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How Vedanta is harnessing tech in aluminium production

India’s largest aluminium producer Vedanta Aluminium is using industrial internet of things devices to improve emissions control and robotic process automation to improve efficiency, among other digitisation efforts

As India’s largest producer of aluminium, Vedanta Aluminium has a stronghold in a market that has seen a growing demand for aluminium, especially high-quality, indigenously developed products for the engineering and technology sectors.

The company has been expanding its portfolio towards high-tech applications of metal. In its 2023 financial year, it produced half of India’s aluminium, at 2.29 million tonnes, and is ramping up production at its aluminium smelters in cities such as Jharsuguda and Korba.

While doing so, Vedanta is cognisant of minimising its carbon footprint by offering a “green” aluminium range. To do so in a cost-effective manner, it has been a strong proponent of leveraging technology capabilities such as machine learning and the industrial internet of things (IIoT).

In April 2023, it rolled out IIoT devices in fabric filters to improve emissions control at its 2,400MW thermal power plant. By capturing particulate matter, the fabric filters, which are installed after electrostatic precipitators in chimneys, prevent emissions from escaping into the atmosphere.

Vedanta is also striking while the technology iron is hot in areas such as operations, manufacturing and supply chain management through robotic process automation (RPA) to streamline and automate business and industrial processes.

“At Vedanta Aluminium, we have spearheaded a tech-driven revolution within the aluminium industry, achieving remarkable milestones and tangible outcomes,” said CEO Rahul Sharma, noting that Vedanta is the first in India’s metal and mining sector to implement RPA to improve efficiency and productivity while minimising errors.

By deploying GPS-enabled tracking and machine learning models trained on near-real-time satellite imagery, Vedanta is also monitoring and optimising the routes of vehicles that deliver coal to its power plants. This helps to reduce instances of coal pilferage, and ensures greater control over coal movement and quality, Sharma said.

Technology is also helping Vedanta to create customised products. Through digital prototyping, it can create virtual models of customised aluminium products, allowing for better visualisation, testing and quick modifications to meet specific customer requirements. This reduces errors and costs associated with multiple iterations and ensures a more efficient production process.

In terms of business development, Vedanta uses advanced data analytics and market intelligence to collect and analyse market data, industry trends and customer preferences to identify opportunities in sunrise sectors, such as electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing and renewable energy.

Armed with this valuable information, it identifies opportunities for product diversification and tailors its offerings, accordingly, said Sharma. And by streamlining the entire product development process from product lifecycle to customer relationship management, Vedanta has been able to effectively manage customer relationships and understand specific customer requirements, he added.

Business outcomes

Vedanta’s technology initiatives have yielded noteworthy results, including heightened efficiency, reduced water consumption, improved power plant efficiency, optimised supply chain, enhanced asset management and superior quality control, said Sharma.

For example, the vehicle-tracking effort has minimised transportation time and curbed losses in the gross calorific value (the amount of heat released upon coal combustion), leading to improved operational efficiency and energy security.

“We have spearheaded a tech-driven revolution within the aluminium industry, achieving remarkable milestones and tangible outcomes”
Rahul Sharma, Vedanta Aluminium

And by incorporating IIoT devices, the company has achieved precise monitoring of differential pressure within the filter bags, a critical factor in optimising their efficiency. “With the aid of such high-tech advancements, we can take immediate action to uphold stringent emissions control standards,” said Sharma.

With the power of data and digital tools, Vedanta Aluminium has also achieved a breakthrough in product quality for its rolled aluminium products used in the building and construction, packaging and automotive industries, among others.

By tracking historical performance and implementing statistical modelling techniques, the company has gained insights into improving process efficiencies, while real-time data analytics and statistical recommendations have facilitated the correction of operational biases and enabled tracking of key performance indicators.

Technology and manufacturing – a new alloy

The company has its own formula of harnessing technology to achieve business outcomes, which hinges a lot on in-house capabilities and other synergies.

“We are focused on the interplay of hardware and software for operational efficiencies. We do not opt for off-the-shelf digital solutions; instead, we believe in co-creating customised solutions with renowned technology giants and startups,” Sharma said.

Through Vedanta Spark, its startup incubation programme, the company also collaborates with tech startups to develop in-house innovations that address business challenges and implement viable projects.

Notwithstanding, challenges like legacy infrastructure, lack of ecosystem readiness, or resistance to change do pop up, but the company confronts them with experience, data, skills and proactive action.

“Legacy challenges can add to complexity at times, but most of our infrastructure is relatively new,” said Sharma. “Collaborating and integrating with various entities in our supply chain, such as suppliers, partners and customers, requires standardisation, interoperability and change management across multiple organisations.”

Plus, the company has a skilled workforce and robust infrastructure to facilitate the digitisation process. “We are proud to have a diverse talent pool comprising IT specialists, data analysts and technology experts who are spearheading our digitisation efforts,” Sharma said.

Moving forward, Vedanta is looking to leverage more green technologies, diversifying its energy mix to include more renewable energy sources, and working towards net-zero carbon operations. It is also looking to build advanced manufacturing capabilities, including additive manufacturing which has the potential to revolutionise production processes.

“Vedanta Aluminium is a prime example of how Indian companies can manufacture high-quality products that meet global standards while maintaining competitive pricing,” Sharma said.

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