Implementing a Complete Digital Laboratory with Automated Laboratory Operations for Hindalco Aditya Coal Mine Testing - Jharsuguda

A female quality control lab technician inspecting food quality at lab with microscope


Hindalco (Hindustan Aluminium Corporation Limited) Industries are Asia's largest integrated primary producers of Aluminium and also are leaders in aluminium and downstream value-added products in India. They are a subsidiary of Aditya Birla Group and are the largest aluminium rolling company in the world. The company’s aluminium units across the country are involved in operations encompassing bauxite mining, alumina refining, coal mining, captive power plants, aluminium smelting downstream rolling, extrusions, and foils.

Hindalco management has managed to locate facilities in regions close to raw material sources and its presence in demand markets helped it improve profit margins. Hindalco believes in the fact that implementation of superior technology not only reduces costs but also provides superior and customized products to their markets. They adopted technology upgrades which have resulted in higher utilization rates at their plants and improved efficiency and an increase in revenues.

Hindalco has decided to upgrade itself to industry 4.0 standards. Digital revolution is slowly being applied to most of their operations. By doing so they are trying to bring all their activities onto a decision-enabling interface to make better-informed decisions. Laboratory digitalization has also been taken up as an integral part of this initiative and Revol Process Solutions Private Limited (Revol) has been chosen to deliver its flagship product Revol LIMS (Laboratory Information Management Solution) in Hindalco site wherein they wanted to bring all the laboratory operations right from sample receipt at the lab through to reporting by following hierarchy of assignments and approvals on a single system.

Revol team has successfully completed and implemented all the processes such as sample management, workflows, procedural automation, instruments integrations, reporting, CoA forms and ERP integration. The laboratory managers wanted their Laboratory Information Management Solution to handle efficiently to be able to adopt the solution with minimal user resistance. This successful implementation within committed time led Revol to be considered a preferred solution provider for laboratory digitization.

The Challenges

Hindalco being a major business of Aditya Birla Group of industries and a major player in the mining and metal industry space had multiple sites based on the availability of mines and managed to build the infrastructure required for seamless functioning of these sites. Since most of these sites are located in remote areas and have been functioning for many years, the Hindalco group made many attempts to introduce digitization into the laboratories functioning out of these locations to gain more visibility in terms of operations and data integrity.

Manual processes in terms of laboratory management have their own inherent risks like errors while sample collection, sample bag identification, tracking sample bags, entering results, dependency on personnel to provide data, and data silos can be adding to the complexity. Though they had tried building solutions internally and through Turnkey Solution providers, the challenge is that the solutions were not scalable and were turning data into silos that are counterintuitive to the project ambitions and highly expensive. Hence they started to look not only for a vendor with the capability to digitalize the laboratory but also has the ability to connect to their existing platforms to enable visibility to the management.

When our technical team went in to understand the scope of the project from the project leaders at Hindalco and while interacting with the various lab members and IT professionals about the above challenges we reiterated how it was impacting their performance. Just to brief, some specific challenges were in the area of sample management (the ability to properly register the sample collection and then track them through the lab life cycle till the samples are discarded after the stipulated time). There are 2 kinds of samples the lab receives, one which is sent on a regular periodic basis on a daily rooster from ERP, based on truck arrival and Adhoc samples. So Hence, this needed automation to register the sample inwards collection on a regular basis. This also meant that highly qualified team members spent unnecessary time on repetitive, manual tasks rather than high-level work that required their expertise.

The IT team was concerned about the ability of Revol LIMS to connect with their existing CSCTS Server.

The Solution

Revol Process Solutions Pvt. Ltd was selected to facilitate addressing these challenges after a thorough evaluation of Revol’s capabilities to provide a suitable solution to the current challenges and potential future needs based on current laboratory practices. The key capabilities that Revol LIMS demonstrated beyond automation of laboratory processes like sample registration code generation, enable the use of Barcode / QR code printers and scanners to track sample movement, task assignment based on roles, data capture from a wide range of laboratory equipment automatically and generate reports, was to be able to communicate with the legacy information systems put in place and also integrate instruments and machinery which did not have a way to connect with the LIMS via custom data entry interfaces thus bringing all the operations online.

After deploying Revol LIMS high-volume of sample registration and management, complex analytical laboratory data capture, calculations, and document and data storage are being handled with utmost confidence and on time.

Implementation Process

Revol’s project execution team after receiving the project details from the business side initiates the implementation process in a systematic order. The workflow followed is as below:

1. Kick-Off Meeting:

In this phase, Hindalco’s project owner team and Revol’s Project Management Team interact and define the key personnel from either side set up a communication plan to exchange information and review progress on either side so there are no unplanned surprises and delays. The definition of data needed for Master Data to be deployed in the LIMS platform is also created and sent out to the Hindalco team so they could share the necessary data to create a Data Repository which will lay the foundation for the system.

2. GAP Analysis:

After Revol LIMS was selected the next step was to understand the information flow in terms of the samples journey in Hindalco Industries from the point of collection of sample information from CSCTS Server to sample preparation, laboratory process, reporting/publishing of the results, and finally results revert back to the CSCTS Server. What's already available in the product and what needs to be configured, and what has to be created customized to address the lab's needs? The project team at Hindalco will help the Revol team prioritize specific areas.

3. Sample Workflow Development:

The Sample registration process for the Hindalco Industry begins at the Auger Mining Machine controlled by the CSCTS Server, which has information about the trucks that transfer the raw product from the mining point. It took close to 3 weeks for the Revol team to develop and connect with the CSCTS server with custom plugins so we could efficiently follow the complete sample collection as per the standard protocols at Hindalco.

An image illustrating the workflow of Revol LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System).

4. Configuration and Customization:

Based on inputs received from the GAP Analysis and Workflow study completed by the Revol team, all necessary workflow definitions and reports are configured, and where customization is needed they are developed to suit the requirements. Revol team configured the sample management module of Revol LIMS as required, after getting the information from CSCTS Server using the Revol API, barcode labelling of the samples, integration of instruments, generating QMS workflow, and CoA Reports. All the necessary reporting templates are designed and deployed by the Revol team.

5. Instrument Integration:

As part of the project Revol was to integrate a few Analytical Instruments (viz., Bomb Calorimeter, Sulphur Analyzer, and TGA) in the laboratory to the LIMS platform. Upon collecting the file formats and relevant information, Revol’s team created file parsing protocols which will then read the information from the actual reports and then automatically mention it in relevant reports, thus eliminating the risk of manual typing of results with its associated transcription errors while reporting.

An image illustrating the list of instruments integrated with Revol LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) in HINDALCO.

6. Verification and Final Acceptance Testing:

Revol team was deeply involved in the testing phase with information flowing back and forth to finalize the design of the system such that it worked in Hindalco’s network and met requirements. Before the final deployment process began, the implementation is also tested by a defined set of tasks and capabilities by the project management team from Hindalco and after that, they confirm the performance is in line with the initially defined goals of the project. The LIMS trainers and laboratory personnel reviewed the features and functions of the system, utilizing a checklist to ensure that all the components of the installation were in place and operating accordingly. The purpose of this was to demonstrate the performance and functionality of the system.

7. Training and Development:

The final rollout process was well supported by Hindalco IT Team, so any unforeseen issues were immediately addressed. Finally, after the UAT is received from the Hindalco project team, training is planned and delivered to the remaining users by the Revol Team at Hindalco Site. The end users started to become familiar with Revol LIMS since it was a change from the previously manual processes. At the end of March 2021, evaluating team at Hindalco, Jharsuguda completed the final acceptance-testing phase of the project and released the sign-off on the LIMS implementation project.

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