Real time laser monitoring process could save steelmakers millions

Steelmakers could save millions of pounds a year with an award-winning laser based technology that offers real time monitoring of the chemical composition and temperature in molten metal furnaces.

save steelmakers millions
Dr Szymon Kubal with a molten steel ladle

The breakthrough innovation, which is being marketed by Swansea University spin-out Kubal-Wraith and developed in collaboration with Tata Steel UK, is claimed to offer a significant improvement over existing monitoring process, which require production to be halted while disposable probes are immersed into the molten metal to measure temperature and take samples.

Commenting on the new technology, its inventor, Tata Steel UK’s Dr Szymon Kubal, said: “We have been able to adapt and combine recent advances in refractory manufacturing and laser metrology to enable continuous monitoring with no break in production.”

He explained that the process allows a laser beam to be projected into a molten furnace through a refractory gas-swept channel (or tuyère) in the furnace wall. “Previous attempts of laser measurement techniques have been thwarted because metallic accretions block the channel through which the laser is probing, rendering the devices unreliable,” he said. “This innovation does do not suffer from such problems.”

The firm claims that the technology could save individual steelmaking plants £4.5m per year, but whilst steel plants will be the first market to be targeted, the technology is applicable to other metal making sectors such as aluminium, copper and nickel. World Steel Association data indicates there are over 1000 molten metal furnaces worldwide and each would see significant cost savings, increased throughput, and a reduction in use of consumables through adopting the new continuous process control of temperature and composition.

“A critical barrier for us to overcome was the extreme difficulty in getting permission to test our new innovations in an operational steel plant under production conditions,” said Dr Kubal. “However, by working in collaboration with Tata Steel UK we are able to undertake full-scale validation trials. It is a huge endorsement that we have been able to secure such support in order to penetrate this barrier to market entry.”

The technology, which recently won the Materials Science Venture Prize awarded by The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, is the subject of a patent owned by Swansea University to which Kubal-Wraith has exclusive exploitation rights.”