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Concrete Products: Shaping Cement’s Future

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Concrete products have the potential to transform the way we use cement.
Although this may sound funny or even out rightly outrageous, cement in itself can not be called a building product per se, unlike steel, glass or aluminium. It can, at best, be called a building material intermediate, because when cement is used, along with other ingredients, to produce concrete, then and only then, a finished building material is created, that can compete on equal terms with peers like steel or wood. To strengthen this argument with an example, when it comes to compare the Carbon Dioxide intensity of competing construction materials, cement is not pitted against steel or wood or glass, but CO2 emitted per unit weight of concrete is compared with other alternatives. So, buildings require concrete, while concrete requires cement. That’s the linkage.
Whenever we think of concrete, we think of casting in position, which is technically called cast in-situ. All the concreting that we conventionally and regularly encounter around us, in most cases, are concrete poured and cast and cured in position. To the lay person like us, concrete means beams, columns, roof slabs, foundations, lintels, and alike. This situation is now a thing of the past. There are a lot a of concrete items which are cast previously and sold as castings for later use in position. In broad terms, these are called concrete Products, also loosely termed as ‘Pre-Cast Concrete’.
The global precast concrete market was valued at approximately $100 billion in 2016 and is projected to expand at a CAGR of more than 5 per cent from 2016 to 2025, according to a new report titled, ‘Precast Concrete Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2016-2025”, published by Transparency Market Research. The report concludes that the application of precast concrete in construction reduces the lead time and provides better properties such as durability and sustainability to the construction as compared to the use of conventional in-position casting processes. The report says that such advantages will drive up the precast concrete market during the forecast period, viz. 2016 to 2025.
Asia Pacific and Europe are reportedly the leading markets for precast concrete. Interestingly, the precast concrete market in Asia Pacific is expected to grow at a CAGR of greater than 6% during the same period owing to rise in investments in residential and infrastructural projects in the region. Such projections regarding the prospects of Concrete Products for the Indian market are not readily available, but perhaps one could safely extrapolate from these reported global trends, that directionally, pre-cast concrete will do well in India as well.
In order to better understand and analyse any product-market configuration, there is a need to segment the market/products in an effective manner. The segmentation of Concrete Products can be done in various different ways, some of which are as follows :By structure system

  • Beam and column system
  • Floor and roof system
  • Bearing wall system
  • Fatade system
  • Others
  • By end-use
  • Building works
  • Residential
  • Non-residential
  • Civil works
  • Hydraulic works
  • Transportation works
  • Power plants and communication works
  • Specialised works
  • By geography
  • Asia Pacific
  • Americas
  • Europe
  • Africa, etc

However, the one way of categorisation of the concrete products that we like, is standard products and customised/tailormade products. Examples of standard concrete products are like paver blocks, concrete railway sleepers, concrete pipes, decorative balustrades or grills, etc.
On the other hand, customised products are designed and cast specifically for the needs of a customer or a given construction project. These are normally large concrete castings, requiring casting yards to be set up near the project sites, but these help speed up on site construction. Pre-cast beams, slabs, columns, lintels and aerated autoclaved concrete blocks.
All concrete products have the advantage of delivering better consistency and quality, because these have the benefit of controlled manufacturing conditions like in a factory, as against the harsh conditions prevalent at a construction site.
Previously, larger cement companies thought that having control over downstream cement consumer industries was very important, in order to have influence over the delivery channels. On the basis of this strategy, some global cement companies acquired or developed upstream as well as downstream businesses such as aggregate mines, ready-mixed concrete plants, and concrete products, both standard and custom-made. In time, they discovered that scale and technology are not competitive advantages in these industries, but proximity to the markets is. Today in India, most of these industries downstream of cement are mainly served by small and medium sized companies or larger construction companies.

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Concrete

Our products are designed with the latest automation technology

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S K Ambasta, CEO, ATS Conveyors, talks about their material handling and transportation solutions, which are crafted as per European standards, ensuring high quality and low maintenance.

Tell us about your material handling and transportation solutions.
ATS Group is an established material handling equipment manufacturer company globally, offering various proven solutions for AFR material handling and transportation that include Automated Garb Crane, Extractor, Doseahorse, Sidewalls Belt Conveyor, Air Floating Belt Conveyor, Double Flap Valve, etc.

Explain the functionality of the material handling installations at a cement plant.
ATS solutions for AFR co-processing circuit ensure regulated extraction, dosing, conveying and feeding of AFR materials to calciner in cement plant.

What is the impact of your solution on the cost and production efficiency of cement plants?
ATS offers solutions to help cement plants to consume more AFR material, leading to reduced consumption of coal, which consecutively reduces their production cost as well as helps in regulation of carbon emission to contribute towards NET Zero.

Tell about the role of automation and technology in building your solutions for cement plants.
Our products are designed with the latest automation technology, be it the automated control and monitoring of grab cranes, auto calibrator for extractor or achieving the shortest cycle time for operation of double flap valves.

Do you customise your solutions for cement plants based on their requirements?
Majority of our solutions are customised based on the different types and characteristics of AFR material to meet customised capacity requirements of cement plants.
All equipment is designed and manufactured in accordance with European Standards, namely, NF EN 618, NF EN 619, EN ISO 13857, NF EN 620, NF EN ISO 14122-1-2-3, NF EN ISO 12100-1-2, 2006/42/CE, etc.

Tell us about the major challenges you faced in terms of the cement plants.
Major challenge faced by us in cement plants is that the AFR materials available are majorly un-processed, which becomes a challenge for consistent performance of our equipment.

Which innovations are in the pipeline that the cement industry can look forward to?
Our recent innovative product Twin Doseahorse is a very unique solution to fulfil dual feeding requirements. Also, this has been awarded as Product of the Year in Cement Expo 2023. Additionally, we have launched Air Floating Belt Conveyor, which is a unique solution to convey AFR with minimised spillage and with minimum structural work leading to reduced CAPEX cost. Further, we are also launching a high capacity Double flap valve, which shall be capable of feeding up to 400 m3/hr of AFR material.

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Concrete

Revolutionising the Future

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Dr S B Hegde, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Jain College of Engineering and Technology, Hubli, and Visiting Professor, Pennsylvania State University, USA, discusses the hydrogen and automation revolutions in the cement industry in the concluding part of this two-part series.

The global cement industry is undergoing a transformative phase by embracing the hydrogen revolution as a beacon of sustainable energy. This paradigm shift involves the incorporation of green hydrogen as a clean energy source, not only reducing environmental impact but also establishing new benchmarks for responsible energy use in cement production.

Usage of hydrogen in cement plants.
A. Global status

Globally, several leading cement manufacturers have initiated pilot projects and full-scale implementations of hydrogen-based technologies in cement production. As of the latest data, the cement industry accounts for approximately 7 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, making the adoption of green hydrogen crucial for achieving emission reduction targets.
In Germany, for instance, a prominent cement plant has invested over €40 million (approximately US$ 45 million) in a green hydrogen project. This initiative is expected to replace a significant portion of traditional fossil fuels, leading to a substantial reduction in carbon emissions.
B. Indian perspective
In the Indian context, the hydrogen revolution is gaining momentum as the cement industry strives to align with the nation’s commitment to sustainable development. While still in the early stages, pioneering cement plants in India are actively exploring the integration of green hydrogen into their production processes.
C. Current initiatives and investments in India
An exemplary case is a major cement manufacturer in India investing Rs 120 crores (approximately US$ 16 million) in a green hydrogen pilot project. This initiative aims to assess the feasibility of using green hydrogen as a primary fuel in cement kilns, with the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 30 per cent.
D. Challenges and opportunities
Despite the promising trajectory, challenges such as the cost of green hydrogen production and infrastructure development need to be addressed for widespread adoption. The Indian government’s focus on promoting green hydrogen and the establishment of a National Hydrogen Mission indicate a conducive environment for overcoming these challenges.
E. Environmental impact
The incorporation of green hydrogen into cement production offers a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. As hydrogen combusts without producing carbon dioxide, it presents a cleaner alternative to traditional fossil fuels, aligning with global efforts to mitigate climate change.
F. Setting new standards
By embracing the hydrogen revolution, the cement industry is not only reducing its environmental impact but also setting new standards for responsible energy use. This shift positions cement manufacturers as leaders in sustainable practices and reinforces their commitment to a low-carbon future.
G. Future trajectory
The hydrogen revolution in cement production is poised to become a cornerstone of sustainable manufacturing globally and in India. Continued investments, collaborative research, and government support are expected to drive the widespread adoption of green hydrogen, ushering in a new era of responsible and environmentally conscious cement production.
Automation Revolution
As the cement industry propels into the future, a seismic shift is underway, steering towards a highly automated and robotic workforce. This commitment to automation transcends geographical boundaries, reshaping the landscape of cement production with a focus on precision, safety, and unparalleled efficiency. Let’s delve into the global and Indian scenarios, incorporating some figures to the transformative impact of robotics in the cement industry.

Global landscape
A. Adoption of automation

Globally, leading cement manufacturers are at the vanguard of adopting automation and robotic technologies. According to industry reports, over 50 per cent of major cement plants worldwide have integrated robotic systems into their production processes, marking a substantial increase in the last five years.
B. Safety and precision
The paramount focus is on ensuring the safety of human workers and achieving precision in tasks that are critical to cement production. Studies show a 70 per cent reduction in workplace accidents in cement plants that have implemented robotics, demonstrating a tangible improvement in safety conditions.
C. Efficiency gains
Automated and robotic systems significantly enhance the efficiency of cement production. Reports indicate a 20 per cent increase in production efficiency and a 15 per cent reduction in downtime in cement plants where robotic technologies are fully integrated. These gains contribute to cost-effectiveness and operational excellence.


D. Examples of implementation
In Europe, a major cement plant has deployed autonomous robotic vehicles for transporting raw materials within the facility. This not only reduces manual labour but also streamlines the logistics process, contributing to a 25 per cent improvement in overall operational efficiency.

Indian scenario
A. Adopting trends

In India, the adoption of robotic systems in the cement industry is steadily gaining traction. According to industry forecasts, over 30 per cent of large cement plants in India have initiated or completed the integration of robotic solutions into their production processes, with projections indicating a further 15 per cent increase in the next three years.
B. Safety enhancement
With a commitment to worker safety, Indian cement plants are integrating robotics into tasks that involve potential risks. Reports suggest a 40 per cent reduction in accidents related to material handling and other hazardous processes in plants where robotic systems are actively employed.
C. Efficiency and precision
The Indian cement industry is witnessing increased efficiency and precision in production through the deployment of robotic systems. According to operational data, cement plants in India have experienced a 12 per cent improvement in packaging precision and a 30 per cent reduction in errors in tasks performed by robots.
D. Collaborations and investments
To expedite the adoption of robotics, Indian cement manufacturers are collaborating with robotics companies and investing in research and development. Industry reports indicate that the Indian cement sector has witnessed a 25 per cent increase in investments in robotic technologies in the last two years.
E. Future trajectory
The future of cement production globally and in India is undeniably linked to the continued integration of robotic technologies. As advancements in robotics and automation unfold, the industry is poised to witness further improvements in safety, precision and overall efficiency. Projections estimate a 10 per cent increase in global robotic adoption in the next decade, with India leading this trend with an anticipated 20 per cent growth in robotic integration.

Global trends in marketing, technology and sustainability

  1. Virtual global presence
    Establishing a virtual global presence through digital showrooms is a strategic approach, especially in an increasingly digital world. This provides customers with convenient access to your products regardless of geographical boundaries.
  2. Augmented reality engagement
    Augmented reality adds an interactive and immersive dimension to your marketing materials. It enhances customer engagement and understanding of your products, making the experience more memorable.
  3. AI-powered personalisation
    Personalised marketing content through AI algorithms demonstrates a customer-centric approach. Understanding and addressing individual needs can enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  4. Virtual knowledge sharing
    Offering virtual workshops and e-learning platforms is an excellent way to empower customers with knowledge. This not only builds trust but also positions your company as a thought leader in the industry.
  5. Global educational partnerships
    Collaborating with international educational institutions contributes to knowledge exchange and the development of industry best practices. It fosters a global community focused on innovative construction methods.
  6. A sustainable global future
    The emphasis on a sustainable global future reflects a broader commitment beyond business goals. It aligns with the growing importance of corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Conclusion
In wrapping up our journey through the innovations and sustainable practices in the global cement industry, it’s clear that our commitment to excellence is shaping the future of construction. Embracing smart technologies like Industry 4.0 in cement plants ensures efficient and eco-friendly production.
Our drive towards emission-free aspirations, with the use of advanced technologies, signifies a crucial step in creating a cleaner, greener world. We are actively reducing our carbon footprint, setting ambitious goals for a sustainable future.
The transition to electrifying kiln technology reflects our dedication to cleaner production methods. By incorporating green hydrogen, we are not just reducing environmental impact but also setting new standards for responsible energy use in cement production.
In marketing, our approach goes beyond borders. The use of virtual showrooms, augmented reality and AI-powered personalisation ensures that customers globally have an immersive and personalised experience.
Empowering customers through virtual knowledge sharing and global educational partnerships showcases our commitment to spreading valuable insights globally. We envision a future where education and innovation lead to sustainable construction practices worldwide.
In essence, our strategies aren’t just about revolutionising the cement industry; they are about creating a better, more sustainable world for everyone. By pushing the boundaries of innovation, embracing sustainability and fostering global education, we’re paving the way for a brighter future in construction.

References
Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum, 2016.
International Energy Agency, Technology Roadmap: Carbon Capture and Storage, 2013.
International Energy Agency, Energy Technology Perspectives 2020, 2020.
International Renewable Energy Agency, Green Hydrogen Cost Reduction: Scaling up Electrolyzers to Meet the 1.5°C Climate Goal, 2021.
International Federation of Robotics, World Robotics 2020 – Industrial Robots, 2020.
McKinsey & Company, Reimagining marketing in the next normal, 2021.
Statista, Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) forecast spending worldwide 2020-2024, 2021.
Forbes, AI For Marketers: 8 Best Practices to Boost Your Strategy, 2021.
E-learning Industry, Top eLearning Statistics and Facts For 2021, 2021.
UNESCO, Global Education Monitoring Report 2020, 2020.
United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, 2021.

About the author:
Dr SB Hegde
is an industrial leader with expertise in cement plant operation and optimisation, plant commissioning, new cement plant establishment, etc. His industry knowledge covers manufacturing, product development, concrete technology and technical services.

(*Refer to the January 2024 issue of Indian Cement Review for the first part of this article.)

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Concrete

Safe plant concept means safety of the entire workforce

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Ashutosh Shrivastava, Head – Corporate Safety, JK Cement, talks about their commitment to maintaining a safe, healthy and environmentally friendly workplace as well as the continuous efforts being employed to enhance safety through technology, training and a proactive approach to addressing the behavioural aspects of safety.

What is the definition of a ‹safe› plant in your organisation?
Safe plant concept means safety of the entire workforce, including both employees and visitors coming to the plant for their respective nature of activity, by taking appropriate safety control measures as per the risk associated with the activity.

Tell us about the key areas where safety in a cement plant is of paramount importance?
In a cement plant, the key areas where safety management system plays an important role are:

  • Plant gate for heavy vehicle entry: An SOP has been developed for the entry of heavy vehicles inside the plant for loading and unloading activity, along with an SOP of high standard vehicle traffic management safety, which is being followed.
  • Packing plant area: In the cement industry, the maximum workforce involved is at the packing plant operation, as the major activity of cementing bags and loading them onto vehicles by using conveyor belts at loading points is being undertaken. For safe loading operations, an SOP has been developed. The SOP Task Risk Assessment is conducted and applied along with safety control measures, based on activity SOP.
  • Process area: To maintain safe process operations, various associated activities are carried out. For example:
  • Hot material handling: Poking and cyclone jam cleaning activities at preheater and kiln locations, etc.
    Hot work: Naked flame producing activity (welding / grinding / gas cutting)
    Working at height activity: Work at 1.8 m or more is called working at height activity
    Electrical isolation activity (called Log Out / Tag Out)
    Confined space activity
    Lifting activity
    Material shifting activity
    Raw material unloading activity by using mobile equipment
    Non-routine activity like plant shutdown
    Civil work inside plant
    Project works (new process equipment installations, new civil building, old steel and civil structure demolition and erection)
  • For all these activities, the safety management system has adopted certain tools:
    Elimination of hazards
    Process substitution
    Engineering controls like machine / equipment guarding, log out / tag out, hard barications etc.
    Administrative controls like permit to work system for high risk activities, Activity SOPs/OCP, activity risk assessment, job specific safety training, tool box talks, workplace safety inspection, safety observation tours, hazards reporting, near-miss and incident reportings, safety meetings, etc.
  • What are the safety equipment used by the personnel in different areas of work?
  • Since there are different types of activities going on inside a cement plant, based on a specific activity, the workforce uses personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safe design equipment, such as:
  • Hot works (welding / grinding / gas cutting): Heat resistance suit, hot work safety hand gloves, face shields, hot works safety goggles, safety helmet, safety shoes, gas cylinders pressure gauge, flash back arrestors, fire hydrant line, fire extinguishers, etc.
  • Height works: Full body safety harness with double lanyard with shock absorber, life line, safe design scaffolding platform, boom lift, scissor lift, cherry picker, safety goggles, safety helmet, safety shoes, job specific safety hand gloves, etc.
  • Hot material handling activity: Full body heat resistance suit, hot material handling safety gloves, heat resistance safety shoes, heat resistance face shield, fire hydrant line, fire extinguishers, etc.
  • Confined space works: Use of gas detectors, forced ventilation system, life line. rescue equipment, electrical isolation system (log out / tag out), safety goggles, safety helmet, safety shoes, job specific safety hand gloves and nose mask.
  • Electrical works: Electrical isolation system (log out / tag out), safety goggles, electrical job specific safety helmet, electrical job specific safety shoes, electrical job specific safety hand gloves, electrical job specific face hood, electrical shock resistance suit, etc.
  • Lifting activity: Third party approved lifting tools and tackles and third party approved mobile equipment (mobile cranes).
  • Material shifting activity by using mobile cranes: Third party approved lifting tools and tackles, third party approved mobile equipment (mobile cranes, fork lift, etc).

Tell us about your organisation’s policies about safety for people working in the plants?
Summary of the company’s Safety, Health and Environment Policy:

  • The Company, as a good corporate citizen, assumes its business and ethical responsibility to create a safer and healthy workplace for its employees and a clean environment to its employees as well as surroundings.
  • With the company›s global vision, we aspire for the highest international standards in plant design, equipment section, maintenance and operation, which are consistent with its emerging leadership position in cement business, the company will constantly encourage higher international standards in all areas including safety, health and environment.
  • The Company as a part of its corporate philosophy and policy is committed to manufacture products safely and in an environment-friendly manner with due consideration for occupational health for employees and others who may be involved and / or affected by its operation.
  • The company will comply with all applicable laws and regulations (local /state/federal) pertaining to its operations.
  • The Company widely participates with the government, the industry and others concerned in creating relevant laws, regulations and standards to safeguard the community, workplace and environment.
  • The Company is committed to the safety and health of the surrounding community at each manufacturing site and will make sure that any adverse environmental impact is minimised.
  • The Company will provide adequate resources for the implementation and monitoring of safety policy.
  • Each site and department will have this policy prominently displayed so as to bring it to the attention of all employees.

Does technology play a role in ensuring plant safety? If yes, how?
The technology used for safety purposes at JK Cement comprises:

  • Digital safety management system module, which includes permit to work system, workplace hazard reporting and investigation, workplace near-miss reporting and investigation, workplace safety observation tour, safety statistics analysis, etc.
  • Fire / smoke detectors installations at fire risk areas (reference AFR operation, bag go down, etc.) and connected with the emergency control room.
  • Digital Control System (DCS) to control and monitor plant operations.
  • Nitrogen Purging System installation at process equipment (reference coal fine bins, liquid AFR installation, etc.)
  • Temperature sensors installation in different equipment.
  • Gas Detection Monitoring by using multi gas detectors for confined space activity.
  • CCTV cameras installed at multiple locations.
  • GPS installation in company vehicles, etc.
  • Tell us about the major challenges faced in ensuring plant safety?
  • In the cement industry, the major challenge that we are facing is the behaviour of the workforce towards safety. To deal this challenge, we have developed safety management system tools that include:
  • Safety Awareness Tool (safety induction, activity tool box talks, job specific safety training, monthly safety campaign and circulation incident-based safety alert).
  • Safety Inspection Tool (behaviour-based safety observation tour, workplace safety round, focus internal safety audit and external safety audit).
  • Reporting Tool (near miss reporting, hazard reporting and incident reporting).
  • Emergency Preparedness Tool (mock drills, onsite emergency plan, fire fighting equipment facility and medical emergency facility).
  • Risk Assessment Tool (job safety analysis, hazard identification and risk assessment).
  • Safety Observation Discussion Platform Tool (monthly safety review meeting, management representative and workers representative safety committee meeting and daily all plants manufacturing meeting).
  • Safety Guidelines Tool (Activity SOP / OCP, safety hand book, contractor obligation and OHS guidelines and activity dos and don’ts).
  • Workplace Safety Display Tool (activity safety display and activity SOP display).
  • Administrative Control Tool (risky activity permit to work system).
  • Incident Investigation Tool (root cause analysis, CAPA and safety recommendation).


Do you conduct safety training and audits for your plant personnel? Explain in detail.
Workplace Safety Trainings and Safety Audits are an important tool of safety management system:
Safety Awareness Tools:

  • Safety Induction
  • Activity Tool Box Talks
  • Job Specific Safety Training
  • Monthly Safety Campaign
  • Circulation Incident Based Safety Alert
  • Safety Inspection Tools:
  • Behaviour Based Safety Observation Tour
  • Workplace Safety Round
  • Focus Internal Safety Audit
  • External Safety Audit

How do you plan to better the safety of your plant in the years to come?
We have prepared a focus safety element plan for the coming years to reach the next level of safety system at JK Cement.
Focus safety elements are:

  • Human Safety
  • Equipment Safety
  • Fire Safety
  • Electrical Safety
  • Steel and Civil Structure Safety
  • Workforce Behaviour Development Programmes towards Safety
  • Stress Free Safety Culture
  • Environment Friendly Workplace
  • Healthy Workforce
  • Use of job-specific advanced personal protective equipment
  • Development of Injury-free Workplace based on Zero Harm Concept
  • Kanika Mathur

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