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Neural networks for the identication and control of blast furnace

hot metal quality

V.R. Radhakrishnan*, A.R. Mohamed
School of Chemical Engineering, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 31750 Tronoh, Malaysia
The operation and control of blast furnaces poses a great challenge because of the dicult measurement and control problems
associated with the unit. The measurement of hot metal composition with respect to silica and sulfur are critical to the economic
operation of blast furnaces. The measurement of the compositions require spectrographic techniques which can be performed only
o line. An alternate technique for measuring these variables is a Soft Sensor based on neural networks. In the present work a
neural network based model has been developed and trained relating the output variables with a set of thirty three process vari-
ables. The output variables include the quantity of the hot metal and slag as well as their composition with respect to all the
important constituents. These process variables can be measured on-line and hence the soft sensor can be used on-line to predict the
output parameters. The soft sensor has been able to predict the variables with an error less than 3%. A supervisory control system
based on the neural network estimator and an expert system has been found to substantially improve the hot metal quality with
respect to silicon and sulfur. # 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Blast furnace; Neural network; Expert system
1. Introduction
Blast furnace is the rst and often most critical step in
the manufacture of iron and steel. A blast furnace con-
sists of a large, vertical, cylindrical shaft furnace (Fig. 1).
The blast furnace studied in this paper has a height of
32.35 mand a maximumdiameter of 10.9 m. The internal
useful volume of the furnace is 2002 m
. Solid raw
material (iron ore, sinter, limestone, coke, dolomite, Mn
ore) is charged from the top of the furnace. Hot air is
blown into the furnace from the bottom through the
tuyeres. The molten hot metal (HM) and the molten
slag are tapped from the bottom periodically and sent
for further processing. The blast furnace studied pro-
duces approximately 2640 tonne of hot metal per day.
On an average for producing 1 tonne of HM 800 kg of
coke, 800 kg of ore, 1100 kg of sinter, 40 kg of Mn ore,
90 kg of limestone and 3400 standard m
of hot air blast
are employed. With every tonne of HM approximately
600 kg of slag, 30 kg of ue dust and 2500 m
of blast
furnace gas are also produced. Part of the blast furnace
gas is burnt in the stoves for heating the air blast which
enters the furnace at about 1050

C. The air blast is

enriched with tonnage oxygen. The blast also contains
some amount of moisture (about 1%) and other tuyre
additives. Complex gassolid, solidsolid and liquid
liquid interactions take place in dierent zones of the
blast furnace. The descending iron ore is reduced by the
hot ascending gases which contain a high percentage of
carbon monoxide to provide a reducing atmosphere.
The hot blast of air combines with the descending
incandescent coke to generate the carbon monoxide rich
gas as well as releases the required energy for raising the
system temperature to about 1650

C. The impurities in
the iron like silica and alumina combine with the uxes
(limestone and dolomite) to form the slag. The molten
iron and slag collect at the bottom with the slag oating
on the molten iron. The slag layer plays an important
role in rening and purifying the hot metal produced.
The nal concentration of the hot metal with respect to
the impurities like silicon is the result of the equilibrium
between the iron phase and slag phase when the iron
droplets trickle down through the slag phase. The sulfur
present in the coke is also a very critical impurity and
should report to the slag rather than the hot metal.
0959-1524/00/$ - see front matter # 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PI I : S0959- 1524( 99) 00052- 9
Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +60-05-367-6901; fax:+60-05-367-7055.
E-mail address: (V.R. Radhakrishnan)
2. Blast furnace variables and models
The important constituents of hot metal and slag
which ultimately aect their quality are shown in Table
1. For the ecient operation of the steel making process
the hot metal produced in the blast furnace has to meet
stringent specications with respect to composition and
temperature. In the particular integrated steel plant
studied in this paper the carbon content has to be within
5%, the silicon content less than 1.5%, the sulfur con-
tent less than 0.4% and the phosphorus content less
than 0.4%. Similarly the slag composition is also very
important from the point of view of its owability and
granulation characteristics.
The load variables which aect the controlled vari-
ables are shown in Table 2. This list was prepared by a
DELPHI technique by polling experienced blast furnace
operators, technologists, managers and research work-
ers. These load variables enter the process either from
the top with the solid charge or from the bottom with
the hot blast. The solid raw materials charged from the
top are normally preblended to reduce their variability.
The operation of the furnace so that it is maintained in
a very stable status is one of the primary objectives of
The amounts of sulfur and silicon present in the pig
iron at the hearth of the blast furnace is the most critical
variable for the economics of the steel plant. These two
variables are also very sensitive to the upsets in the blast
furnace operation [1]. The variables which can be
manipulated in a blast furnace can be divided into two
classes. Those entering the system from the top and
those entering the system from the bottom. The
manipulated variables entering from the top are the ore/
coke ratio and the basicity ratio. The basicity ratio is
related to the amount of ux material limestone and
dolomite added per tonne of hot metal produced. The
manipulated variables from the bottom are the hot blast
temperature, humidity and the fuel/ore ratio. The
manipulated variables from the top aect the hot metal
compositions after a long period of the order of 68 h.
The manipulated variables entering from the bottom
have a relatively quick eect on the compositions.
In normal practice the composition of the hot metal
and slag as shown in Table 1 are measured by spectro-
scopic analysis of a sample of the hot metal or slag.
Since spectroscopic analysis is a laboratory technique
the value of the variables are not available for on line
control of the input variables of the blast furnace. The
tonnage of the hot metal and slag produced in each
tapping are also an information of great importance for
the scheduling of the steel plant operations. These mea-
surements also cannot be performed a priori and has to
be inferred from the ladle weights after the material is
poured. Because of the large hold up in the blast furnace
there is a very large time delay between the inputs and
the outputs. This causes considerable control diculties.
The only possible control actions to control the output
quality and quantity of the hot metal and slag from a
blast furnace is some form of model based predictive
control. For implementation of model based controls,
on-line measurements of the controlled variables are
required. The controlled variables in the present case
are the composition and tonnage variables which can-
not be measured on-line. An alternative method for on-
line measurement of variables is the so called soft sensor
techniques. In the soft sensor technique a variable which
cannot be directly measured is related by a suitable
model to several other process variables which are
amenable to on line measurements. These variables in
most cases are temperatures, pressures and ows which
can all be measured on-line by standard instrumenta-
tion. The complex relationship between the measured
variables and the variable of interest is modeled by a
suitable technique.
There have been many attempts made to model the
blast furnace processes. The complexity of the heat and
mass transfer processes coupled with a large number of
gassolid, solidsolid and solidliquid reactions, com-
bustion processes and inter phase mass transfer makes
the modeling of blast furnaces an extremely dicult
Fig. 1. The iron blast furnace.
510 V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524
problem. Peacey and Davenport [2] have presented a
very extensive steady state heat and mass balance model
of the blast furnace. Their model can be used for deter-
mining the required raw material rates for a given hot
metal production rate. The hot metal and slag tempera-
tures, o gas rate and analysis and slag production can
also be calculated from their model. However this
model cannot predict the HM and slag compositions
which are the required inputs for their model. Ufret and
Williams [1] have in their model combined the heat bal-
ances, mass balances and kinetic data with empirical
relations for phase equilibrium in the hot metal -slag
system. The model consists of 10 state variables. The
blast furnace is divided into four cells, the stack, bosh,
hearth and molten metal pool. The model uses empirical
relationships to dene the activity coecients of the
dierent components, the kinetic parameters, and the
temperature dependence of phase solubility. These
equations are complex nonlinear relationships. The
resulting set of dierential and algebraic equations are
solved numerically. Their model can predict the mate-
rial and blast requirements as well as silica and sulfur
concentrations in the hot metal. Their model was not
capable of predicting various other parameters like
production rate of hot metal and slag and slag basicity.
For modeling such complex systems neural network is
an attractive technique. There has been several success-
ful attempts at modeling metallurgical systems using
neural networks [3,4]. In the present work 33 measur-
able variables related to the blast furnace operation and
burden compositions are related by NN techniques to
six variables related to the hot metal and nine variables
related to the slag (Table 3).
3. Neural networks
Neural networks can be thought of as a nonlinear
mapping between a set of inputs and a set of outputs. In
a neural network the inputs and outputs are connected
through a series of nodes arranged in several layers (Fig.
2). Because of this complex connectivity between the
nodes the NN model is able to perform the mapping
with excellent accuracy. A feedforward neural network
essentially consists of a number of nodes interconnected
as shown in Fig. 2. The inputs x
are connected to the
nodes in the input layer. The outputs y
are taken from
Table 2
Preliminary list of input variables
Sinter Coke Iron
Limestone Mn
Fe% * * * * *
Iron oxides% * * *
% * * * * *
CaO% * * * *
% * * * * *
MgO% * * * *
O * *
S% *
MnO% * * *
C% * *
Caloric value *
Basicity * *
Quantity (tons/h) * * * *
Pressure * *
Di., pressure * *
Temperature * *
Steam rate * *
Oxygen% * *
Table 1
Important quality variables of hot metal and slag
No. Variable Mean Median Standard
Pseudo standard
Skew Kurtosis Standard error
of estimate
Hot metal
1 Quantity (tonnes) 377.65 408.09 122.65 72.33 0.88 0.11 28.67
2 Temperature (

C) 1396.2 1395 5.28 5.74 0.39 0.07 3.99

3 Si% 1.19 1.06 0.26 0.21 1.27 0.15 0.015
4 S% 0.032 0.033 0.01 0.031 0.437 0.61 0.00086
5 Mn% 0.80 0.72 0.15 0.2 0.41 1.29 0.0096
6 C% 4.53 4.57 0.08 0.57 1.3 0.37 0.012
7 Quantity (tonnes) 110.54 119.9 35.40 46.66 0.37 0.91 1.533
8 TiO
% 0.61 0.61 0.14 0.18 0.45 0.61 0.01
9 SiO
% 34.11 34.11 0.66 0.94 0.06 1.27 0.53
10 Al
% 20.87 20.75 0.55 0.48 0.92 0.25 0.294
11 CaO% 30.91 29.68 1.10 1.68 0.26 1.17 0.462
12 MgO% 10.30 10.25 0.31 0.37 0.14 0.97 0.229
13 K
O% 0.61 0.62 0.16 0.15 0.23 0.79 0.019
14 FeO% 0.53 0.52 0.06 0.05 0.77 0.52 0.015
15 Basicity 0.91 0.91 0.05 0.07 0.01 1.13 0.018
V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524 511
the output layer. There are no limitations on the num-
ber of inputs and outputs. Between the input layer and
the output layer there exists one or more hidden layers.
The transformation or mapping takes place in the hid-
den layers. All the nodes in one layer are connected to
all the nodes in the next layer. The connection strength
between the output of node i with node j is given by
weight W
. The weights can take values between 0 and
1, 0 signifying no transmission of the signal and 1 sig-
nifying the transmission of the full signal strength to the
node j. At the node all the incoming signals are summed
and the bias subtracted from the sum to give the total
activation. The output is calculated as a nonlinear
function of the total activation. A nonlinear function
which is commonly used for the transformation is the
Sigmoid function [Eq. (2)]. If the activation is zero or
negative the output x
of the ith node is zero. The
mathematical operations at the node can be expressed
by the equations,
Table 3
Input variables
No. Variable Mean Standard deviation Pseudo standard deviation Skew Kurtosis
1 Iron+iron oxides% 0.61 0.04 0.05 0.01 0.02
2 SiO
% 0.07 0.002 0.0015 0.02 0.01
3 CaO% 0.20 0.005 0.004 0.07 0.03
4 Al
% 0.05 0.0006 0.0005 0.05 0.08
5 MgO% 0.05 0.0005 0.006 0.06 0.06
6 Quantity (tonne) 256.73 130.49 80.33 0.88 0.11
Iron ore
7 Iron oxides 89.29 2.5 2.4 0.05 0.5
8 SiO
% 3.17 0.23 0.22 0.04 0.2
9 Al
3.41 0.22 0.24 0.06 0.2
10 Quantity (tonne) 268.13 61.82 45.8 0.87 0.78
11 SiO
% 15.2 0.5 0.45 0.06 0.06
12 Al
% 6.8 0.2 0.22 0.05 0.05
13 S% 0.04 0.004 0.0035 0.06 0.048
14 Iron oxides% 10.64 0.53 0.48 0.05 0.08
15 CaO% 2.91 0.15 0.18 0.04 0.02
16 C% 75.2 2.8 3.5 0.09 0.075
17 Caloric value (MJ/kg) 24 0.78 0.65 0.15 0.25
18 Quantity (tonne) 304.08 98.75 76.85 0.88 0.76
19 SiO
% 5.53 0.28 0.35 0.05 0.04
20 CaO% 82.57 1.54 0.89 0.08 0.06
21 Al
% 3.76 0.54 0.65 0.08 0.07
22 MgO% 8.43 0.68 0.78 0.07 0.065
23 Quantity (tonne) 82.94 13.49 9.8 0.85 0.75
24 SiO
% 30.86 1.23 1.56 0.08 0.07
25 Al
% 5.18 0.04 0.06 0.06 0.056
26 MnO+ 38.67 1.56 2.54 0.08 0.076
27 Quantity (tonne) 16.61 5.39 3.84 0.87 0.54
Hot blast
28 Temperature (

C) 780 15.5 20.8 0.07 0.08

29 Pressure (bar) 1.7 0.04 0.06 0.08 0.085
30 H
O (tonne) 13.21 0.56 0.65 0.08 0.87
31 O
) 7553 20 35 0.065 0.054
32 Quantity (Nm
) 547 592 12567 14879 0.087 0.15
33 Rate (Nm
/h) 133 559 4678 5213 0.076 0.062
Time variable
34 Time from last HM tapping (h) 4.1 0.2 0.23 0.076 0.067
35 Time from last slag tapping (h) 2.05 0.18 0.24 0.053 0.089
Fig. 2. Feed forward neural network.
512 V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524
Total activation of node j; z

Output of node j; x

1 e
, i=1,2. . .j,. . .n = output of node
, i=1,2. . .j. . .n = activation of node
, i,j=1,2. . .. . .. . .n, i6j = weight of signal from ith
node to jth node
, i=1,2. . .j. . .. . .n = bias of ith node
There are no hard and fast rules about the choice of
the number of nodes and number of hidden layers to be
used in an application. Usually some trial and error is
required to determine the best combination to minimize
the error. Before a neural network model can be used it
has to be trained. During the training phase the best
values of the weights W
are determined by an optimi-
zation technique. In the present work a standard
method of optimization called Generalized Delta Rule
[5] was used for training the network. In the GDR
algorithm we start with an initial assumed set of weights
which can all be unity. For all the data sets in the
training set we determine the calculated outputs using
the NN and compare it with the actual required output.
The error between the two is used to change the weights
such that the summation of the squared errors are
minimized. A suitable optimization technique is used
for this purpose. In the present study the Levenberg
Marquardt method was used for the optimization.
4. Selection of process variables
There are a large number of process variables in the
blast furnace which aects the quality and composition
of the hot metal and the slag. The selection of an
appropriate set of these variables is not a trivial task.
Including too many minor variables in the model will
make it dicult to train and use. On the other hand if
we leave out any important variables from the model
then the model accuracy to change in that variable will
be poor. The variables in the blast furnace process can
be classied as the composition and quantity variables
of the feed from the top and the variables associated
with the hot blast from the bottom. The solid feed from
the top has a residence time in the blast furnace in the
range of 58 h. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that
not only the current values of these variables, but more
so the historical values of the variables over the last 8 h are
likely to have a profound eect on the output variables at
the present time. The hot blast variables on the other
hand has an immediate eect on the conditions prevailing
in the blast furnace bosh and hearth which aects the
output variables also immediately. Hence we need not
consider the historical values of these variables. On the
basis of these considerations and the experience of blast
furnace experts the preliminary list of input variables
for the NN was chosen as shown in Table 2. This list
was made by using a DELPHI approach. In this
method a total of 158 persons comprising blast furnace
technicians, blast furnace engineers and academicians
were polled. The results of the poll were consolidated to
give a rst list of process variables. The preliminary list
contained a total of 51 variables. By correlation analysis
variable pairs showing low correlation were removed
from the set to give the nal list of outputs and inputs as
shown in Tables 1 and 3, respectively. A total of 230
data sets were collected. The data covered an operating
period of 6 months. During these 6 months the furnace was
under normal operation and hence the neural network
output corresponds to the normal blast furnace operation.
5. Preliminary processing of data
For the successful use of plant data for the training of
the neural network it is essential to screen the data using
statistical methods as well as normalize them. By these
techniques some of the inherent characteristics of the
data can be incorporated into the model thereby,
increasing the model accuracy.
5.1. Data denition
As discussed earlier the variables entering the process
with the burden at the top aects the hot metal and slag
compositions after a considerable delay of the order of
58 h. To take care of this historical eect of these
variables a weighted moving average method was used
for dening the variables.
X t 0:03x t 8 0:05x t 7 0:1x t 6
0:2x t 5 0:3x t 4 0:2x t 3
0:1x t 2 0:02x t 1 3
x(tk) =value of the variable at time (tk)
X(t) =weighted moving average value
For all the variables entering the process from the top
the variables were dened in this manner as inputs to
the neural network. The weights were decided on the
basis of a residence time distribution study on the cold
blast furnace which was available. For the blast vari-
ables the current values were the input to the neural
V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524 513
5.2. Data segmentation
The data collected from the operating logs of the blast
furnace is to be segmented into three groups, the train-
ing set, the validation set and the testing set. The data in
the training set is used for training the weights of the
neural net so that the error becomes lower than a pre-
determined tolerance. When the neural network is
trained in this manner one draw back is that the net-
work will `memorize' the specic characteristics of the
training set to minimize the error. When this net is used
against another set of inputs the prediction accuracy
will be low. Using adequate number of neurons in the
hidden layers, and adequate number of training cycles
ensures that over learning does not occur [6]. Another
method which has been used is to add a random noise
to the data. Segmenting the data into a training and
validation set ensures that the weights do not converge
to a local minimum. In this method after the neural net
has converged using the training data set, it is again
retrained using the validation data set. By forcing the
retraining against a new set of data and from a new
starting set of weights local minima is avoided. In the
validation set the nal weights obtained in the training
phase are used as the initial weights. When the error
converges in the validation phase, the trained net can be
used as the process model. In the present study the
number of neurons used in the hidden layer were varied
to test the adequacy of their number.
To test the accuracy of the neural network model we use
the test data. These data are used only once for the testing
the model accuracy. The 230 data sets collected from the
plant were segmented into a training set and a validation
set each of 100 data and a testing set of 30 data. The seg-
mentation was performed using random numbers. An
ANOVA test was performed to verify that the original set
and the three segmented sets represented the same popu-
lation as given by their mean and standard deviations.
5.3. Normalization
The plant data being physical variables like tempera-
ture, tonnage and compositions, they have widely varying
magnitudes dierent by several orders of magnitude. Such
data cannot be directly used for training a NN since the
variable with a larger magnitude will profoundly aect
the weights as compared to a variable with a smaller
magnitude. In the present work all the variables have
been normalized to the range 0 to 1 by the relationship
x x
= x
normalized value
minimum value
maximum value
5.4. Testing for normal distribution
Any specic information regarding the distribution
of the data is very important in selecting the neural
network architecture. In the present case all the data
corresponds to the values of measured physical and
composition variables. The physical variables like
tonnage, ow rates and temperatures are under closed
loop control in the system. The composition variables of
all the charge materials are under control by suitable
preblending systems. Similarly under normal furnace
operations the output variables will have values nearly
equal to their design values. Therefore it is expected that
all the variables will be normally distributed with
truncated tails. The statistical properties of all the out-
put and input variables are presented in Tables 1 and
3, respectively. The statistical distribution of the vari-
ables were analyzed using the method suggested by
Hamilton [6].
1. Test for symmetry is based on the skewness of the
data. Skew=0, symmetric; Skew<0 asymmetric
tail extending to positive values; Skew>0 asym-
metric tail extending to negative values.
2. Normality can be tested for symmetric data by
comparing the standard deviation with the pseudo
standard deviation. SD=PSD Normal; SD>PSD
Heavy tailed; SD<PSD Light tailed.
3. Relative Peakness or Flatness of the data is tested
by the Kurtosis. Kurt=0, Normal; Kurt>0
peaked distribution; Kurt<0 at distribution.
On the basis of the above tests it was concluded that
all the composition variables in the input and output
sets were essentially normally distributed. The values of
skew and kurtosis were very small attesting to the
normality of the distribution. This is to be expected
since the compositions of the raw materials after
blending should be normally distributed. The tonnage
of hot metal and slag produced and the raw materials
charged were however not normally distributed. The
reason for this was that the hot metal and slag were
tapped from the system at approximately 4 h and 2 h
intervals. The actual tapping time were decided on the
basis of various scheduling considerations and the level
of the molten metal and slag in the hearth. Due to
various operational reasons the quantity of hot metal
produced from tap to tap is not constant and depends
on the amount of reduction taking place in the system.
Similarly the raw material charged in a tap to tap period
is again dependent on the material movement inside
the furnace. Since most of the variables are normally
distributed the neural network trained with these data
is expected to perform well. Further the number of
data sets required for training the network need not be
very high.
514 V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524
5.5. Removal of outliers
The statistical parameters calculated can be used for
identifying and removing the outliers in the data. For
the composition data which is normally distributed the
removal of outliers is justied. However for the tonnage
data which are not symmetric we cannot remove any
data as an outlier. Outliers may be caused by analysis
errors or other types of systematic errors. The outliers
were removed using the principle of exploratory data
analysis [7]. The method consists of dening a pair of
inner fences and a pair of outer fences given by Eq. (5).
Data lying between the inner fences are the correct data,
those between the inner and outer fences are the mild
outliers and those outside the outer fences are the severe
Lowinner fence Q
1:5 IQR 5
Lowouter fence Q
High inner fence Q
1:5 IQR
High outer fence Q
where Q
, Q
=rst and third quartile, respectively
IQR=interquatrile range.
2% of the data were found to be mild outliers and
0.5% of the data were severe outliers. The severe outliers
were removed from the data set as recommended [7].
6. Network architecture
A neural network consists of an input layer, one or
more hidden layers and an output layer. The number of
neurons in the input layer is xed as the number of input
variables. Similarly the number of output layer neurons
is xed at the number of output variables. The number of
hidden layers in the network and the number of neurons
in each of the hidden layers should be specied before the
network can be trained. There are no hard and fast rules
regarding the selection of the number of hidden layers
and the number of nodes. The representational capacity
of a layer is a function of the number of nodes. Hence
higher the number of nodes better should be the neural
network. However it has been observed that when the
number of neurons are increased the network perfor-
mance at rst improves and then reaches a plateau.
Further too large a number of neurons will enable the
network to learn the specic features rather than the
statistical features of the training set leading to over
learning. Because of these factors the network archi-
tecture has to be decided on an empirical basis.
In the present work the number of input variables are
35 and hence the number neurons in the input layer was
xed at 35. Similarly with 15 output variables the num-
ber of neurons in the output layer is xed at the same
number. Simulation experiments were conducted to
determine the optimum number of hidden layers and
the number of neurons in the hidden layers. Neural
networks with 1, 2 or 3 layers were selected for testing.
The hidden layer neurons were varied from 10 to 40 in
steps of 5. This gives 21 dierent combinations with
dierent architecture. All these nets were trained with
the training data and the trained net tested with the
testing data to determine the model error. The results of
the simulation study is shown in Fig. 3. With all the
three types of hidden layers the model error was found
to decrease sharply with the number of neurons and
then reach a plateau. Beyond that number there was no
substantial improvement in network performance by
increasing the number of neurons. In the case of number
of hidden layers, use of two or three layers gave dis-
tinctly superior performance as compared to a single
layer. The performance with two or three layers were
quite similar with the two layers giving slightly better
performance. For the two hidden layer network the best
performance was obtained with 3035 neurons in the
hidden layer. On the basis of these considerations a nal
architecture of the following specications was selected
for the model.
Input layer : 1
Input layer neurons : 35
Output layer : 1
Output layer neurons : 15
Number of hidden layers : 2
Number of hidden layer neurons : 35
A second important network parameter is the learn-
ing rate used in the optimization [5]. The nal model
error depends on the learning rate chosen. To determine
the optimum learning rate a series of experiments were
carried out in which the network was trained with dif-
ferent learning rates varying between 0.01 and 0.8. The
results presented in Fig. 4 shows that the best perfor-
mance was achieved with a learning rate of 0.2. There-
fore this value of the learning rate was used in all
further studies.
7. Network training and sensitivity analysis
The network of the architecture given in the previous
section was trained with the 100 sets of training data.
The training was carried out for about 450,000 itera-
tions. The convergence was tested using a tolerance on
the error. When the change in error between consecutive
iterations became less than 10
the training was stop-
ped. The rate of convergence of the error is shown in
Fig. 5. The neural network was now retrained with the
V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524 515
validation set of 100 data. For the validation phase the
initial weights of the net were the nal converged
weights from the training phase. The convergence of the
error in the validation phase is also shown in Fig. 5. The
nal error in the validation phase converges to a value
less than the nal value of the error in the training
The neural network was originally trained with the 35
variables shown in Table 3. To explore the possibility of
reducing the number of variables in the model without
adversely aecting the model accuracy a sensitivity
analysis was performed. For performing the sensitivity
analysis one variable at a time was held constant at it
mean value. Using the testing set of 30 data the pre-
dicted value of the output variables and the error from
the true value were determined with only the remaining
34 inputs. This error was compared with the prediction
error of the network with all the 35 variables included.
The sensitivity analysis for the particular case of the
variable `Fe% in Sinter' is shown in Fig. 6. The gure
Fig. 3. Variation of model error with number of neurons in the hidden layer: (a) one hidden layer, (b) two hidden layers, (c) three hidden layers.
Fig. 4. Variation of error with learning rate for a network with two hidden layers and 35 hidden layer neurons.
516 V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524
Fig. 5. The convergence of the training process: (a) training phase (b) validation phase.
Fig. 6. Sensititvity of output variables to changes in Fe% in sinter: (a)
hot metal quantity, (b) slag quantity, (c) Mn% in hot metal, (d) hot
metal temperature, (e) Si% in hot metal, (f) S% in hot metal.
Fig. 7. Sensitivity of output variables to changes in CaO% in sinter:
(a) slag quantity, (b) hot metal quantity, (c) S% in hot metal, (d)
Mn% in hot metal, (e) Si% in hot metal, (f) hot metal temperature.
V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524 517
shows the change in error for all the output parameters
of the network. Figs. 79 are similar plots for the vari-
ables CaO% in sinter, Fe% in coke ash and CaO% in
coke ash. Similar analysis were carried out in the case of
all the 35 variables shown in Table 3. As shown in Figs.
69 these four variables produced a change in error less
than 1% when the variable being considered changed
through its total span. This does not mean that the
particular input variable has no eect on the output
variable. It only means that the range of the input vari-
able is so small that keeping it a constant does not pro-
duce any appreciable error in the model prediction. On
this basis these four variables, were dropped from the
model and the nal model had 31 input variables. With
these 31 input variables the network was retrained and
revalidated using the 100 data sets each in the training
and validation sets.
8. Model validation
To test the accuracy of the neural network model
developed the 30 sets of data earmarked for testing were
utilized. The values of the output parameters predicted
from the model were compared with their actual
measured values. These results are shown in Figs. 10
and 11 for the hot metal and slag variables respectively.
In these gures the predicted and measured value of a
particular variable is plotted against the identication
number of the tap. The prediction accuracy for all the
variables were better than 5%. In most cases an accu-
racy of the order of 2% was achieved. More impor-
tantly the model was able to accurately track any
changes in the variables. The standard error of estimate
shown in Table 1 shows the high prediction accuracy
achieved by the model. It may be noted that the pre-
dicted temperature shown in Fig. 10 has a standard
error of estimate of 3.99 degrees which should be con-
sidered highly satisfactory in view of the absolute value
of the temperature of the order of 1396

C. The HMT
results look less coincident because of the large numer-
ical value of this parameter.
A Neural Network based model is valid only so long
as the system as represented by the training data has not
changed. If the system has changed then the model will
no longer be valid. In the case of a blast furnace this is
not a major problem since the furnace operates in a
stable regime with essentially constant raw material
Fig. 8. Sensitivity of output variables to changes in Fe% in coke ash:
(a) slag quantity, (b) Mn% in hot metal, (c) hot metal quantity, (d) hot
metal temperature, (e) Si% in hot metal, (f) S% in hot metal.
Fig. 9. Sensitivity of output variables to changes in CaO% in coke
ash: (a) slag quantity, (b) S% in hot metal, (c) Mn% in hot metal, (d)
Si % in hot metal, (e) hot metal quantity, (f) hot metal temperature.
518 V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524
qualities over fairly long periods of time. When impor-
tant changes like furnace relining, changes in the fur-
nace injectant composition or changes in the source and
quality of raw materials takes place then the neural
network has to be retrained for the new set of condi-
tions. The training can be incorporated in the model in
what is known as an Adaptive NN, but this has not
been found necessary for a Blast Furnace model since
the system is stable over long periods.
9. Expert system control of silica and sulfur in the hot
The control of silicon and sulfur at stable low values
is critical for the successful operation of the furnace.
The two group of variables which aect the amount of
silica and sulfur in the hot metal are the burden vari-
ables and the blast variables. Some of the important
interactions of these variables on the hot metal silica
and sulfur can be summarized as follows.
9.1. Manipulated variables aecting silica in hot metal
i. Decreased blast temperature lowers the Si in hot
ii. Decreased coke/ore ratio decreases the Si in hot
iii. Decreased fuel to ore ratio lowers the Si in hot metal.
iv. Increased blast humidity lowers Si in hot metal.
v. Decreased slag acidity lowers the Si in hot metal.
Decreased blast temperature, lower coke/ore ratio
and lower fuel/ore ratio reduce the energy supply to the
furnace. By introducing more water the energy demand
for dissociating the water is increased. Decreased acidity
reduces the silica concentration in slag and hence
increases the mass transfer from the hot metal to the
slag. Decreasing the slag acidity requires increase in the
limestone in the charge. The rst, third and fourth
actions are implemented at the bottom of the furnace
with the blast. A control action taken through the hot-
blast aects the hot metal silica almost immediately.
The second and fourth actions are implemented by
changing the burden composition from the top of the
furnace. These changes aects the hot metal silica after
a considerable delay of the order of 4 to 6 h. The hydro-
carbon fuel injection produces a complex change in silica
rst decreasing it and then increasing it. Hence it is not a
preferred method of controlling the hot metal silica.
9.2. Manipulated variables aecting the hot metal sulfur
The sulfur concentration in the hot metal is the result
of the complex phase equilibrium between the slag and
the iron phases. Thermal conditions in the hearth, and
Fig. 10. Model validation of hot metal variables: &Experimental, Model: (a) hot metal quantity, (b) hot metal temperature, (c) Si% (d) S%, (e)
Mn%, (f) C%.
V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524 519
the compositions of the metal and slag as well as the
reducing conditions in the hot metalslag interphase all
have profound eect on the hot metal sulfur concentra-
tion. Venkatadri and Gupta [8] have presented equations
relating the hot metal sulfur content with the process
variables. According to their ndings the important
eects on hot metal sulfur are
1. Higher basicity ratio of the slag decreases the sul-
fur in the hot metal. The basicity ratio is dened as
2. Higher carbon monoxide partial pressure in the
hearth increases the hot metal sulfur.
3. Higher hot metal/slag temperature decreases the
hot metal sulfur.
4. Silicon, phosphorus and carbon in the hot metal
decrease the hot metal sulfur while Mn increases
the hot metal sulfur.
The basicity ratio of the slag can be manipulated by
changing the limestone addition rate. However since
this is implemented from the furnace top its eect will
Fig. 11. Model validation of slag variables: &Experimental, Model: (a) slag quantity, (b) TiO
, (c) SiO
, (d) Al
, (e) CaO, (f) MgO, (g) K
(h) FeO, (i) basicity.
520 V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524
be felt after about 4-6 h. The carbon monoxide pressure
on the interface is directly related to the blowing pres-
sure. However the allowable changes in blowing pres-
sure is only small since furnace productivity and stable
operation are aected by this variable. The eect of
temperature on hot metal sulfur is exactly opposite to
its eect on the hot metal silicon. In view of these con-
siderations only limited manipulation of the sulfur is
possible using the blast variables. The major adjustment
to the sulfur has to be obtained by the limestone addi-
tion rate.
The values of the hot metal and silica compositions
and temperatures predicted by the neural network
model were combined with the blast furnace charge
calculation model, and a set of rules for changing the
blast temperature, blast rate, blast pressure, coke rate
and limestone rate for implementing the supervisory
control. The values of the manipulated variables so
obtained were downloaded to the furnace control sys-
tems. The general structure of the control system is
represented in Fig. 12. The furnace control is made up
of two basic systems. The Programmable Logic Control
System (PLC) for the charge control, and the Dis-
tributed Control System (DCS) based stove controls.
The existing supervisory system consists of a charge
calculation model for determining the burden and blast
rates. The inputs to the charge calculation model are the
burden component analysis, the targeted hot metal
analysis and hot metal production, blast temperature
and humidity, quantity, analysis and properties of the
injectants and the required slag basicity. On the basis of
a complex set of material and energy balances the model
calculates the required tonnage of each of the burden
components and the blast requirements. The model also
predicts the tuyere ame temperature, blast furnace gas
composition and the quantity of blast furnace gas pro-
duced. This model is based on the current average
values of the variables and is a steady state model. The
model outputs are downloaded to the PLC and DCS
control systems to be used as their setpoints.
The second level supervisory control reported in this
paper is used as an adjunct to the steady state charge
calculation model. This system consists of two basic
elements the neural network based estimator and the
rule based expert system (Fig. 12). The inputs to the
neural network estimator are the burden parameters
and blast parameters shown in Table 3. The neural net-
work acts as a soft sensor and outputs the estimated
Fig. 12. Blast furnace supervisory control system.
V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524 521
values of Si, S and other constituents in the hot metal. If
the predicted values of Si and S compositions in the hot
metal are outside their allowable bands then the expert
system calculates the required changes in the operating
conditions. These changes are used to upgrade the
values calculated by the charge calculation model and
can be considered as the dynamic ne tuning of the
steady state calculations. The neural network estimator
is activated once every 30 min. If the Si and S values are
beyond their tolerance changes are introduced in the
blast temperature, blast humidity, coke/HM ratio and
limestone/HM ratio. The changes in the blast conditions
produce immediate eect on the hearth conditions. The
burden changes however aects the hearth conditions
after considerable delay of the order of 46 h. Hence the
blast conditions are adjusted for immediate changes and
in parallel the burden conditions are adjusted to eect
permanent changes. As discussed earlier the blast tem-
perature and humidity aects both Si and sulfur in the
hot metal. Decreased blast temperature and increased
humidity brings down the hearth temperature which
reduces the HM silica. However a reduction in hearth
temperature aects the HM sulfur adversely, since it
increases it. Sulfur is reduced by decreasing the blast
pressure which decreases the carbon monoxide partial
pressure in the hearth. However due to operational
constraints the maximum allowable change in the
blowing pressure was limited to 0.1 atm. The coke/
HM ratio and the limestone/HM ratio bring about per-
manent changes in the hot metal Si and S, respectively. On
the basis of these considerations a rule based expert
system was developed based on the eects of these
variables on the hot metal silicon and sulphur. [811]
The general algorithm for the expert system is shown in
Fig. 13. The expert system also includes condential
empirical details of the particular steel plant which are
not included in this paper. The expert system is acti-
vated once in half an hour. This period was chosen
arbitrarily and could be less or more. The hot metal Si
and S compositions and temperature are estimated by
the neural network and down loaded to the expert sys-
tem. The expert system compares the predicted values
with the target values and if they are outside the toler-
ances then calculates the recommended corrective
actions. The corrective actions are arranged in a hier-
archy. Firstly correction is done for silicon and sulfur
using the blast variables and then permanent correc-
tions using the burden variables are performed. The Si is
rst corrected using the blast moisture and then the
blast temperature. All changes recommended by the
expert system have upper and lower bounds decided by
the furnace constraints. The changes required for the Si
correction may further deteriorate the sulfur, since the
eects on the two constituents of the blast variables are
opposite. The estimated values of the sulfur given by the
neural network model is corrected for the suggested
changes in the blast conditions used for the Si correc-
tion. An attempt is made to correct for this sulfur by
adjusting the blast pressure. However very little change
in this variable is permissible. After the blast variables
are adjusted the new value of coke rate required to bring
about permanent correction in the Si as well as the
basicity and the required limestone rate to correct the
sulfur are calculated. The blast changes are downloaded
to the stove control DCS systems and the burden variables
are down loaded to the skip control PLC systems.
The Neural Network based expert system was imple-
mented on a trial basis. The linkages between the con-
trol systems are shown in Fig. 12. As a safety measure
the linkage between the expert system and the DCS/
PLC systems was not implemented on-line. The expert
system recommendation was down loaded to DCS/PLC
system only after the approval of the plant engineer.
This did not create any diculty because this loop was
quite slow being implemented only once in half an hour.
As a trial case the system was tried over 30 taps over 5
days. In all the cases the expert system recommendation
was reasonable and was approved by the engineer. The
results of the trial run over 30 taps with the results for
Fig. 13. Expert system algorithm.
522 V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524
the earlier 30 taps are shown in Figs. 14 and 15. In Fig.
14 the Si in HM for the dierent taps are shown while
Fig. 15 presents similar results for sulfur. In Fig. 14 the
Silicon content was quite consistent even without the
expert system during the rst 19 taps. However from the
20th to the 26th tapping the silicon became very high.
This type of behavior was common in the particular
blast furnace. The reason for the inconsistent silica
behavior was traced to the particular nature of the
hematite ore body which supplied the iron ore to the
Fig. 14. Comparison of Si% in hot metal before and after the implementation of the expert system.
Fig. 15. Comparison of S% in hot metal before and after the implementation of the expert system.
V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524 523
blast furnace sinter plant. While the iron content of the
ore body was very high it had pockets of high silica
content. Since the ore was directly used for sintering
without any homogenisation the silica content of the
hot metal was quite unpredictable without the control.
However with the expert system these wide variations
were adequately controlled.
There was a dramatic improvement in both Si and S
by the implementation of the estimator based expert
system. The values of the measured and standard
deviation for Si and S before and after the implementa-
tion is shown in Table 4. Not only was the average Si
brought down by about 19% but equally importantly
the standard deviation of Si was reduced from 0.258 to
0.073. This attests to a very constant Si in the HM
which is very benecial for the subsequent steel making
process. In the case of S the mean decreased from
0.0318 to 0.021 and the standard deviation from 0.01 to
0.0023. The lower improvement is sulfur is expected
since much of the sulfur correction was through the
burden variables which take 46 h to take eect. For a
longer period of testing over 90 days the average value
of silicon was maintained at 1.07 while the standard
deviation became lower at 0.068. For sulfur the average
was 0.023 and the standard deviation 0.0022. Thus it
was seen that the model was able to operate over a
longer period without drift if the furnace is in stable
operation and there are no substantial changes in the
raw material quality.
10. Conclusions
A neural network based soft sensor was developed for
online estimation of the composition variables in the
hot metal and slag in a blast furnace. By careful selection
of the input variables for the model and their statistical
analysis a model with accuracy better than 3% could be
developed. The model could be eectively used for
online control of Si and S in the hot metal. An expert
system based on theoretical and empirical blast furnace
knowledge together with the neural network estimator
can be eectively used for improved control of the blast
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Table 4
Silicon and sulphur in hot metal
Silicon Sulphur
Without neural network
expert control
With neural network
expert control
Without neural network
expert control
With neural network
expert control
Mean 1.195 1.068 0.0318 0.021
Standard deviation 0.258 0.073 0.01 0.0023
524 V.R. Radhakrishnan, A.R. Mohamed / Journal of Process Control 10 (2000) 509524