A combination of enhanced connectivity, remote monitoring and predictive analytics, machine learning, and 3D printing is already transforming the wider construction sector, says Dr SB Hegde, Sr General Manager ' Production and Quality Control at Udaipur Cement Works (UCWL).
Cement is the second most polluting industrial sector, responsible for roughly 8 per cent of global CO2 emissions. Although progress has been made in reducing the emissions-intensity of cement production, this has been eclipsed by a surging demand for cement, as cities rapidly expand, and governments worldwide invest in major infrastructure projects.
Cement sector emissions cannot be reduced simply by changing fuels or increasing the efficiency of plants, but instead require the transformation of cement itself, either by blending it with alternative materials or by developing novel low-carbon cements. Although the cement sector is only in the early stages of digital transformation, there is growing interest in the role that digital tools could play in accelerating deep decarburisation. Many of the barriers to cleaner cement production and use are about optimising processes, matching solutions to local conditions, better coordination, and cooperation and communication ' areas where digital technologies have significant advantages.
Digitalisation could help address misinformation, enhance collaboration, disseminate best practice, and reduce asymmetries in access to relevant information at different points along the value chain. Well-known barriers stand in the way of lower-carbon cements and concretes. The raw materials required to produce them are often not readily available at the scale required. The major cement companies that dominate the sector are cautious about rolling out new products that could challenge their current business practices and erode the value of their production facilities. Finally—and perhaps most importantly—consumers are reluctant to use novel building materials.
Role of digital technologies in overcoming the barriers
A combination of enhanced connectivity, remote monitoring and predictive analytics, machine learning, and 3D printing is already transforming the wider construction sector. Such changes could feed back into cleaner cement and concrete consumption. Digital technologies are likely to have four key impacts in the cement sector:
Optimising existing processes may be the most obvious promise of digital disruption is the potential to optimise existing processes through better data gathering, data analysis, and the use of automated process control. This is the area in which industrialised cement producers will already be seeing the impact of digital technologies. Firms are, for example, employing"smart" devices to track and monitor operations, and machine learning to improve process control in their plants. Logistics is another area where this has progressed, with technologies employed to gather data insights for increased efficiency and to improve timing of deliveries to sites. Matching solutions to local conditions Digital technologies can play a key role in finding the right combination of technology solutions for each and every location. The choice of building materials for a project is highly site and application specific. Differences in climate and soil conditions, what the material is going to be used for, and the local availability of a given material will all play into the decision-making process. Belite-rich clinkers, for example, have been used in large concrete dam projects in China, where strength gain after a few days is not as important as it might be on a typical construction project.
The number of factors involved and the need for very fine tuning suggest that this problem is well-suited to machine learning. In combination with the potential increase in data gathering described above, analytics could be used to predict product characteristics, for a given mixture, in a given climate, and for a given use. By finding the right solution for any building or structure, anywhere, digital innovation will unlock new opportunities for deep decarburisation. Ideally, this would allow the user to match the lowest carbon cements to their most viable use-cases and reserve the higher carbon cements for only those applications where they might still be needed.
Enhancing information sharing and collaboration
Improving coordination and communication is an area where digital technologies have significant advantages and could play a key role in transforming how building materials are procured and specified. In this context, there has been a growing interest in tools, such as building information modeling (BIM), which allows users to build a data-rich computer-generated model of a building. Structural engineers and architects are using BIM to collaborate on the optimal design and materials for a structure at the very beginning of a project. BIM also helps to communicate decisions to the client, the contractor, and suppliers in the value chain.
Supporting digitalisation in the sector
Concerns raised over the adoption of digital technologies include the cost, changes in workflow, questions over who owns the data, and the potential for blurred lines of responsibility and liability. The skills and training needed to roll out digital technologies are a particularly important consideration. In Europe, the construction sector is already suffering from a serious skills shortage and is struggling to deliver widespread training, even on simple processes. The importance of digital disruption will also depend on the degree to which it reshapes the largest cement markets 'China and India.
There are, however, near-term opportunities to overcome these challenges.
Governments can invest in training to address the digital-skills shortage in the construction sector, also with a view to retaining the number and improving the quality of jobs in the sector. They can provide de-risking mechanisms and financial support to encourage the use of new technologies and help to cover their cost. Cement and construction companies can work with digital providers to improve digital tools and technologies, to offer the right kind of services, and to accelerate their uptake. Innovation partners should work together to build the stack of digital assets needed to integrate real-time decision tools, supply chain optimisation, and lesson sharing from experience into the development of new materials and blends.
About the author:
Dr SB Hegde is currently working as Sr. General Manager ' Production and Quality Control, Udaipur Cement Works (UCWL). He has more than 25 plus years of experience with a lot of accomplishments in India and Abroad in the areas of plant operation, quality assurance, laboratory automation, new product development both (new) cement formulations, concrete and cement-based products. He had served in senior level positions in the companies like Reliance Cement as Functional Head and Vice President- Quality and Product Development for a plant of 10,000 tpd greenfield plant at Maihar (Madhya Pradesh) and grinding unit of two MTPA and 0.8 MTPA greenfield grinding units at Kundanganj (Uttar Pradesh) and Butibori (Nagpur) respectively.
Dr Hegde was one of the active members of "Research Advisory Committee" of NCCBM from 2013 to 2016. He has published more than 70 research papers both in National and International journals of high repute and presented papers in International seminars held in India and Abroad. Presented papers in International Congress on chemistry of Cement, held in Durban and Toronto (Canada).
He can be contacted on: Email: email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org