Elkem Carbon

Elkem Carbon

Hot business

Capitalizing on its 100-years-long industrial and R&D expertise, Elkem Carbon serves the metallurgical smelting and primary aluminium industries in all major markets. 

Elkem Carbon is a world leading supplier of carbon electrode materials, lining materials, pre-baked electrodes, and specialty carbon products to metallurgical processes for producing ferro-alloys, base metals and primary aluminium. Elkem Carbon's core competence is knowledge of processes that involve very high temperatures and accurate chemical content of materials.

Carbon is one of the four business areas of Elkem AS, the front runner producer of silicon-related advanced materials. The parent company Elkem – founded in 1904 – has operations throughout the silicon value chain from quartz, silicon and downstream silicone specialities, speciality ferrosilicon alloys and carbon materials, as well as the solar value chain. Headquartered in Norway, Elkem has a strong global presence with 6,200 employees, 26 production plants, and two research centres. The revenue for Elkem was NOK 14,2 billion (EUR 1,6 billion) in 2016.

The Carbon division has production facilities in Norway, Brazil, South Africa, China and Malaysia – and a respectable annual production capacity of 260,000 tonnes of Söderberg electrode paste and 105,000 tonnes of other carbon products.

Having started its business in Kristiansand, Southern Norway in 1917, Elkem Carbon celebrated its 100th anniversary in June 2017 with an Open House welcoming the local community. The Minister of Trade and Industry, the neighbouring companies, and families of all employees were invited to come and see how the company is running, to see presentations and enjoy good food. A little train was driving the guests around the huge area. 

Sustainable steps

Elkem is dedicated to advancing the production of metals and materials through long-term R&D and innovation projects. The company aims at new growth segments driven by megatrends such as renewable energy, urbanisation, increased use of electronics, and demand for improved health care.

“There is a lot of research going on to create more environmentally-friendly products, and to find new raw materials”, says Bente Sundby Håland, Environment, Health and Security & Quality Manager at Elkem Carbon.

Elkem AS has over 370 R&D specialists in the global R&D centres in Norway and France. They cooperate with research institutions around the world to develop more efficient, sustainable and advanced processes and products. 

Elkem´s sustainability philosophy is based on the general principle of producing as efficiently as possible with the maximum use of all side streams, like material and energy. Similarly, Elkem Carbon´s products shorten the repair or relining time, thus reducing production losses. The materials contribute to stable operation and extend the lifetime of furnaces.

Hold the ownership and engage

Elkem Carbon utilizes LabVantage laboratory information management system (LIMS) in both production and R&D. The LIMS is used by 70 operators, process engineers, R&D, the quality department, as well as marketing & sales for logging in and retrieving analysis, checking against specifications, monitoring processes and products, analysing trends, doing customer specific analysis, and for measuring the workload at the lab. 

The LIMS also has interfaces with other systems such as the operational process data system, customer and product information, product and sales system, barcodes, and process view control.

Preparations for the LIMS delivery took 2-3 years.

We needed a modern laboratory information management system which can easily be integrated with other systems.

"We wanted a system with a lower user threshold, and the possibility to get support also later”, Bente Sundby Håland relates.

“Already a long time before deciding whose system to choose, I talked to the salesperson of Software Point asking about different possibilities. He kept very good follow-up. We also had discussions with the Managing Director before the final agreement and she understood us very well – she is not only a sales person, but good at both technical and practical processes. She knew what we were talking about.”

Laboratory technician Hans Erik Sætrum led the LIMS project at Elkem Carbon Lab:

“We chose LabVantage Enterprise LIMS because it got a high score on functionality, and it seemed to be a user-friendly system – also for the administrator. With good web solutions it is easy to make changes and adjustments by ourselves. Other suppliers´ deliveries would have been more fixed, while we required more customizing for us. Additionally, there was a fixed price for the pre-project.”

On Elkem Carbon´s side, the LIMS project team consisted of IT, R&D Lab, and operational laboratory experts, people responsible for the interfaces to other systems, plus Sætrum as the Project Manager who spent almost 50-100% of his time ensuring that the train is moving forward, bringing the project into a happy end.

Out of the box, down-to-earth 

“One of our good experiences was that instead of the estimated 2-4 workshops we had 8 workshops with Software Point. It was more efficient than it would have been working by ourselves. Software Point system specialists were hammering away with the problems, and made the necessary adjustments the next day after workshops.”

“We had a very good project team. The softwarepointers were competent and our communication was good – it was good working together. Also, it was very useful to have our own IT staff in the project organization, more or less full-time. The implementation went according to the plan, time consumed on target.”

Saying in unison, Sætrum and Sundby Håland see that the thorough pre-survey meant a lot. “With clear guidelines the project tasks didn’t change so much afterwards.”

Yet, some challenges occurred. Getting proper reports from the system in a simple way was first difficult. 

“In our lab we had no people with previous experience from the reporting system. We used ad hoq inquiries and pre-defined requests during the project. However, Software Point experts understood our lab work: they helped us get the right structure of data, and also when we wanted to add new functionalities out of the box. As a person, they were easy to understand, very down-to-earth people.”

“Support was very good during the project and it was easy to get hold of the experts. Perhaps the project managers could have had more pressure when pushing progress, but it didn´t delay the project. As a matter of fact, we haven’t officially ended it with Software Point. They have helped us with R&D issues. Further plans include implementing QlickView for trending, and collecting data.”

The new system has now been up and running since February 2016 in the Norwegian headquarters where Elkem Carbon´s biggest facilities are. If needed, LabVantage LIMS can later be extended to the other locations around the world.

“For production, the biggest benefit is the increased traceability: a good overview from raw materials to finished products. Also, notification to users when analyses are out of spec. Our customers can be confident that all products meet the requirements.”

“For R&D, the advantages of LabVantage LIMS are the easy overview of tasks, tracking of analysis, ability to prioritize and schedule work, and collection of documents. Our customers can enter and retrieve information, extract reports with numbers.”

Hans Erik Sætrum compliments the project team on good work and Elkem Carbon people – both from operational laboratory and R&D Lab – on keen participation:

“The most important thing is to involve the people working in the lab directly in the project – not just to time to time. Get the ownership, find the best solution.”

More info:    Elkem Carbon 
Text:             Software Point
Photos:        Elkem AS