Quest for innovation to secure technology patent for EGA

State-owned aluminium giant working with Takamul to protect in-house technology advances

United Arab Emirates: From inception in 1979, the operating subsidiaries of Emirates Global Aluminium (“EGA”) have been committed to achieving operational excellence through continuous improvement and innovation in the aluminium smelting process so as to produce the world's best quality aluminium products, made-to-order and delivered direct to customers, while achieving maximum operating efficiencies. It’s a quest that has yielded multiple in-house developed technologies that enhance production processes, achieve higher production volumes, optimise raw material and energy consumption levels, improve operational safety and minimise environmental impact. 

More recently, efforts have been launched to protect the company’s inventions through applications to patent EGA’s proprietary technologies. Since 2014, EGA has worked closely with Takamul in developing and submitting the required patent application documentation. An innovation support programme developed and operated by the Abu Dhabi Technology Development Committee (“TDC”), Takamul’s mission is to help Emirati individuals, universities and enterprises in Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE, to protect and commercialize their innovative ideas. 

A case in point is the Anode-Rod Tracking System developed in-house by EGA’s operating subsidiary, Dubai Aluminium (“DUBAL”, also known as EGA Jebel Ali Operations), for which a patent application was filed by EGA in December 2014. After evaluation by Takamul’s Patent Review Committee, approval for financial support was granted in March 2015. 

Initiated in the 1990s, the aim of the Anode-Rod Tracking System is to track individual anodes and rods at each stage of the process – from anode production to anode rodding, through the smelter operation (potrooms) and back to anode rodding (for recycling of the anode butts and rod assemblies). An industry survey revealed that no system was available on the market that could fulfil DUBAL’s requirements. A pilot study was therefore launched to verify the use of an intelligent scanning concept to measure the performance of the anodes and rods by monitoring specific attributes at key stages and recording the findings against uniquely identified rod assemblies. After completing the pilot study in July 2007, implementation of the system at industrial scale began in 2008. 

Diverse enhancements have been implemented subsequently. For example, the project began as a system for tracking the rods, but was then extended to include tracking of the anodes, too. By linking the details of the rods and anodes, a comprehensive data cycle has become available. All information can now be traced relating to individual anodes – from the raw materials through to removing the anode butts from the rod assemblies, and including pertinent information to identify where the anode was consumed during the process phase in the potrooms (i.e. pot, cell and stall number). Net and gross carbon consumption can now be measured more accurately, anode problems can be evaluated, raw material performance can be assessed, rod assemblies can be managed, and individual/collective pot performance can be monitored. The latter provides opportunities to identify process improvement projects within the smelter, leading to optimised net carbon consumption (an essential part of DUBAL’s carbon management strategy) and financial savings.  

Importantly, both the initial system and the later improvements were developed entirely in-house at DUBAL. A twelve-member cross-functional team worked on the Anode-Rod Tracking System, with representatives from the automation, operations, process control, maintenance and information technology departments. Third party solution providers were engaged to supply various components and software, which were customised to DUBAL’s specifications; as well as for technical advice during system trouble-shooting and to supplement the company’s technical resources.

DUBAL’s Mariam Abdulrahman M Musallam Al Marzooqi, who holds a Bachelor’s in Electrical Communication Engineering and a Master’s in Strategic Project Management, lead the project and also served on the project team. “Extensive research and development went into this project, with much exploration of options followed by testing and deployment of suitable solutions,” says Mariam. “We faced many challenges during the technical development and execution stages, which we overcame successfully by leveraging the knowledge and expertise of the team and never giving up on our determination to deliver a system that would contribute measurable improvements. The end-result is a system that fulfils our immediate needs, but is also future-proof as it is adaptable and customisable to any smelter technology.”

EGA’s innovation focus is fully aligned with that of the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”), and underscore’s the company’s proud position as the industrial flagship of the UAE. Indeed 2015 is the Year of Innovation in the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”), as declared by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi) and endorsed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (GBE, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai), who has asserted that government must be engines of innovation.