Grant will help steel industry see and plan for years to come

No one has ever seen how iron ore is turned into liquid metal inside a blast furnace. With temperatures in the thousands of degrees, getting that close has been impossible … until now.

Thanks to advanced simulation and visualization technologies, we can now “step inside” the virtual blast furnace created by the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation (CIVS) at Purdue University Calumet in collaboration with our partner steel companies.

New ways to solve problems

Imagine that you have an idea for a device to increase blast furnace productivity. Previously, you would have to do some “trial-and-error” testing on-site, costing tremendous effort and money.

Now, you can test it on your computer. The CIVS’s technology can create a blast furnace model based on real conditions, analyze the effectiveness of the device based on scientific principles and mathematic methods, visualize detailed data using virtual reality and optimize performance by manipulating variables to answer “what if” questions.

The CIVS has worked with U.S. Steel Co. to improve the performance of a blast furnace by examining ways to inject pulverized coal, resulting in more than $8.5 million in annual savings and 50 percent less downtime.

In many other examples, the advanced simulation and visualization technologies have proven to be invaluable for designing, troubleshooting and optimizing processes and products, reducing both time and cost.

New approach to training

The integration of simulation and visualization technologies also opens up new avenues for training and learning. In the CIVS 3-D theater, we can fly into a virtual blast furnace and watch how iron ore is heated up, softened and reduced to liquid from the top to the bottom of the furnace. We can inspect the internal structures, temperatures and other flow properties inside the furnace in great detail.

This new approach creates an interactive virtual world of real processes, and can be presented in multiple platforms, including desktop computers, mobile devices and online. The virtual blast furnaces have already been used in training sessions and short courses by the steel industry.

Improving competition

The CIVS has just received a $480,000 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to launch a national effort to establish a new and sustainable industry-led Advanced Simulation and Visualization for Steel Optimization Consortium and to develop a technology road map to benefit the American steel industry.

The new consortium will fully utilize the advanced technologies to focus on both short-and long-range technical solutions for the steel industry to improve efficiency, lower production costs, advance quality and improve training for a critically needed workforce.

This will ensure our steel industry’s global competitiveness and benefit the nation’s economy, to which steel manufacturing contributes over $17.5 billion annually and supports more than one million jobs.

We are also happy that this consortium will provide significant positive economic and educational impacts to our region and the state of Indiana, the largest steel-producing state.

Advanced simulation and visualization technologies are essential to the future of the steel industry. We look forward to working with stakeholders throughout the steel manufacturing value chain on this very important mission.