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The mark of a good refractory is its ability to remain inert

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Prabhat Singh Parihar, Vice President (Technical Head), Mangrol Plant, JK Cement, talks about the challenges faced by cement plants in maintaining refractories and the important properties of refractories that ensure smooth functioning of the processes.

Explain the types of refractories you have in your manufacturing unit. What are their respective purposes?
At JK Cement’s MGR plant, the following types of refractories are used:

  • Acid Refractories: Any type of alumina silicate refractories (like fire bricks, alumina brick, high alumina bricks) and silica refractories are called acid refractories. Our manufacturing facilities use alumina bricks in all our kilns, PH, and coolers.
  • Kiln Refractory: In the kiln we use DALSINT A (70 per cent alumina and 2 per cent Fe), DALSINT B (70 per cent alumina and 2.5 per cent Fe) and alumina 40 per cent bricks in the respective kiln zones.
  • Purpose: Alumina bricks are especially used because these bricks resist acidic flux. Alumina bricks have good thermal stability, high refractoriness that is more than 1770oC and lower thermal conductivity resulting in less heat loss. Alumina bricks are also cost effective when compared to basic bricks.
  • Castable: Various grades of castable are used for better service life of the kiln inlet and outlet sectors, burner pipe and coolers. As sintered clinker is very abrasive in nature, Castables such as SiC base, mullite base and CRC- BP for burner pipe are preferred. Castables are best suited for surfaces where brick lining installation is not-possible or is not suitable, as it is easy to mould and there is no chance of falling out like bricks.
  • Calcium Silicate Blocks: The challenge with pyro-section is its high operating temperature, resulting in high surface heat losses to ambient surroundings. To overcome this, calcium silicate blocks are installed throughout with refractory, with increment in thickness of insulation blocks. This results in a significant decrease in surface temperature and heat loss.
  • Mortar: Alumina/Mullite based mortars are generally used for adhering bricks. As it also shrinks at high temperatures a limited quantity (1.5 to 2 mm) should be applied.
  • Ceramic Blankets / Paper / Wool: Like all materials, refractory also expands when heated. Typically, a newly installed refractory would expand anywhere between 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent initially. To avoid adding extra mechanical stress to the refractory, a gap is provided along a certain length. This is generally packed with glass-wool as it gets compressed when the refractory expands. Glass can be easily fitted in any slot or gap as it can be compressed. The dimension for the brick lining is typically 600×600 mm for castable panels, with the axial height of 1000 mm.

What are the key materials used in building a refractory lining to the kiln in your organisation?
For kiln refractory lining, a major portion consists of refractory bricks, castable for kiln inlet and outlet sector, mortar, ceramic paper, shim plate and anchors.

  • Refractory bricks: In a rotary kiln, the majority of the refractory type is brick refractory. Various grades of 40 per cent, 60 per cent and 70 per cent alumina bricks (DALSINT-A, B and C) are used. VDZ type bricks are generally used. Kiln lining is done by both layering and jack.
  • Castable are used for kiln inlet and outlet sectors to improve better service life. Since, sintered clinker is cooled just after the liquid phase as the sintered phase reaches a high temperature (1450oC) and is very abrasive in nature. Castable that is SiC base and CRC- BP is usually preferred.
  • Anchors: Temperature of both extremities are high, to hold castable, and provide structural strength to castable, SS-310 anchors are used. Anchors are welded and capped to prevent breakage from metallic expansion.
  • Ceramic Blankets / Paper / Wool: To provide expansion provision for brick lining and castable panel for kiln sector (10 to 18 panel), ceramic paper of 3 mm applied.
  • Mortar: Alumina/Mullite based mortars are generally used for adhering bricks. As it also shrinks at high temperature and can loosen the arch causing refractory failure, a minimum and only justified amount of mortar should be used in kiln lining.

What are the key properties of a refractory that support the cement making process?
Cement manufacturing is an energy intensive process. Burning alkaline raw materials (reactive) combined with smaller constituents of metals and abrasive raw materials at very high temperature is a major challenge. Therefore, a good refractory that can withstand high temperatures while retaining required strength and that is resistant to chemical properties of the alkaline raw materials is crucial. Besides, chemical attacks from sulphates or chlorine from the kiln feed or fuel or alternative fuels are other factors that need to be factored in.

Major refractory properties that contribute to cement manufacturing are:

Thermal properties

  • Refractories are materials that can withstand very high temperatures and mechanical stresses of dead load. Key parameters for considering a good refractory are its service temperature which is the maximum temperature at which refractory can withstand stresses applied to it at a given temperature.
  • Refractory Under Load (RUL) and Pyrometric Cone Equivalent (PCE) are defined as the most important properties of refractory, i.e., resisting or withstanding high temperature. Refractory under load can be defined as the temperature at which refractory can withstand without deformation. Pyrometric Cone Equivalent (PCU) is the temperature at which refractory starts to form an amorphous phase.
  • Resistance to thermal shock or spalling: As refractory is heated or cooled it tends to expand or shrink respectively a sudden cooling or heating can cause refractory to lose its strength or can dislocate its position during the heating and cooling cycle resulting in refractory failure.
  • Reducing heat losses: Refractories have a lower heat conductivity, thus, the heat transfer rate due to conduction is reduced.

Chemical properties
Refractory material is exposed to high temperature and reactive components of kiln feed, fuel, and alternative fuels. The major reactive components are the metal sulphates or chlorides that can penetrate through the pores of the refractory and get deposited at the core. The cold face of the refractory causes’ loss of strength of refractory material. The mark of a good refractory is its ability to remain inert.
Physical properties
Bulk density is an important property of refractories. A higher bulk density material means that it has a minimum porosity which minimises chemical attacks on the refractory.
Porosity can be defined as the percentage of open pore space in the overall volume of refractory. Pores on a refractory material, provides a site for absorption to the alkali sulphates or chlorides which get absorbed from the hot face side to under refractories and erodes and loses strength from the core of refractories. That is why a good refractory shall have a minimum apparent porosity of 0.2 per cent.
Cold crushing strength: As refractories must withstand a certain mechanical load. The load of itself and the mechanical stress generated due to expansion (radial and axial). A high cold crushing strength means that it would have less breakage while installing, with a good RUL and along comes the draw-back of brittleness
of refractory.
Thermal expansion or permanent linear change. Like all materials, refractory also expands at high temperatures. While a newly installed refractory expands to upto 2 per cent, the permanent expansion and thermal expansion shrinkage cycle deteriorates the strength and service life of the refractory.

Tell us more about the porosity and permeability of the refractory.
Porosity is the volumetric ratio occupied by pores present in refractory material. Porous material is not suitable for refractory application as it has low bulk density and low cold crushing strength.
Apparent Porosity: The ratio of the total volume of the open pores in a porous body to its bulk volume expressed as percentage, of the bulk volume is apparent porosity.
The significance of apparent porosity is as follows:

  • Lower the better as it influences chemical resistance.
  • Related to BD or compactness.
  • Affects cold crushing strength.
  • Higher the porosity, lower the thermal conductivity. This means lower heat loss because of more entrapped air inside the refractory structure. Hence, higher porosity refractory may be used to save heat loss in the area where there is lesser risk of abrasion and lower possibility of alkali penetration.
  • Very low porosity affects thermal shock resistance.
  • 15 per cent to 20 per cent common value for most refractories made by machine pressing.
  • For hand moulded shapes 25 per cent to 35 per cent may be the range
  • Higher the porosity, more will be the alkali penetration. Generally, alkali salts are solidified at a temperature range between 750 to 850oC directly from vapour. Hence, a more porous refractory can be easily used in the area where the application temperature is less than 750oC.

Closed Porosity: The ratio of the total volume of the closed pores in a porous body to its bulk volume expressed as a percentage of the bulk volume is closed porosity.
True Porosity: The sum of the apparent porosity and the closed porosity is true porosity.
Permeability: It is the measure of flow of gases through pores within the refractory body, and it indicates the extent of pore linkage. Permeability of refractories gives an indication on how well the refractory will stand up to molten slag, a melt or to a gas penetration.
Permeability of refractory is directly influenced by refractory material and apparent porosity of the refractory. As the apparent porosity of the refractory increases it provides a more active site for absorption of volatile sulphates or chlorides into the refractory.

Typical cases of permeability are:

  • Alkali Salt Infiltration: As the pores on the refractory surface absorb the volatile metallic sulphates and chloride. They seep through refractory to core and cold face of refractory where they condense to solid form.
  • Anchor Corrosion: The alkali salts that seep through the castable reacts with anchors causing corrosion, hence, castable loses its structural strength causing refractory failure.

What is the maximum temperature that a refractory can withhold? How does its strength differ from ambient temperature to high temperature?
There are four key parameters for defining the maximum temperature a refractory can
withhold are:

  • Service Temperature: This is the temperature at which refractory can withstand without any failure or losing strength. With increase in active refractory ingredients, the refractory service temperature increases.
  • Refractory Under Load (RUL): It is the minimum temperature at which a sample will deform by 0.6 per cent under a constant load. Cylindrical sample that is 50 mm in diameter and 50 mm in height is tested. Constant load of 2 kg/cm2 is maintained on the specimen. The rate of temperature rise is maintained at 15oC or a minimum up to 1000oC and 8oC/min beyond that. Temperature is measured either by thermocouple or optical pyrometer. The expansion or contraction while reading is measured by a dial gauge. As a thumb rule, RUL of brick should be at least 200oC more from its application temperature.
  • Pyro metric Cone Equivalent (PCE): It is the temperature at which refractory material gets softened, or it indicates the range of melting point. Sample cones are made by using ~1 per cent alkali free dextrin. Standard cone (German Standard Seger cone or ASTM standard orton cone) along with sample cone are placed on a plaque at an angle of 82o inside. After that this plaque is placed inside the furnace where temperature rise is 35oC/min up to 1560oC and 2-3oC/min beyond that.
  • Cold Crushing Strength (CCS): In this test, the cube of a specific dimension cut from the brick sample is subjected to increasing load, until it gets crushed and the test result is reported as the value load per unit area. It indicates the adequacy of firing temperature, for shaped Refractory products, required for proper sintering and to develop the required microstructure and the quality of hydraulic or chemical bond in case of unshaped refractories. In the unshaped products, the CCS does not remain the same after heat treatment, and it decreases or increases with the temperature of heat treatment. The good cold crushing strength of shaped refractories protects them from damages during handling and from mechanical abuses in service.

PCE > RUL > Service Temperature > Operating Temperature
As a thumb rule PCE temperature is about 15 to 20oC more than RUL, whereas RUL should be about 150 to 200oC more than service temperature.
Service temperature is decided in such a manner that at any given time it is always higher than operating temperature (operating temperature + temperature increase in case of process fluctuation).
Numerous inert or non-refractory materials can decrease the service temperature as they form a new eutectic point with an active refractory compound. It is a common practice to make small panels of refractory by installing extra retainers to hold the dead weight of refractories.

Tell us about the installation and operating process of refractories in the kiln.
The lining of refractory material in the rotary kiln is almost exclusively made up of refractory bricks. Refractory castables are used in part only in the kiln inlet and outlet. The bricks work creates an arch in the kiln that is self-supporting and which correctly fits with the kiln shell.
Due to lack of anchoring, the lining must be supported during installation. Two type of bricks installation in a kiln are:
Installation with rotation of kiln – Spindle Method: The spindle method or jacking method is a classic procedure for lining rotary kilns. The bricks are placed in the lower half of the kiln, then the wall segment is supported with spindles so that the kiln can be rotated. After a quarter turn the next segment is lined and so on. The spindle method is a cost-effective method and can achieve excellent results. However, the kiln must be rotated again and again because the individual sections cannot be more than five metre in length. Moreover, the spindle method is suitable only up to a kiln diameter of 4.4 metres.
Installation without rotation of the kiln – Brick Lining Machine: A method in which the rotary kiln must not be rotated while lining (and cannot be rotated) work based on the same principle i.e., first, the lower half of the kiln is provided with the refractory bricks, because no support is required in this area and then brick lining machine will be installed for the remaining upper half area and each ring is supported by a hydraulic jack of brick lining machine until its completion.

What are the standards set for refractories in a cement kiln?
For a kiln, the following types of refractories are used: Refractory Brick, Castable and SS Anchor.
The refractory bricks for the kiln brick lining, high alumina ISO bricks of 40 per cent, 60 per cent and 70 per cent alumina are used. Abrasive resistant castables have a high service temperature and are desired such as grade- LC-60, 90 SiC and CRC as the quenching/cooling zone of the kiln handles the hot and abrasive sintered clinker. SS310 anchors are preferred over SS304 only for kiln and burner pipe.
The main standards that a refractory supplier must meet are:

  • Bulk Density: A very crude and crucial standard. A higher bulk density means the refractory bricks are cooked properly and have an active refractory ingredient present. Brick with low brick density indicates low active refractory ingredients.
  • Alumina/Active Refractory Content: Alumina content of bricks should not be less than specified value as it is the active refractory ingredient.
  • Iron/Ferrite: Iron content of refractory should be below 2.5 per cent as the increase in iron content decreases the PCE and RUL values.
  • Apparent Porosity: The value of the refractory should be kept below 0.25 as it increases the alkali salt permeability, anchor corrosion, and decreases the core crushing strength of refractory.
  • Cold Crushing Strength (CCS): This strength of the refractory is a must compliant property of a refractory to withhold any mechanical load that is applied to it. Typical CCS value for a fireclay with high alumina is 450kN/cm2 and 650 kN/cm2.


Refractory Under Load (RUL) for refractories it typically between 1400oC to 1500oC
Permanent Linear Change (PLC) is an expansion of a newly installed refractory. This generates an excessive mechanical load on refractory. PLC for refractory should be less than 1.5 per cent.
Pyrometric Cone Equivalent (PCE) for a refractory should be around 35 degree Orton.
Spalling Resistance are the numbers of heating and cooling cycles that a refractory can hold without any failure. Spalling resistance for refractory is desired to be above 30.
Geometry of the refractory is mostly important and no compromise can be made with it, albeit a tolerance of 1.5 to 2 mm can be considered. Same applies for the SS anchors.

What is the role of technology and automation in refractories for cement kilns?
Since the refractory work is very bulky and time consuming, lots of skilled man-hours are spent, which makes it one of the most cost and time intensive jobs. Shutdown even for a small duration of the plant is a major challenge. The introductions of new technology will help to ultimately overcome the refractory application cost and the installation time.
To overcome the above challenges, new processes/technology that are being implemented.
Brick Lining Machine: Before brick lining machine, the refractory applications required manpower for the transportation of refractory, installation of refractory and using jack for holding arch. All these procedures require a large manpower, both skilled and unskilled. In addition to that, it also takes a long time for installation.
The use of brick lining machines and portable belt conveyor, refractory materials are easily conveyed in a convenient way without any unnecessary stockpile lying around in the way of work. Since all brickwork can be done without rotation with the brick lining machine, the time lost in between tightening and loosening the jack and evacuating the manpower from the kiln while rotating is eliminated. A huge advantage is the completion of this process without the requirement of a huge manpower. A small team of skilled manpower can execute the work in a very precise manner and in a limited time.
Gunning/ShotCreting: For castable application in gunning, a batch of dry castable and binder or water are conveyed through a compressed air line to the mixing nozzle where they mix and get applied at application site. Conventional castable application requires a mandatory castable shuttering with material poured over and a vibrator needle, to set it in the right place. This makes it very time-consuming and chances of the castable not being placed properly is there which will take enormous time and manpower to rectify the application. For a shuttering that is not set properly it needs to be broken and new castable will be reapplied hence increasing cost of breaking and re-applying.
For a point place where huge quantum of castable must be applied, Gunning is preferred as it has its advantages such as:

  • No need of carpenter or mason or helpers for shuttering frame, making and application of castable.
  • Chances of castable not setting properly is eliminated.
  • Refractory application rate can be achieved up to 5 TPH.
  • Since, failure of setting occurs and application are lesser than conventional method, wastage of castable is minimum with rebound losses for gunning of are about 2 per cent.
  • Precast Pre-Fired Refractory: A modern and modular way for refractory application is the Precast Pre-Fired Refractory, which are pre casted to defined required geometrical shapes and can be applied simply bolting, anchoring, and hanging to roof channel support. The key advantages of the new concept are less dependency on skilled manpower, availability of refractory is already casted and only need to be installed.

What tests are employed to check the refractory for defects and at what intervals are these tests done?
There is only a limited number of methods available for a condition diagnosis of the refractory material. In practice, the following are used:

  • Measurement of shell temperatures.
  • Visual inspection from inside and outside (example: inspection of expansion joints, friction comp.)
  • Non-destructive measurement of residual
  • brick thickness
  • Drill holes and chiselling out of windows
  • Quality measurement and surveying the kiln axis

Measurement of shell temperatures: The chronological development of the maximum, average and minimum temperatures on the shell of the rotary kiln allows for conclusion to be drawn for the ratio between lining and coating build-up. Based on the velocity of the temperature changes, further development can be estimated. For example, if maximum temperature rises sharply while the average temperature remains the same or changes slightly, then this pertains to a limited, localised eruption and not overheating of the relevant kiln zone. One preferable option would be to continually check the kiln shell temperature by measuring infrared radiation.
Visual inspection from outside: Inspection or detecting peculiarities on the entire kiln plant are part of the routine task of the kiln personnel. Sudden changes in the surface colours due to increased shell temperatures are clear signs of damage in the lining. But most of the time, even more serious damage is already present. The visual diagnostic procedure therefore ranks last among potential tools, and it is primarily used to prevent further damage to machines.
The condition of the cyclone and vaulted ceilings should be checked regularly through the inspection openings in the ceilings to see if the transition between the brick masonry and the skin is flush. In addition, skin temperature should be compared to earlier measurements in order to gain information about the current refractory status.
Easily accessible part of the cooler, burner pipe or the kiln can also be inspected visually via inspection openings or kiln/cooler cameras. Such an inspection is especially suitable during sort down times as easy inspection measures.
Non-destructive measurements of residual brick thickness: The brick thickness can be measured relatively quickly using a residual thickness metre. But experience shows that generally no reliable measurement signals are provided. Residual thickness metres work with sensitive probe systems that can send and record high frequency electrical impulses. The metallic rotary kiln shell serves as a reflector to determine the residual wall thickness. This device also allows for the different electromagnetic properties of different refractory bricks and infiltration to be recorded.
Drill holes and chiselling out of windows: The residual brick height of the refractory material is determined along the rotary kiln by drilling with a brick drill (9-10 mm). The procedure and results are recorded in a drilling protocol. Brick damage is not always detected with the drilling samples. Using core drilling or chiselling of windows in critical spots, it is possible to detect crack formation or alkali filtration in addition to the residual brick height. However, the subsequent closure of the masonry is unsatisfactory with this method if the residual brick height is low.

What are the major challenges your organisation comes across with the refractory kiln?

  • Spalling of bricks in the burning zone: We use ISO type of bricks in the burning zone in kilns. Refractories develop the spalling because of the mismatch of thermal expansion or contraction in between hot face and cold face during heating – cooling cycle and as a result, cracks are developed in the brick. This crack propagates every time and ultimately some portion of the brick gets spelled out from the position.
  • Kiln bricks failure near second tyre: Due to mechanical loading as well as thermal loading, bricks failure occurs near kiln 2nd tyre area. Whenever this failure happens, then in this area brick lining is done with a manual jack method
  • Tip casting failure: Kiln tip casting failure occurs every 3 to 4 months of continuous running of kiln. Earlier shuttering panel was 400×400 mm as the first kiln outlet retainer was just after 400 mm from the kiln outlet. After modification, outlet retainer shifted towards inlet about 400 mm, i.e., now tip casting shuttering increased to 800×800 mm. It gives us a maximum tip casting life of about 11 months.

What innovations in the refractory sector do you expect to see in the near future that will help better it?
The two main innovations that we foresee are:

AFR friendly refractory: Due to the increasing fuel cost and focus on sustainable ways of operations, the use of alternative fuels in cement industries is essential. Though, the use of alternative fuels is limited because of the high concentration of chlorine and sulphates which are susceptible to coating formation. Therefore, coating resistant refractories that are less prone to chlorine and sulphate attacks will increase the use of alternative fuels with a good refractory life. Moreover, with the enhanced use of AFR, we require good quality AFR friendly castable near AFR feeding zones.
Insulating Bricks: Refractories with low thermal conductivity and low radiation emissivity can help to save the heat losses that ultimately leads to saving fuel, instead of increasing refractory thickness. While by increasing the refractory thickness a loss of volume in pyro-equipment may affect the production capability of the system. Therefore, we required high alumina with low thermal conductivity refractory bricks to save the radiation loss.

Kanika Mathur

Concrete

Towards an expanding horizon

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The Indian cement industry, among the world’s largest, plays a pivotal role in national infrastructure and economic growth. Driven by robust demand, it continues to expand. ICR delves into the mergers and acquisitions currently underway with major cement players, in a bid to lead capacity expansion.

The Indian cement industry is one of the largest in the world, playing a crucial role in the nation’s infrastructure and economic development. Over the past few years, production has steadily increased, driven by robust demand from both urban and rural areas. Major infrastructure projects, housing developments, and government initiatives like ‘Housing for All’ and ‘Smart Cities’ have significantly boosted cement consumption.

The industry is characterised by a diverse range of players, from large multinational corporations to small local manufacturers, all contributing to a highly competitive market. Consumption trends indicate a strong preference for blended cements due to their environmental benefits and cost-effectiveness.

As the economy continues to grow, the demand for cement is expected to rise, supported by ongoing infrastructure development and urbanisation. This upward trajectory positions the Indian cement industry as a key driver of growth in the construction sector, with a focus on sustainable and innovative practices to meet future challenges.
According to the Infomerics Ratings report dated March 2023, the size of the global cement market reached US$ 363.4 billion in 2022, and it is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.4 per cent during 2023 – 2028 to reach US$ 498.23 billion by 2028. The cement industry was expected to add 21.2 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of manufacturing capacity in the year 2022-23. During the period, projects worth US$ 71.8 billion were expected to get commissioned. This would have been the fourth successive year, wherein the industry added more than 20 mtpa of manufacturing capacity. Between 2019-20 and 2021-22, the industry added a total of 81.1 mtpa of manufacturing capacity. The capacity utilisation of cement industries decreased from 66.2 per cent in 2018-19 to 60.3 per cent in 2021-22. There was contraction in demand and production during the pandemic.

India’s commitment to development
Infrastructure development in India is a major driver of cement demand. The government’s focus on initiatives like ‘Bharatmala’ and ‘Sagarmala’ for road and port development, along with rapid expansion in railways and airports, has significantly boosted the cement industry. Policies such as the ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’ aim to provide affordable housing, further increasing cement consumption.
Urbanisation is accelerating in India, leading to a surge in real estate development. With a growing middle class and rising urban populations, demand for residential and commercial spaces is expanding rapidly. This urban growth is a key factor driving cement consumption, as cities expand and modernise their infrastructure to accommodate new residents and businesses.
According to Invest India, the government has committed an allocation of 3.3 per cent of GDP to the infrastructure sector in the fiscal year 2024, with particular focus on the transport and logistics segments. Roads and Highways account for the highest share, followed by Railways and Urban Public Transport. The government has set ambitious targets for the transport sector, including development of a 2 lakh-km national highway network by 2025 and expanding airports to 220. Additionally, plans include operationalising 23 waterways by 2030 and developing 35 Multi-Modal Logistics Parks (MMLPs). The total budgetary outlay for infrastructure-related ministries increased from around Rs.3.7 lakh cr in FY23 to Rs.5 lakh cr in FY24, offering investment prospects for the private sector across various transport sub-segments.
India’s cement industry also has strong export potential, with several manufacturers targeting international markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The competitive pricing and quality of Indian cement make it attractive globally, contributing to increased export volumes. As global construction activities pick up, particularly in developing regions, Indian cement manufacturers are well-positioned to meet international demand, further supporting industry growth.

Anticipated growth spurt
Indian cement manufacturers are actively expanding their production capacities to meet growing domestic and international demand. Major players like UltraTech Cement, Adani Group and Shree Cement have announced significant investment plans to increase their manufacturing capabilities. This expansion is driven by factors such as robust infrastructure development, government initiatives, and rising urbanisation.
These companies are strategically enhancing capacity through both greenfield and brownfield projects, focusing on regions with high demand and logistical advantages. Innovations in technology and sustainability are also key priorities, as manufacturers aim to reduce environmental impact while increasing efficiency. This wave of capacity expansion positions the Indian cement industry to cater to future demand surges, maintaining its competitive edge in both domestic and global markets.
According to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), the Indian cement industry had an installed cement capacity of 600 million tonnes and production of 391 million tonnes of cement in 2022-23. The Crisil Market Intelligence report mentions that to cash in on rising demand from infrastructure and housing sectors, the cement industry is on course to add capacity by 150-160 million tonnes from FY25 to FY28. It also states that the industry has added capacity by 119 million tonnes (MT) per annum to reach a total of 595 MT.
The Indian cement industry is witnessing two major acquisitions in the current times. UltraTech, India’s largest cement player owned by the Aditya Birla Group, has announced that its board has approved picking up a 23 per cent non-controlling stake in India Cements in a deal valued at around Rs.1,885 crore.
While the conglomerate Adani Group has grown its capacity from almost nothing to a total of 75 mtpa in three years, positioning itself as the second-largest player in the industry. The latest growth move is the buyout of Hyderabad-based Penna Cement Industries for Rs.10,420 crore. Currently, Penna Cement has a total capacity of 10 mtpa and another 4 mtpa is under construction. Once the deal is closed, the total capacity of the Adani Group’s cement business will expand to 85 mtpa. The group aims to achieve a production capacity of 140 mtpa by 2028, while market leader UltraTech Cement has set its sights on reaching a capacity of 200 mtpa.
“This landmark acquisition is a significant step forward in Ambuja Cements’ accelerating growth journey,” said Ajay Kapur, CEO and Whole Time Director, Ambuja Cements. “By acquiring PCIL, Ambuja is poised to expand its market presence in south India and reinforce its position as a pan-India leader in the cement industry. PCIL’s strategic location and sufficient limestone reserves provide an opportunity to increase cement capacity through debottlenecking and additional investment. Importantly, the bulk cement terminals (BCTs) will prove to be a gamechanger by giving access to the eastern and southern parts of peninsular India, apart from an entry to Sri Lanka, through the sea route. Our aim is to make PCIL highly competitive on cost and productivity and improve its operating performance.”
Other cement organisations in India also have major manufacturing capacity expansion plans. Shree Cement in February 2024 announced plans for capacity development in Uttar Pradesh (UP) which outlines the development of two cement factories: one in Etah and another in Prayagraj. Both projects are expected to cost approximately `2,000 crore and increase UP’s capacity to produce cement by almost 7 mtpa over the course of the following 24 months. One of Shree Cement’s current projects is a 3.5 mtpa facility in Etah, which is expected to start up in the upcoming year. Prayagraj is planning another 3.5 mtpa facility at the same time. Nearly 17 acres of land in Etah have already been purchased by Shree Cement, and building is under construction.
“New investments made in cement production facilities automatically come with the latest technological advancements that can enhance efficiency, minimise environmental impacts, and improve the quality of cement. This leads to construction practices that are more durable and sustainable. JSW, for instance, has initiated research on the integration of supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) like fly ash, slag, calcined clay and more. These materials not only improve the durability and strength of cement but also contribute towards reduction of carbon footprint of the cement industry. In order to meet energy demands sustainably, we must look at better industry practices such as usage of waste heat recovery systems, high-efficiency coolers and preheaters, and transition towards clean energy sources like solar or wind power,” states Jigyasa Kishore, Vice President – Enterprise Sales and Solutions, Moglix.
JK Cement in June 2024 announced the commissioning of a new grinding unit at its Prayagraj plant in Uttar Pradesh. The Prayagraj plant is a 2 mtpa clinker grinding unit project, which will increase the overall capacity of the organisation from the present 22 to 24 mtpa. This strategic move allows the company to efficiently cater to the burgeoning demand for cement across east Uttar Pradesh.
Dr Raghavpat Singhania, Managing Director, JK Cement, said, “We are thrilled to launch the new grinding unit at Prayagraj, which marks a significant milestone in our expansion strategy. As India accelerates its infrastructure development to sustain robust economic growth, we are continually scaling our capacities to cater to escalating demands from the infrastructure, housing and construction sectors. Our commitment to quality, innovation, and contributing to socio-economic development remains unwavering. We anticipate that these endeavours will not only foster our growth but also actively contribute to the overall development of the region and the nation.”
Dalmia Bharat’s cement manufacturing capacity as of May 2024 stood at 45.6 million tonnes. In the coming year, they plan to add 2.4 million tonnes in Assam and 0.5 million tonnes in Bihar. They are also in the process of acquiring cement assets from Jaiprakash Associates, which will add 9.4 million tonnes to their capacity and mark their entry into the Central region. They are currently focusing on completing ongoing projects and integrating assets like Jaypee Cement. Recently, they invested
`240 crore to expand their plant in Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu, and will add another million tonnes in Kadapa.
Commenting on the company’s expansion plans, Puneet Dalmia, Managing Director and CEO, Dalmia Bharat, said, “We continue to focus on strategic capital expenditure, maximising on the region and growth prospects and further enhancing our market position in the South. Driven by robust infrastructure development, housing and investments, we anticipate cement demand to rise. This increased capacity will facilitate the growing demand in the Southern region.”
Manufacturers are targeting specific regions that offer strategic advantages, such as proximity to raw materials, growing markets, and improved infrastructure connectivity. This regional focus helps in tapping into localised demand and reducing logistical complexities.
Kiran Patil, Managing Director, Wonder Cement, says, “We aim to increase our capacity within the next five years by establishing new plants in strategic locations across the region. These plans align well with the government’s industrial and infrastructure policies, such as the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) and the push for affordable housing. These initiatives are driving demand for construction materials, and we are committed to supporting
these efforts by ensuring a steady supply of high-quality cement.”
“At Wonder Cement, we are committed to significantly expanding our production capacity to meet the growing demands of the Indian market and to contribute to the nation’s infrastructure development. Our expansion strategy is carefully aligned with the government’s industrial and infrastructure policies to ensure that our growth supports national priorities,” he adds.
The capacity expansions are set to increase the competitiveness of the Indian cement industry, with enhanced supply chains and improved market reach. This growth not only meets domestic needs but also strengthens the potential for exports, as Indian cement becomes more competitive in terms of quality and pricing on the global stage.
Overall, the expansion of manufacturing capacity by Indian cement organisations is a critical response to the dynamic market conditions, ensuring that the industry is well-prepared to support India’s developmental aspirations and maintain its competitive positioning internationally.

Rise in cement exports
India’s cement industry gained momentum with the government’s big infrastructure push for development projects. Amid global uncertainties caused by the recessionary situation in the US and EU economies, the global demand for cement has been subdued, and accordingly the cement export from India significantly decreased in half of a decade.
As per Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCI&S), India exports Portland cement, aluminous cement, slag cement, super sulphate cement and hydraulics cements to other countries. India exports most of its concrete cement to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the UAE. Currently, India comes after Spain, Germany, Italy and China in the list of global cement exporters.
According to a report by SeAir Exim Solutions, India’s cement exports declined from 33,73,000 metric tonnes in 2015-16 to 11,66,000 metric tonnes in 2021-22. Cement shipments have significantly decreased in recent years. Overall, India’s cement export future depends on balancing domestic demand, global economic conditions and the industry’s ability to seize growth prospects.

The current Indian cement export scenario (2023-24) is as follows:

Cement Export Data Details
Total cement export from India 211K
Global Rank 1
Cement exporters in India 6498
Number of Indian buyers 16,150

The Infomerics Ratings report states that the cement import by India also significantly declined from 17,69,000 tonnes in 2017-18 to 7,52,000 tonnes in 2019-20 due to the pandemic. With the recovery in domestic demand, imports by India gained traction from 7,52,000 tonnes in 2019-20 to 8,16,000 tonnes in 2021-22. In 2021-22, India imported cement largely from UAE (395.1 thousand tonnes), Bangladesh (130.7 thousand tonnes), Bhutan (196.4 thousand tonnes) and Oman (41.2 thousand tonnes).

Risks and challenges
Expanding cement manufacturing capacities in India presents several risks and challenges:

  • Regulatory and environmental compliance: Navigating stringent environmental regulations can be complex and costly. Manufacturers must ensure compliance with pollution control norms, which can delay projects and increase operational costs.
  • Raw material availability: Securing consistent and cost-effective supplies of limestone and other raw materials is crucial. Fluctuations in availability or price can impact production and profitability.
  • Logistical challenges: Efficient transportation and distribution of cement are critical. Infrastructure bottlenecks and high logistics costs can affect supply chain efficiency and market reach.
  • Market saturation and competition: Rapid capacity expansion can lead to oversupply in the market, pressuring prices and margins. Intense competition among manufacturers further complicates market dynamics.
  • Economic and policy uncertainty: Fluctuations in economic conditions and changes in government policies related to construction and infrastructure can affect demand, influencing investment returns and strategic planning.

Addressing these challenges requires careful planning, strategic investment, and a focus on sustainability to ensure long-term growth and competitiveness in the industry.

Conclusion
The Indian cement industry stands at a pivotal point, driven by robust infrastructure development, urbanisation, and strategic government initiatives. As manufacturers expand their capacities through significant investments in both greenfield and brownfield projects, they are positioning themselves to meet growing domestic and international demand. However, this growth trajectory is not without challenges, including regulatory hurdles, raw material availability, logistical issues and market competition.
To navigate these complexities, companies are focusing on sustainability, innovation, and strategic regional investments, ensuring they remain competitive and responsive to dynamic market conditions. As the industry continues to evolve, its ability to adapt and capitalise on emerging opportunities will be crucial in maintaining its role as a key driver of India’s economic development and infrastructure growth. With a commitment to quality and environmental responsibility, the Indian cement industry is well-equipped to support the nation’s aspirations and achieve long-term success on the global stage.

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Advancing Industrial Efficiency

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Gears, drives, and motors are essential for efficient cement production, and advancements in materials, design and technology enhance their performance. ICR discusses regular maintenance and smart manufacturing practices, including AI and IoT integration, which ensure optimal operation, reduced downtime and extended lifespan.

In the cement industry, gears, drives and motors play crucial roles in ensuring the efficient operation of machinery and equipment essential for cement production. These components are integral to various processes, including the extraction, crushing, grinding, and transportation of raw materials, as well as the production and packaging of the final cement product.
Gears are mechanical components that transmit torque and rotation from one part of a machine to another. In cement plants, gears are used in a variety of applications, such as in rotary kilns, ball mills, and crushers. They help in reducing the speed and increasing the torque to achieve the desired output for specific machinery. The types of gears commonly used include helical, bevel, and spur gears, each chosen for its specific advantages in terms of strength, efficiency, and suitability for particular tasks.
According to a market research report by IMARC, the global gear manufacturing market size reached US$ 80.0 billion in 2023. Looking forward, IMARC Group expects the market to reach US$ 131.4 billion by 2032, exhibiting a growth rate (CAGR) of 5.5 per cent during 2024-2032.
Drives refer to the mechanisms that provide the necessary power to operate various machines. In the cement industry, drive systems can be mechanical, hydraulic, or electrical. Mechanical drives, such as belt and gear drives, are often used for their simplicity and reliability. Hydraulic drives offer precise control and are used in applications where variable speed and torque are required. Electrical drives, which include variable frequency drives (VFDs), are increasingly popular for their energy efficiency and ability to provide precise speed control. Drives ensure that machinery operates at the optimal speed and torque, enhancing productivity and reducing wear and tear.
Motors are the heart of the drive systems, converting electrical energy into mechanical motion. In cement plants, motors power various machines, such as conveyors, crushers, mills, and fans. The selection of motors—whether AC, DC, synchronous, or asynchronous—depends on the specific requirements of the application, including the need for variable speed control, starting torque, and energy efficiency. Motors must be robust and reliable to withstand the harsh operating conditions typical in cement production environments.
The integration of gears, drives, and motors in the cement industry is essential for maintaining continuous and efficient operations. These components work together to ensure that machinery runs smoothly, minimising downtime and maximising output. Moreover, advancements in technology have led to the development of more efficient and durable gears, drives, and motors, contributing to the overall sustainability and cost-effectiveness of cement manufacturing processes. Their proper selection, maintenance and operation are critical to the productivity and longevity of cement plants.

Advancements and technology
Recent advancements in gear, drive, and motor technology have significantly enhanced the efficiency, reliability, and functionality of these critical components in the cement industry. These technological developments are largely driven by the principles of Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing, which emphasise automation, data exchange, and the integration of cyber-physical systems. Advancements coupled with the transformative impact of Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing, have revolutionised the cement industry. These innovations have led to more efficient, reliable and sustainable operations, positioning the industry for continued growth and competitiveness in the digital age.
“Advancements in gear technology have significantly enhanced the efficiency and performance of cement manufacturing processes at Wonder Cement. Modern gears, crafted from high-strength alloys and featuring advanced surface treatments, offer superior durability and wear resistance. This results in reduced friction and energy loss, allowing for more efficient power transmission. Precision engineering and innovative designs enable gears to handle higher loads with greater reliability, minimising downtime and maintenance costs. By integrating these state-of-the-art gear systems, Wonder Cement achieves optimal operational performance, ensuring that our production lines run smoothly and efficiently,” says Piyush Joshi, Associate Vice President – Systems and Technical Cell, Wonder Cement.
“The improved efficiency not only lowers energy consumption but also contributes to a more sustainable manufacturing process, aligning with our commitment to environmental stewardship and operational excellence. The incorporation of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), represents a significant innovation in the cement industry. At Wonder Cement, these state-of-the-art tools have been instrumental in optimising operations, reducing energy consumption and enhancing overall productivity,” he adds.
Gears have seen improvements in materials and design. The use of advanced materials, such as high-performance alloys and composite materials, has resulted in gears that are stronger, lighter and more resistant to wear and corrosion. Precision manufacturing techniques, including computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), have enabled the production of gears with tighter tolerances and better surface finishes, reducing friction and improving efficiency. Additionally, innovative lubrication solutions and surface treatments have extended the lifespan of gears, reducing maintenance needs and downtime.
Drives have benefited from the integration of digital technologies. Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) and intelligent drive systems now offer enhanced control and flexibility, allowing for precise speed and torque adjustments to match the operational demands of cement production processes. These advanced drives are equipped with sensors and connectivity features that enable real-time monitoring and diagnostics, facilitating predictive maintenance and reducing the risk of unexpected failures. The adoption of energy-efficient drives has also contributed to significant energy savings and reduced carbon emissions.
Motors have evolved with advancements in design, materials, and control technologies. High-efficiency motors, such as permanent magnet synchronous motors (PMSMs) and brushless DC motors (BLDCs), offer superior performance and energy efficiency compared to traditional induction motors. Innovations in motor control, including the use of sophisticated algorithms and power electronics, have improved the precision and responsiveness of motor operations. Furthermore, smart motors equipped with IoT (Internet of Things) capabilities can communicate with central control systems, providing valuable data for optimising performance and maintenance schedules.
Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing have profoundly impacted gears, drives, and motors by introducing connectivity, automation, and data analytics into the manufacturing environment. Smart sensors and IoT devices embedded in these components enable continuous monitoring of their operational status, allowing for real-time data collection and analysis. This data-driven approach facilitates predictive maintenance, where potential issues are identified and addressed before they lead to equipment failure, thereby enhancing reliability and reducing downtime.
The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms further enhances the capabilities of smart manufacturing systems. These technologies can analyse vast amounts of data to identify patterns and optimise processes, leading to improved efficiency and productivity. For instance, AI-driven optimisation can adjust motor speeds and gear ratios in real-time to match varying loads and operational conditions, ensuring optimal performance and energy usage.

Common issues and troubleshooting
Maintaining gears, drives, and motors is essential for efficient cement plant operations, reducing downtime and extending equipment lifespan. Regular maintenance practices prevent failures and ensure reliability.
Gears require regular inspection and lubrication to avoid wear and tear. Common issues include surface wear, misalignment, and overheating. Proper alignment during installation and regular checks can prevent these problems. Using high-quality materials and maintaining a clean environment mitigates pitting and corrosion.
Drives need regular maintenance to ensure efficient operation. Mechanical drives can suffer from belt and chain wear, which requires inspection and replacement. Hydraulic drives may have leaks; tightening fittings and replacing seals can prevent this. Electrical drives can face motor burnout or VFD failure, prevented by proper wiring and avoiding overloads. Addressing excessive vibration and noise through balancing and alignment checks is also crucial.
Motors are vital to drive systems and require diligent maintenance. Bearing failures, overheating, and electrical faults are common issues. Regular lubrication, adequate cooling, and electrical inspections can prevent these problems. Vibration and noise often indicate misalignment or bearing issues, which can be detected and addressed through vibration analysis.
Troubleshooting techniques involve systematic inspection and analysis. Visual inspections, vibration analysis, thermography, lubrication analysis, and electrical testing are effective methods. Implementing a proactive maintenance strategy with regular inspections, timely lubrication, and condition monitoring enhances the reliability and longevity of gears, drives, and motors in the cement industry.

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Concrete

We are excited about the future

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Kiran Patil, Managing Director, Wonder Cement, speaks about the company’s focus on technological advancements, sustainability and community development to support its growth while mitigating regulatory and economic challenges.

What are your company’s plans for expanding cement production capacity? How are they aligned with the government’s industrial and infrastructure policies?
In the short term, we are focusing on optimising our existing facilities and ensuring that we achieve maximum efficiency in production. Our short-term plan focuses on increasing our current production capacity by 25 per cent over the next two years to meet the rising demand for cement in infrastructure projects. This will involve brown/green field expansion, upgrading technology, enhancing operational efficiencies, and debottlenecking existing plants to achieve better throughput.
We are pleased to announce the establishment of a fifth production line at our Nimbahera facility in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan. This expansion, set to be operational by mid-2025, is in response to the growing demand in the region. The new line will augment our production capacity by an additional 2.75 MTPA.
In the long term, we aim to increase our capacity within the next five years by establishing new plants in strategic locations across the region. These plans align well with the government’s industrial and infrastructure policies, such as the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) and the push for affordable housing. These initiatives are driving demand for construction materials, and we are committed to supporting these efforts by ensuring a steady supply of high-quality cement.
At Wonder Cement, we are committed to significantly expanding our production capacity to meet the growing demands of the Indian market and to contribute to the nation’s infrastructure development. Our expansion strategy is carefully aligned with the government’s industrial and infrastructure policies to ensure that our growth supports national priorities.

How have the current policies, such as the focus on infrastructure development and the ‘Make in India’ initiative, influenced your expansion plans?
The government’s emphasis on infrastructure development and the ‘Make in India’ initiative have significantly influenced our expansion plans. Policies like the NIP, which aims to enhance the quality of infrastructure across the country, have created a robust demand for construction materials. The ‘Make in India’ initiative has provided us with a favourable environment for manufacturing, encouraging us to invest more in local production. While these policies have been beneficial, the challenge lies in navigating the regulatory complexities and obtaining timely approvals for new projects. However, the government’s proactive approach in simplifying procedures and promoting ease of doing business has been encouraging.

What is your assessment of the current regulatory policies? Are there any initiatives that could help your expansion plans?
The current regulatory environment for the cement industry is generally supportive, but there is room for improvement. Simplifying and speeding up the process for environmental clearances and land acquisition would significantly facilitate our expansion plans. Additionally, policies aimed at reducing logistical costs through better infrastructure, such as improved rail and road networks, would help us optimise our supply chain and distribution. The government’s focus on digitisation and transparency in regulatory processes is a positive step that we believe will further ease the challenges associated with expansion.

How is your company securing funding for these projects, and what role do government incentives play in this process?
We are planning an investment of approximately Rs 5,000 crore over the next five to seven years to support our expansion initiatives. This includes the establishment of new plants, upgrading existing facilities, and incorporating advanced technologies. We are securing funding through a combination of internal accruals and external financing. Government incentives, such as subsidies for setting up plants in certain regions and tax benefits under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, play a crucial role in making these investments viable. These incentives help us manage costs and enhance the overall feasibility of our projects.

How is your company addressing sustainability in your expansion plans?
At Wonder Cement, environmental sustainability is a core principle guiding our expansion plans. As we increase our production capacity, we are committed to implementing measures that minimise environmental impact and promote sustainable practices. Here are the steps we are taking to ensure our new production line aligns with these values:

  • Energy efficiency: We are incorporating state-of-the-art technology to enhance energy efficiency in our operations. This includes using advanced machinery that consumes less energy and optimising our processes to reduce energy wastage. We are focusing on green power for plant operation. Recently we signed an agreement for solar power supply for our newly established grinding unit at Aligarh, U.P.
  • Emission control: We are investing in cutting-edge emission control systems to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our new facility will be equipped with high-efficiency bag filters, electrostatic precipitators, and continuous emission monitoring systems to ensure compliance with stringent environmental standards.
  • Alternative fuels and raw materials: We are increasing the use of alternative fuels and raw materials in our production process. This not only reduces our dependency on non-renewable resources but also helps in lowering our carbon footprint.
  • Water conservation: Water is a precious resource, and we are committed to its conservation. Our new line will incorporate advanced water recycling systems and rainwater harvesting mechanisms to ensure sustainable water use.
  • Waste management: We are implementing comprehensive waste management strategies to minimise waste generation and promote recycling. This includes utilising industrial waste, such as fly ash and slag, in our cement production to reduce landfill waste.
  • Green belt development: We are enhancing our green belt around the Nimbahera facility by planting more trees and maintaining natural vegetation. This helps in improving air quality and creating a sustainable environment.
  • Community engagement: We are engaging with local communities to promote environmental awareness and sustainability practices.

Through various CSR initiatives, we aim to educate and involve the community in our environmental efforts.
By integrating these initiatives into our expansion plans, we ensure that our increased production capacity is achieved in an environmentally responsible manner, contributing to the long-term sustainability of our operations and the well-being of the community.

How is your company leveraging technology to enhance efficiency and capacity in your cement plants?
At Wonder Cement, we leverage cutting-edge technology to enhance our plants’ efficiency and capacity through a multifaceted approach focusing on automation, digitalisation, and sustainability. Our Advanced Process Control (APC) systems optimise production with real-time data and predictive analytics, improving efficiency and reducing energy consumption. IoT-enabled devices facilitate real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance, minimising downtime and costs. Centralised control rooms utilise sophisticated software for effective oversight and quick decision-making.
We incorporate robotics for precise, efficient material handling and explore AI and machine learning to predict equipment failures and optimise maintenance. Our adoption of Waste Heat Recovery Systems (WHRS) harnesses waste heat, reducing external energy reliance and lowering our carbon footprint. Sustainability drives our technological innovations, including investments in carbon capture and alternative fuels.
In new and expanded facilities, we plan to integrate smart manufacturing technologies, blockchain for supply chain transparency, and digital twins for real-time performance optimisation. These innovations position Wonder Cement at the forefront of the industry, ensuring high-quality products while upholding our commitment to sustainability and operational excellence.

What are the major challenges and risks associated with expansion?
The major challenges include regulatory delays, fluctuations in raw material prices, and uncertainties in the economic and political landscape. To mitigate these risks, we are focusing on diversifying our supply chain to reduce dependency on a single source of raw materials and mode of transport. We are also engaging with government authorities to ensure timely clearances and support. Additionally, we are adopting a phased approach to expansion to allow flexibility and adaptability in response to changing market conditions. Risk management frameworks and contingency planning are integral parts of our strategy to navigate these challenges.

How do your expansion plans consider the impact on local communities?
Our expansion plans are designed with a strong focus on social and economic development of local communities. We prioritise hiring from local talent pools and provide extensive training programs to enhance their skills. Our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives include healthcare, education and infrastructure development in the regions surrounding our plants. We are also investing in community welfare programs such as building schools, and healthcare centres and ensuring access to clean drinking water. By engaging with local communities and addressing their needs, we aim to foster a positive and sustainable relationship.
Overall, this showcases our commitment to growth, sustainability, and community development while aligning with national policies and leveraging advanced technologies. Wonder Cement’s expansion plans are designed to not only meet the increasing demand for cement in India but also to support and complement the government’s vision for industrial growth and infrastructure development. We are excited about the future and are dedicated to playing a pivotal role in the nation’s progress.

– Kanika Mathur

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