comprises of 24 nos. of wind boxes. The control system facilitates several visualization graphics of wind box temperature
and suction in the form of animations, bar graphs, trends etc. The Burn Through Point (BTP) wind box position is displayed in
the HMI. This helps the shop operator to adjust machine speed considering the production requirement and quality targets.
PAC renders an effective tool for controlling the Sinter Machine Speed. The actual machine speed as measured by encoder
based sensor is the key input process variable. The machine speed is abutted with electrical and safety interlocks. Another
parameter related with the sinter machine speed is Straight Line Cooler (SLC) Speed. PAC also controls the speed of SLC
based on actual speed reference signal and sinter machine speed. The number of sinter cooler blowers to be operated for
effective cooling of hot sinters can also be operated from the system.
The system renders a centralized control and monitoring system for all the aforesaid operations which are widely located
inside the Sinter Plant. A user’s friendly Human Machine Interface (HMI) system has been developed using animations,

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Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Technology Dec. 2013, Vol. 1 Iss. 3, PP. 88-91

graphics user interfaces (GUI), pop-up screens etc. Graphics tools have been provided for various adjustments and fine tuning
of control actions. Instantaneous and historical trends have been facilitated for analysis of process parameters and
improvement in shop performance. Various audio visual alarm annunciations have been provided to ensure safety interlocks
and for maintaining process within permissible regime. The overview screen in HMI is depicted in Fig. 3.

Fig. 3 HMI overview screen


The PAC based automation system is controlling Sinter Machine # 3 at Sinter Plant Complex of Bokaro Steel Plant. The
system exemplifies an on-line industrial application of PAC based control system. The Sinter Plant performance has been
significantly improved due to on-line supervision of entire process by centralized control system. The HMI developed
facilitated the shop floor with many user’s friendly GUI screens, pop-ups, animations and trends.
The system has contributed to achieving a very efficient temperature control within ± 10oC accuracy under normal operating
conditions. This has helped to reduce the Specific Heat Consumption by 9.5%. The integrated process control has resulted in
improvement of average daily sinter production by 5 %. The above results illustrate that significant benefits can be achieved by
introducing appropriate Automation System and carefully integrating it with actual on-line process control.


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