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Ball mills are here to stay




According to Makarand Marathe, Director – Cement Division, ThyssenKrupp System Engineering India: "Vertical mills are (by far) the best and most efficient method than semi finished or combicircuit for energy efficiency."

Tell us about the most efficient methods of cement grinding in today’s context. At present, technologies, which are available in cement grinding, are from ball mill to vertical mill. That apart, we have the semi finished grinding mode, which is a high pressure grinding roll, with ball mill or roll pressed in finished grinding. This is somewhere comparable to vertical mill.

But these days, the cement manufacturers are opting for energy-efficient grinding mills as we have passed the stage of using ball mills. If you do a comparative analysis with vertical mills, semi finished grinding process has an intermediate fineness. Due to this, the industrial and cement users feel that the quality of cement-produced in a vertical mill-and the quality of cement-produced in a semi finished grinding system-is different. Let me put this straight. In semi-finished grinding system, the quality is better because you can control the percentage residues on 45 microns more effectively than in case of a vertical mill.

However, in case of energy efficiency, vertical mill is by far the best and most efficient method than the semi finished or the combicircuit. But if you take the finished grinding in roll press, then it will be more efficient as far as vertical mill is concerned. But the difficulties, now these are the perspective as far as the grinding is concerned in terms of power consumption etc. But if you look at fly ash addition, puzzolana addition, there are limitations to roll press mills where you cannot have wet materials added into roll press. That is where again vertical mill scores. I think vertical mill and semi finished grinding mode are the two best options available in terms of power consumption.

Any new technologies emerging or whether there is any research that is likely to materialise?
As far as I know, there have been attempts to use cement grinding with Horomill. However, all these variations have been tried and tested and the industry now has settled for high pressure grinding roll. This is simply because, if you see the process in a ball mill, it is by sheer and it is by impact. If you go to vertical mill, it is by friction and by compression. If you go to roll press, it almost becomes pure compression.

Pure compression is something that is probably the most efficient way of communicating with the given material.

I do not think (as far as I see) high pressure grinding roll or roll press are the most efficient. I am not really sure whether we are going beyond that at the moment. Present one, which is sustainable, has withstood the test of time is the high pressure grinding roll.

How does the quality of cement get affected by method of grinding?
Today, the quality of cement is spoken in terms of residuals in terms of 45 microns, 90 microns; because finally the good manufacturer, good quality cement will try to ensure that your cement is between a certain micron or fraction of 32 microns to 60 microns. Consumers are asking for guarantee for this types of particles band. This is not possible to be achieved in a vertical mill because by the very nature of grinding process the retention time in a vertical mill you are not in a position to grind this. But it is possible in a semi finished mode. In ball mill, if you finish, you have a very flat particle distribution. The moment you have flat particle distribution you can control it. If you ask me in terms of quality, I would say semi finished mode is the best.

How far India has progressed in domestic design and manufacturer of grinding units?
I presume you are referring to the fact that we have the technology and question is of manufacturability. Now in terms of all the three options that I mentioned, it is entirely indigenously produced, except for the gear boxes, because that is something which is not available in India and has to be imported. We call these as noble key components, which have to come from abroad. There are other options like hydraulics, which still comes from case of roll press, the roll body comes from abroad. But that is something I do not think will last long because that day is not very far off when we will be able to do it in India or source it within India. But with gear box, I am not too sure because these are the special gear boxes and especially when you go with high power ratings it needs to be still imported.

How does grinding of slag differ from grinding of fly ash in terms of energy consumption?
It is like this. Fly ash and slag as a material alone is a lot softer as compared to slag. But when you add it in conjunction with clinker, fly ash has a very peculiar behaviour. Fly ash is very porous material; it has a very hollow body and has fly ash particles that are very light and porous. Hence you do not get the right kind of separation and you end up having more fly ash in the product.

To overcome this situation, it is best advised to grind it separately. As far as I know, fly ash separately has not been tried so far in India. This is a very tricky material. So manufacturers apply the process of semi finished circuit where one can add fly ash in ball mill so it has one pass and then it goes to roll press. It is already grounded to a certain extent and then it becomes easier to grind. That process has to be adopted sooner or later.

What is the future of ball mill?
Ball mill will stay because it is the oldest and safest process; it is time tested and proven. Regions like Northeast or remote areas, where the right kind of skilled manpower is hard to find, ball mills can be a good success as it will produce cement of a very good quality. Large players like Lafarge still prefers a ball mill for grinding pet coke. Ball mill can stay for one more reason – they can go to small sized capacities also, which is not true for other technologies. Ball mills can be small but those model equipment cannot be small, they are of a minimum size.


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Price hikes, drop in input costs help cement industry to post positive margins: Care Ratings





Region-wise,the southern region comprises 35% of the total cement capacity, followed by thenorthern, eastern, western and central region comprising 20%, 18%, 14% and 13%of the capacity, respectively.

The cement industry is expected to post positive margins on decent price hikes over the months, falling raw material prices and marked drop in overall production costs, said an analysis of Care Ratings.

Wholesale and retail prices of cement have increased 11.9% and 12.4%, respectively, in the current financial year. As whole prices have remained elevated in most of the markets in the months of FY20, against the corresponding period of the previous year.

Similarly, electricity and fuel cost have declined 11.9% during 9M FY20 due to drop in crude oil prices. Logistics costs, the biggest cost for cement industry, has also dropped 7.7% (selling and distribution) as the Railways extended the benefit of exemption from busy season surcharge. Moreover, the cost of raw materials, too, declined 5.1% given the price of limestone had fallen 11.3% in the same aforementioned period, the analysis said.

According to Care Ratings, though the overall sales revenue has increased only 1.3%, against 16% growth in the year-ago period, the overall expenditure has declined 3.2% which has benefited the industry largely given the moderation in sales.

Even though FY20 has been subdued in terms of production and demand, the fall in cost of production has still supported the cement industry by clocking in positive margins, the rating agency said.

Cement demand is closely linked to the overall economic growth, particularly the housing and infrastructure sector. The cement sector will be seeing a sharp growth in volumes mainly due to increasing demand from affordable housing and other government infrastructure projects like roads, metros, airports, irrigation.

The government’s newly introduced National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP), with its target of becoming a $5-trillion economy by 2025, is a detailed road map focused on economic revival through infrastructure development.

The NIP covers a gamut of sectors; rural and urban infrastructure and entails investments of Rs.102 lakh crore to be undertaken by the central government, state governments and the private sector. Of the total projects of the NIP, 42% are under implementation while 19% are under development, 31% are at the conceptual stage and 8% are yet to be classified.

The sectors that will be of focus will be roads, railways, power (renewable and conventional), irrigation and urban infrastructure. These sectors together account for 79% of the proposed investments in six years to 2025. Given the government’s thrust on infrastructure creation, it is likely to benefit the cement industry going forward.

Similarly, the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana, aimed at providing affordable housing, will be a strong driver to lift cement demand. Prices have started correcting Q4 FY20 onwards due to revival in demand of the commodity, the agency said in its analysis.

Industry’s sales revenue has grown at a CAGR of 7.3% during FY15-19 but has grown only 1.3% in the current financial year. Tepid demand throughout the country in the first half of the year has led to the contraction of sales revenue. Fall in the total expenditure of cement firms had aided in improving the operating profit and net profit margins of the industry (OPM was 15.2 during 9M FY19 and NPM was 3.1 during 9M FY19). Interest coverage ratio, too, has improved on an overall basis (ICR was 3.3 during 9M FY19).

According to Cement Manufacturers Association, India accounts for over 8% of the overall global installed capacity. Region-wise, the southern region comprises 35% of the total cement capacity, followed by the northern, eastern, western and central region comprising 20%, 18%, 14% and 13% of the capacity, respectively.

Installed capacity of domestic cement makers has increased at a CAGR of 4.9% during FY16-20. Manufacturers have been able to maintain a capacity utilisation rate above 65% in the past quinquennium. In the current financial year due to the prolonged rains in many parts of the country, the capacity utilisation rate has fallen from 70% during FY19 to 66% currently (YTD).

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Wonder Cement shows journey of cement with new campaign





The campaign also marks Wonder Cement being the first ever cement brand to enter the world of IGTV…


Cement manufacturing company Wonder Cement, has announced the launch of a digital campaign ‘Har Raah Mein Wonder Hai’. The campaign has been designed specifically to run on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

#HarRaahMeinWonderHai is a one-minute video, designed and conceptualised by its digital media partner Triature Digital Marketing and Technologies Pvt Ltd. The entire journey of the cement brand from leaving the factory, going through various weather conditions and witnessing the beauty of nature and wonders through the way until it reaches the destination i.e., to the consumer is very intriguing and the brand has tried to showcase the same with the film.

Sanjay Joshi, executive director, Wonder Cement, said, "Cement as a product poses a unique marketing challenge. Most consumers will build their homes once and therefore buy cement once in a lifetime. It is critical for a cement company to connect with their consumers emotionally. As a part of our communication strategy, it is our endeavor to reach out to a large audience of this country through digital. Wonder Cement always a pioneer in digital, with the launch of our IGTV campaign #HarRahMeinWonderHai, is the first brand in the cement category to venture into this space. Through this campaign, we have captured the emotional journey of a cement bag through its own perspective and depicted what it takes to lay the foundation of one’s dreams and turn them into reality."

The story begins with a family performing the bhoomi poojan of their new plot. It is the place where they are investing their life-long earnings; and planning to build a dream house for the family and children. The family believes in the tradition of having a ‘perfect shuruaat’ (perfect beginning) for their future dream house. The video later highlights the process of construction and in sequence it is emphasising the value of ‘Perfect Shuruaat’ through the eyes of a cement bag.

Tarun Singh Chauhan, management advisor and brand consultant, Wonder Cement, said, "Our objective with this campaign was to show that the cement produced at the Wonder Cement plant speaks for itself, its quality, trust and most of all perfection. The only way this was possible was to take the perspective of a cement bag and showing its journey of perfection from beginning till the end."

According to the company, the campaign also marks Wonder Cement being the first ever cement brand to enter the world of IGTV. No other brand in this category has created content specific to the platform.

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In spite of company’s optimism, demand weakness in cement is seen in the 4% y-o-y drop in sales volume. (Reuters)





Cost cuts and better realizations save? the ?day ?for ?UltraTech Cement, Updated: 27 Jan 2020, Vatsala Kamat from Live Mint

Lower cost of energy and logistics helped Ebitda per tonne rise by about 29% in Q3
Premiumization of acquired brands, synergistic?operations hold promise for future profit growth Topics

UltraTech Cement
India’s largest cement producer UltraTech Cement Ltd turned out a bittersweet show in the December quarter. A sharp drop in fuel costs and higher realizations helped drive profit growth. But the inherent demand weakness was evident in the sales volumes drop during the quarter.

Better realizations during the December quarter, in spite of the 4% year-on-year volume decline, minimized the pain. Net stand-alone revenue fell by 2.6% to ?9,981.8 crore.

But as pointed out earlier, lower costs on most fronts helped profitability. The chart alongside shows the sharp drop in energy costs led by lower petcoke prices, lower fuel consumption and higher use of green power. Logistics costs, too, fell due to lower railway freight charges and synergies from the acquired assets. These savings helped offset the increase in raw material costs.

The upshot: Q3 Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) of about ?990 per tonne was 29% higher from a year ago. The jump in profit on a per tonne basis was more or less along expected lines, given the increase in realizations. "Besides, the reduction in net debt by about ?2,000 crore is a key positive," said Binod Modi, analyst at Reliance Securities Ltd.

Graphic by Santosh Sharma/Mint
What also impressed analysts is the nimble-footed integration of the recently merged cement assets of Nathdwara and Century, which was a concern on the Street.

Kunal Shah, analyst (institutional equities) at Yes Securities (India) Ltd, said: "The company has proved its ability of asset integration. Century’s cement assets were ramped up to 79% capacity utilization in December, even as they operated Nathdwara generating an Ebitda of ?1,500 per tonne."

Looks like the demand weakness mirrored in weak sales during the quarter was masked by the deft integration and synergies derived from these acquired assets. This drove UltraTech’s stock up by 2.6% to ?4,643 after the Q3 results were declared on Friday.

Brand transition from Century to UltraTech, which is 55% complete, is likely to touch 80% by September 2020. A report by Jefferies India Pvt. Ltd highlights that the Ebitda per tonne for premium brands is about ?5-10 higher per bag than the average (A cement bag weighs 50kg). Of course, with competition increasing in the arena, it remains to be seen how brand premiumization in the cement industry will pan out. UltraTech Cement scores well among peers here.

However, there are road bumps ahead for the cement sector and for UltraTech. Falling gross domestic product growth, fiscal slippages and lower budgetary allocation to infrastructure sector are making industry houses jittery on growth. Although UltraTech’s management is confident that cement demand is looking up, sustainability and pricing power remains a worry for the near term.

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