The great clean-up after the flood disaster

Basically, it is quite an idyllic place where the halls of Schmiedag GmbH in Hagen (Germany) are located. To the east of the factory site, on the opposite side of the main road B54, you head towards Hagen city center, and to the west of the site you go up to the wooded Philippshöhe. The factory site is divided by the Volme creek into a western and an eastern part, several bridges lead from the entrance area with the administration buildings to the western part with the forge.

After the disaster in Hagen, the heater is recovered and made ready for transport to ABP.

On July 14, 2021, the idyllic location turned into a disaster: During the massive storm that hit North Rhine-Westphalia that day, a flood situation arose that within a very short time had caused the Volme to swell – until it finally burst its banks and flooded the plant site with all its machinery, equipment and facilities. 17 employees were forced to take refuge on a hall roof and hold out there during the night – it was the last resort.

A little more than a year later, the site is once again bustling with activity. Visually, almost nothing reminds one of the catastrophe a year ago, and the ABP Induction heater is also running smoothly again. This, too, was covered with water following the catastrophic storm. After the water had receded, the equipment was salvaged, cleaned and overhauled by ABP, who then handed the upgraded system back to Schmiedag. Until then, however, the Hagen-based company had to cope with a few critical and life-threatening weeks.

Flood disaster in Hagen: In July 2021, the Volme River overflows its banks

Looking out of the window in the meeting room of Schmiedag’s administration onto the Volme, it is hard to believe what authorized signatory Detlev Müller recounts about the dramatic hours from July 14 to 15, 2021: “Due to the continuous rain, the Volme rose steadily and was already just below the bridge in the afternoon. Then I went over to the forge for a check, and when I came out of the hall again about half an hour later, the water was already flowing over the bridge decking.” Müller went back to the hall, had the production stopped immediately and evacuated all employees. 17 employees did not make it directly, Müller was one of them. The main escape route from the factory premises, the underpass to the B54, was flooded; the vehicles of the factory staff, which were still in the employee parking lot were lost. “When the water was about 30 centimeters on the site, I instructed everyone to climb onto one of the employee offices, where we could have used ladders to reach the roof of the hall in an emergency. Anything other than entrenching ourselves would have been too dangerous, because the water was coming from all sides and the current was unpredictable, with a tremendous flow speed.”

It was not only the water that proved problematic, but also the flotsam on the Volme, which was carried along by the masses of water and collected at and on the bridges on the plant site. The southernmost bridge with the most flotsam acted like a dam that could break at any time, so that even more water could have flowed uncontrollably toward the factory buildings in one fell swoop. “Meanwhile it was dark and if flotsam then breaks loose and is heading towards you, there is practically no escape. It was therefore clear to us that we had to spend the night on the factory premises, because any further attempt to escape would have been too dangerous. In the end, the water stood at a height of about 1.90 meters above the floor of the halls.”

This meant that all the facilities were also flooded. The team on the site had acted with foresight and de-energized the entire plant: “The electricians naturally think ahead in such situations, removed all the main switches and cut off the power supply, which subsequently turned out to be an advantage when it came to damage limitation and reconstruction”, Müller explains.

ABP’s heater was also affected, was full of water, mud and residue

The team around Detlef Müller that remained on the premises was rescued by boats from the German armed forces early in the morning. Müller met later with a team to sound out the situation and check whether the site could be re-entered. “The water is one thing, but when it had receded, everything was full of mud – everywhere. And we had to deal with dust, for weeks, settling everywhere.” ABP’s warmer was also affected, was full of water, mud and residue. 

The future of Schmiedag was hanging by a thread in this situation, as the technical manager of the Schmiedag GmbH, Heinz Klenen, explains: “If nothing works at all, neither electricity nor IT, and all machines are affected – then this was basically a total loss.” However, the company benefited from being part of the Georgsmarienhütte Group. “The colleagues were able to help quickly – we moved products to other locations, were able to use resources such as experts, or the group’s own company fire brigade, which was able to supply us with lots of material that we didn’t even have here – from shovels to wheelbarrows to pumps,” explains Detlef Müller, “the colleagues came at the weekend, pumped out and set up construction dryers.” The motivated team both in the group and at the Hagen site contributed a lot to the fact that Schmiedag was able to resume production comparatively quickly.

The colleagues from the group were also able to help with the power supply: For electrical switchgear and power feeds, a site from the group could help that had similar equipment as needed by Schmiedag. This allowed for much faster restart than if a completely new feed had been needed. With the help, high voltage could be brought to the site in late August 2021 and the first plant could go back into operation. “With all the misfortune, there was also a lot of luck”, explains Heinz Klenen, “with the available replacement machines, for example, with quick help from the other plants, and the fact that we were just in the repair phase and had shut down the furnaces. All tempering furnaces were out of operation – much more could have happened if they had been running in full operation at high temperatures. They cannot be shut down in half an hour, especially since there was no warning whatsoever that such a flood disaster could hit us, and not even at short notice that masses of water were moving towards us.”

Dr. Marco Rische takes a close look at the re-integrated heater. The plant is running!

ABP Induction, too, was able to contribute to the quick return to normality. The ABP heating system type EBS 460 WK installed at Schmiedag was affected by the flood. A large part of the heater had been under water and was damaged and dirty after the water receded. An ABP team inspected the plant in November 2021 and prepared a quotation for a comprehensive modernization of the heater. Practically, all the relevant components of the heater had to be replaced and renewed, starting with the feeder panel with circuit breaker and fuses to the four IGBT converters with mains chokes, coupling choke, control boards and fan including control panel. All current transformers, voltage transformers and insulation monitoring were also affected, as well as the drive cabinet with all frequency converters and the control panel.

“As the old hardware was no longer available, new, up-to-date Siemens hardware was used. The program was upgraded to TIA. As a result, the control technology of the heating system is now again on a par with that of a new system”, explains Dr. Marco Rische, Director System Business at ABP Induction. ABP was also able to respond to special requests for the reconfiguration of the plant. The withdrawal at the heater was to be changed from an inclined lift to a robot withdrawal in the course of modernization. For this purpose, a coupler module was used to provide communication and signal transmission to the robot. The engineering also had to be adapted. To this end, ABP supplied a second light barrier so that block adhesives can be detected more efficiently.

Schmiedag heater: General overhaul at ABP Plant in Dortmund, Germany

The heater was brought to the ABP plant in Dortmund and completely refurbished. It had been completely overhauled already by mid-March 2022 and could be delivered to Schmiedag again. “It was important to us to help quickly and without complications and to improve the system in all possible places during the modernization. Today, the heater is as efficient as a new system”, explains Dr. Marco Rische.  Aspects such as variability and energy consumption also play a role. The heater is appropriately tuned to loading and unloading, the operation is optimized in terms of energy, and due to the introduction of the robot unloading, also for throughput.

The heating system from ABP Induction was directly expanded during the new installation – for example, to include removal by robot.

The other systems and equipment at Schmiedag were also put back into operation step by step. The backup server with all relevant operational and customer data, for example, was well protected. “Fortunately, we had planned the server’s position so that it remained above the water surface.” This helped to resume operations: “Nothing would have worked without the data.”

Even long-time employees cannot remember such a similar disaster: A colleague in the maintenance department has been here for just under 45 years now and had never seen anything like this. You cannot deliberate on every scenario. But we are now differently prepared for possible cases in the future with the knowledge we have today.

About ABP Induction

ABP is a leading manufacturer of induction furnaces and systems for inductive melting and holding for the metal and metalworking industries. ABP is an expert in melting, pouring, holding and heating iron, steel and non-ferrous metals with design, production, assembly and services for foundries, forges and steelworks. The ABP Induction Group with over 400 employees has companies in the USA, Mexico, Sweden, Germany, South Africa, Russia, India, Thailand and China. It is represented by service and sales partners in most of the world’s industrialized countries.

Safe operation in any foundry

Safety plays a major role in the world of automation. That goes for the protection of the employees at the machines as well as for the safe operation of the plants. As the complexity of machines and plants continues to increase, so too do the requirements for functional safety. The safety standard for the operation of machines and plants is defined by the newly designed „ABP Basic Safety Package“.

ABP Basic Safety Package
ABP Basic Safety Package

It provides high levels of safety and protection. It is already part of the basic configuration of every new ABP plant. Older plants can benefit from the „ABP Basic Safety Package“, which brings the plant back to the state of the art so that it can be operated safely and effectively. The ABP Basic Package is designed so that it is also suitable for retrofitting in existing plants – for a reduction in downtimes, a long machine service life and greater safety for the employees.

„ABP Basic Safety Package“ is a vital form of basic protection for existing plants

The „ABP Basic Safety Package“ is a vital form of basic protection for existing plants. The package consists of the GD 05 ground fault monitor, the diagnostic function for GD 05, an extended GD 05 ground fault monitor for TWIN-POWER® systems, the LCM leakage current measurement, the hedgehog coil and the test bath earth.

Prepared for all eventualities with „ABP Advanced Safety Package“

To ensure that foundry operators are prepared for all eventualities, ABP has developed the „ABP Advanced Safety Package“. This is an upgrade of the basic package and includes important safety features for almost complete protection. This features an automated system to verify bath grounding, locate yoke insulation defects in the mechanical area, and detect potential metal penetration.

Also connected to ABP digital solutions

You can also connect your equipment to ABP digital solutions. This makes your plants Industry 4.0 capable, for condition monitoring and a way to support you remotely for maintenance and repair. With this solutions, ABP also offers repair, upgrade and overhaul services for equipment from other manufacturers. Find out more about our digital services for even better plant availability thanks to Predictive Maintenance and even faster service via „digital Expert on Demand“ (dEoD).

The components of “ABP Basic Safety Package”

– Ground detector: The “Ground Detector 05” is measuring the electrical resistance between the induction coil and the molten metal. To enable this process a ground antenna will be installed, which is in electrical contact with the melting. If the isolation resistance drops underneath a certain level, “Ground Fault” will be displayed on the “Ground Detector 05”. In this case a failure signal will be send to the PLC, which will then shut off the converter.

– Integrated auto test of the Ground detectors: Beside the test of the bath grounding it must be ensured that the Ground Detector is working correctly, and the sensitivity is adjusted properly. Therefore, the Ground Detector will be connected to the PLC and the PLC program will be modified. The PLC will trigger an artificial ground fault, which must be detected by the Ground Fault Detector. The result of this test can be stored for the traceability.

– 3rd Ground detector for TwinPower systems: In TwinPower systems, the two existing ground detectors are bridged during operation, as they can influence each other. In order to operate the plant safely, a Leakage Current Detector is also installed between the furnaces to monitor the plant for short circuits or voltage flashovers during operation. To make the melting plants even safer in every operating phase – from low to high power, during sintering or melting – a third Ground Detector is used in combination with the Leakage Current Detector.

– Leakage current detector for SinglePower Systems for additional safety device in converter that detects voltage flashovers very quickly (e.g. from coil to ground) – always active.

– Hedgehog Coil – to notify ground fault before the melt arrives the coil. It is part of the ground fault detection. Copper bolts are attached to the coil beyond the grouting. Electrical potential of the coil is moved in direction of the crucible. In case of a metal penetration the fin contacts bolts before it gets into contact with the coil. The Ground fault detection can detect the fault earlier and switch off the converter before the coil gets into contact with the liquid metal.

– Manual Test of Bath Grounding: It is important to check whether the Ground Detector is functioning properly to ensure that the melt is grounded. With the manual bath ground verification it is possible to check if the grounding is there.

The components of “ABP Advanced Safety Package”

ABP Advanced Safety Package
ABP Advanced Safety Package

– Automatic Bath Ground Verification: To ensure that the Ground Detector can work properly, it is important that the bath is grounded. The current safety system is developed so that we can verify if there exists bath grounding. Furthermore, a grounded metal bath can be ensured independently from the operators.

Additional to the bath grounding a second isolated ground antenna will be installed. This isolated ground antenna is equipped with a monitoring unit with a relay. By closing this relay, it can be tested, if a current flows through the melt to the normal, grounded antenna. Therefore, it can be ensured that the melt is grounded properly. The monitoring unit is operated by the PLC. An automatic test will be done every shift (every 8 hours). The result of this test will be stored in the melting protocol.
This retrofit can only be done immediately before a new refractory lining.

– Yoke Insulation failure localization (mechanical): In the case of a ground fault, the Mechanical Yoke Insulation Detection supports with the following search. For that every yoke will be isolated and grounded separately. The ground cable will be wired on a terminal strip (copper bar). In case of a ground fault it can be tested if it is located in the yokes by undoing the screw of the cable between the grounding and the terminal strip. In case the ground fault disappears after undoing this screw, the yokes are the origins of the fault. After that we can test which of the yoke causes the ground fault. Therefore the screws on the terminal strip can be undone one after the other. When the yoke causing the ground fault, will then not be grounded, the Ground Detector will not detect the fault anymore. With the Yoke Insulation failure localization the downtime while searching for the ground fault can be decreased massively. Because the yokes have to be isolated, this can be done only during the maintenance of the furnace and if the furnace head can be removed or during coil changing.

– Metal Penetration Detection: In the case of a detected ground fault the operator has to decide fast, whether the ground fault is a dangerous one or not. Parasitic bath grounding, for example through the casting spout, falsifies this test and must be therefore eliminated. For this, a test procedure is integrated in the system.