In the current era of steel production, steel manufacturers employ a continuous process during the casting phase of production. The molten steel is solidified during this process by a continuous casting machine. The processes include feeding the liquid steel through a series of rollers to cool the material and slowly form into the next shape of production (e.g. slabs, round, etc…). In this process, the rollers are positioned using hydraulic cylinders that include linear position sensors as closed loop feedback devices. The outputs of these sensors are closely monitored and are critical to the steel quality. Because of the harsh environment of the continuous casting process, the life span of these sensors can be cut short. If the sensor’s output becomes unstable and begins to fail, the continuous casting process cannot simply stop quickly. The steel quality during this sensor failure mode will most likely become scrap, costing the steel mill tens of thousands of dollars.
For maximum reliability, a linear position sensor with 2 or 3 times redundancy can be utilized to provide position feedback of hydraulic systems. Such sensors employ 2 or 3 independently-operating sensing elements and processing circuitry . The extra feedback signals can be monitored through an automation system. When the outputs are compared, a failure could be identified early and the automation system could switch over to the reliable output maintaining the quality of steel. No scrap! During the next possible scheduled stoppage in the manufacturing process, the sensor could be replaced.
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In many types of metals production, pickling is a process that is essential to removing impurities and contaminants from the surface of the material prior to further processing, such as the application of anti-corrosion coatings.
In steel production, two common pickling solutions or pickle liquors are hydrochloric acid (HCl) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4). Both of these acids are very effective at removing rust and iron oxide scale from the steel prior to additional processing, for example galvanizing or rolling. The choice of acid depends on the processing temperature, the type of steel being processed, and environmental containment and recovery considerations. Hydrochloric acid creates corrosive fumes when heated, so it typically must be used at lower temperatures where processing times are longer. It is also more expensive to recover when spent. Sulfuric acid can be used at higher temperatures for faster processing, but it can attack the base metal more aggressively and create embrittlement due to hydrogen diffusion into the metal.
Acids can be just as tough on all of the equipment involved in the pickling lines, including sensors. When selecting sensors for use in areas involving liquid acid solutions and gaseous fumes and vapors, care must be given to the types of acids involved and to the materials used in the construction of the sensor, particularly the materials that may be in direct contact with the media.
A manufacturer of silicon steel was having issues with frequent failure of mechanical pressure sensors on the pickling line, due to the effects of severe corrosion from hydrochloric acid at 25% concentration. After determination of the root cause of these failures and evaluation of alternatives, the maintenance team selected an electronic pressure sensor with a process connection custom-made from PVDF (polyvinylidene fluoride), a VitonTM O-ring, and a ceramic (rather than standard stainless steel) pressure diaphragm. This changeover eliminated the corroded mechanical pressure sensors as an ongoing maintenance problem, increasing equipment availability and freeing up maintenance personnel to address other issues on the line.