JFE Steel Use Digital Twin to Rapidly Develop Innovative Radiant Tube Burner that Achieves Extended Service Life Fewer NOx Emissions and Energy Savings

20 June 2024

JFE Steel Corporation announced today that an innovative radiant tube burner, which the company developed in an unusually short period of time using digital twin technology in a virtual space, has demonstrated reliable and stable operation over an extended period of time at a cold rolling plant in the Chiba District of the company’s East Japan Works, indicating an expected service life around six times longer than that of conventional radiant tubes. In addition, the burner’s innovative design helps reduce NOx emissions and save energy.

Radiant tube burners are used to heat steel sheets in continuous hot-dip galvanizing and continuous-annealing lines to adjust mechanical properties such as tensile strength and elongation. Unlike direct heating burners, radiant tube burners burn fuel and air inside a metal tube, resulting in radiant heat from the tube that can be used to heat steel sheet. JFE Steel adopts a lot of radiant tube burners as many as direct heating type. Since this design can help maintain the surface quality of steel sheet, JFE Steel uses the burner extensively in annealing furnaces.
However, because combustion in the radiant tube burners takes place in a relatively narrow space, the tube can increase to a high temperature, so special measures must be taken to suppress possible deformation of the tube.
In response, JFE Steel constructed a digital twin (Figure 1) that faithfully reproduced the test furnace in a virtual space based on data from combustion tests conducted in a test furnace and physical models. The digital twin was then used to independently develop a new in-furnace radiant tube support structure, tube shape, burner environment, heat transfer promoter and heat exchanger.
The result is an innovative radiant tube burner (Figure 3) that achieves longer service life (one-sixth the normal deformation rate, Figure 2), fewer NOx emissions (30% reduction) and higher efficiency (3% energy savings) compared to conventional radiant tube burners. In addition, the burner can be put into operation in about half the time of a conventional burner.

Notably, the new design won JFE Steel its first-ever HTSJ Technology Award, which recognizes outstanding heat transfer technology. The Heat Transfer Society of Japan  presented the 2023 award to JFE Steel representatives at a ceremony in Kobe, Japan on May 30.
Digital twins reproduce real-world physical systems and processes in a virtual (digital) space as models (twins) that are equivalent to real-world systems and faithfully simulate real-world conditions. They are a core technology in cyber-physical systems (CPS). Applying the information gained from a digital twin to a control system makes it possible to maintain operations at a high level of efficiency, equivalent to or surpassing that of many skilled operators. Incorporating digital twin technology into the equipment design process enables visualization of the internal state of equipment in virtual space, which is not possible in the real world. The ability to create and test numerous prototypes significantly faster than before offers revolutionary potential for the efficient development and operation of production processes.

The steel industry is entering a transformative period, driven by the rapid advancement of digital technology and the challenge of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. JFE Steel views this period as an opportunity for growth and is working to develop innovative processes using digital twin technology, while also striving to develop competitive advantages through the active use of data across all of its business areas, including to transform existing businesses and create new businesses. Digital twin technology is highly suitable for developing fossil-free combustion and heating technologies and their application in carbon-neutral steel manufacturing. It is also expected to play an important role in green transformation (GX) initiatives.
Going forward, JFE Steel will continue to develop and deploy new technologies to help create a more sustainable world, including through its JFE ResolusTM solutions business, which provides customers with advanced technologies and expertise to improve their operations.