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Oct 1, 2021

Robotization upgrade increases production at the Novgorod Metallurgical Plant in Russia

Metso Outotec worked together with the Russian Copper Company to implement the most innovative technology that nearly doubled their production capacity.
Novgorod Metallurgical Plant in Russia
Photo from Russian Copper Company

The Russian Copper Company (RCC) was founded in 2004 and has since become one of the biggest copper producers in all of Russia. From mining and processing to production and sales, the RCC manages 8 mining enterprises that cover the complete production cycle. The enterprises of the RCC Group are capable of producing up to 390 thousand tons of copper in cathode equivalent annually.

One of those enterprises - The Novgorod Metallurgical Plant – was commissioned in 2003 and became a starting point for the new company. This plant was the first copper-producing asset of the RCC. The unique site combines copper scrap processing from both high-grade scrap and low-grade scrap in a single technological process. Originally, the plant was solely producing cathodes but later included wire rod as well (semifinished material for copper wires and cables).

Metso Outotec and the Novgorod Metallurgical Plant have a long-standing history together, with the relationship dating back to 2004. Outotec (the latter became Metso Outotec in June 2020) was chosen to deliver the entire plant, including engineering and most of the equipment. The full scope of supply included full basic engineering, cranes, tank house cells, full deposit cathodes, matrix for anode preparation, stripping machine, TROF converter, Mertz anode casting furnace, KUMERA and 2 anode casting systems.

CHALLENGE: Old Stripping machine was not sufficient; Caused damage to the mother blank; Manual interference with equipment was causing safety concerns.
Novgorod Metallurgical Plant in Russia
Photo from Russian Copper Company

Addressing recovery and production challenges

In 2011, Novgorod Metallurgical Plant had an increasing interest in optimizing equipment performance. This began their search for the newest technologies and innovations that could help meet the desired quality parameters whilst continuing operations.

Their predominant issue was the stripping machine. Not only was the machine not sufficient, but it was in fact causing damage to the mother blank. With various issues that lead to extra manual interference as well, safety became a huge factor – the more physical interactions with the equipment, the more hazardous and higher risk it becomes.

“The original stripping machine was simple and an old-style, so the capacity was not sufficient,” says Max Schmidt, Senior Sales Manager, Metso Outotec. “The customer decided to upgrade the stripping machine for higher capacity and more reliable production. This is digitalization at its finest – we have lots of equipment but nothing on the same scale of digitalization like this.”

Outotec was chosen amongst a variety of companies to provide the innovation that would solve this issue for the plant – and it was a first of many. Not only was it the first project of this kind implemented in Russia, but it was also the very first time this new robotization technology was successfully delivered and installed by Outotec.

SOLUTION: Delivery of R&D pilot technology; Robotic Cathode stripping system; Collaborative approach with the customer to ensure success.
Novgorod Metallurgical Plant in Russia
Photo from Russian Copper Company

The new era of stripping machines

Metso Outotec has strong R&D and innovation power, and we continuously look for new ways to introduce innovations for our customers’ benefit. The dispatch of the latest innovation, the R&D pilot technology, was successfully delivered in just 7 months, and officially commissioned on site in 2011. The scope of supply included 2 cathode feeding and loading robots and 1 stripping unit, to ensure a smooth transition from split to taco system.

Stripping machines are used in the production of copper, zinc and nickel. By transforming the stripping process, the product is under constant machine control. This automated procedure benefits the Novgorod plant as a copper producer, as it allows production to streamline in a more efficient and reliable manner.

The robotic cathode stripping system belongs to a new generation of stripping machines. The cathode stripping machine enables the separation of pure metal from the matrix. After modernization, the stripping machine operates according to the principle of obtaining the cathodes, which are called TACO-cathodes (without dividing the lower part of the cathode sheet, with a total cathode weight of 100 kg). The technological productivity of the stripping machine is 250 cathode matrices per hour or 25 t / h.

The robots automatically take care of cathode transportation and rejects racks based on data from the ID-reader, pre-weighing unit and straightness measurement unit and by the operator's command. The data from the cathode stripping process is monitored inline and reported to the plant system and internal machine OEE software. The OEE rating makes it easy for the production management to locate continuous improvements and achieve lean production.

Novgorod Metallurgical Plant in Russia
Photo from Russian Copper Company

Partnering with customers to ensure their success

When the pilot model was supplied to the plant, additional work was done to improve the initial machine on site. During the installation and commissioning stages, our experts worked together with the customer to align the machine to ensure it was able to reach the maximum level of performance. Through modifications such as a gripper tool and various parts of the stripping, the robotized upgrade enabled the plant to produce at a much higher capacity.

This positive collaboration was also existing within Outotec during the project, as colleagues from around the world were working together to ensure delivery success. With the pilot technology being designed and built-in Sweden, it was the joint effort of Outotec experts from Finland and Russia that made this a prosperous international project.

BENEFITS: Expanded production from 40,000 to 70,000 tons; Increased operating and layout flexibility by using less space; Significantly reduced damage to cathodes; High level of automation minimized the need of physical work.

Automation brings additional benefits

With this robotization upgrade, the Novorod Metallurgical Plant was able to increase their production from 40,000 to 70,000 tonnes – almost doubling their initial capacity. The sleek model didn’t require additional space, thus increasing operating and layout flexibility.

In utilizing digitalization and automation, less manual interference is necessary. This high level of automation minimizes the need of physical labor, further securing safe work conditions and reducing damage to the cathodes.

During installation, Outotec experts were able to utilize most of the original equipment. This allowed for a significant decrease in installation time. With the knowledge and know-how of the machines spanning from our history, the project was implemented while production was still running, so no shutdowns were required.

“This was the birth of a whole new market for us,” says Gustav Kilden, Vice-President, Metals Sales, Metso Outotec. “The first time this was implemented in Russia, and the first time this was supplied by Outotec, it led to a success in the market – globally.”

In order to ensure smooth and proper operation of the new equipment, a team of engineering and technical specialists were trained by Outotec experts to efficiently operate the facilities.

A pioneer in the metallurgical digital space, this innovative project was later used as a reference to secure 20 more deliveries (58 robots) around the world.

At Metso Outotec, it is our core expertise to help our customers transform the industry. Through the choices we make together with our clients, we can influence the outcomes and take the industry towards responsible use of the world’s natural resources. That’s why, together, we are the partner for positive change.

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