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Raising the bar: Innovative management in cement manufacturing (pt.1)

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Cement,

Dr S B Hegde provides an overview of some of the solutions the cement industry has available to face current challenges.

The cement industry stands as the backbone of global construction, providing the essential building material for infrastructure projects worldwide. Cement's significance in construction is profound, given its unique properties of strength, durability, and versatility. With an annual production exceeding 4 billion t globally, cement is the cornerstone of virtually every construction project, contributing to approximately 70% of all construction materials used worldwide.

This sector plays a pivotal role in the economy, generating significant revenue, employment opportunities, and driving economic growth. Globally, the cement industry contributes over US$250 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supports millions of jobs across various sectors such as manufacturing, transportation, and construction. Additionally, every US$1 invested in infrastructure projects yields an estimated US$3 in economic output, demonstrating the multiplier effect of cement-related investments on economic activity.

However, the industry faces challenges that impact its sustainability and competitiveness. Environmental concerns loom large, with cement production being energy-intensive and accounting for approximately 8% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Stricter environmental regulations and emission standards necessitate investments in sustainable practices to mitigate climate change risks.

Technological disruption poses another challenge, with rapid advancements in construction materials and technologies challenging traditional cement manufacturing processes. Alternative materials like fly ash, slag, and calcined clays offer sustainable alternatives to traditional Portland cement, altering market dynamics.

Regulatory compliance adds further complexity, with stringent environmental regulations imposing compliance costs on cement manufacturers. Failure to meet regulatory requirements can result in fines, penalties, and reputational damage, posing financial and operational risks.

Overcapacity and price volatility are additional challenges, as excess production capacity and intense competition among manufacturers exert downward pressure on prices, eroding profit margins.

Despite these challenges, the cement industry presents numerous opportunities for growth and innovation. Investments in sustainable cement production, such as alternative fuels (AF) and low-carbon technologies, offer avenues to reduce carbon emissions and enhance sustainability. Digitalisation and Industry 4.0 initiatives revolutionise manufacturing processes, optimising efficiency and product quality.

Moreover, product innovation and market differentiation enable cement manufacturers to develop tailored solutions that meet specific customer needs and applications. High-performance cements, specialty cements, and sustainable cements offer superior characteristics, including enhanced durability and reduced environmental impact.

Importance of management

Innovative management practices are pivotal for the success and sustainability of cement manufacturing companies, particularly in light of evolving industry dynamics. This if for the following reasons:

Environmental leadership:

Innovative strategies enable cement firms to lead in environmental stewardship by reducing carbon emissions and enhancing sustainability. Incorporating AF like biomass and waste-derived fuels can slash CO2 emissions by 20 – 30%, surpassing traditional fossil fuels' environmental performance.

Operational optimisation:

Innovation drives operational efficiency, leveraging advanced analytics and predictive maintenance systems to optimise production processes and minimise energy consumption. Predictive maintenance alone can slash maintenance costs by 10 – 20% and boost equipment uptime by 20 – 30%, resulting in substantial cost savings and operational enhancements.

Product innovation:

Fostering a culture of innovation cultivates product breakthroughs, leading to novel cement formulations with superior attributes such as enhanced strength, durability, and sustainability. High-performance cements like blended and specialty variants cater to specific customer needs, ensuring a competitive edge in the market.

Digital transformation:

Embracing digitalisation revolutionises cement manufacturing, with IoT, AI, and automation enabling real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, and remote diagnostics. Studies reveal digital technology adoption can amplify productivity by 15 – 25% and slash production costs by 20 – 30%, signalling a transformative shift in operational performance.

Agile market navigation:

Innovation empowers companies to adeptly navigate market shifts and consumer preferences, facilitating proactive identification of opportunities and risk mitigation. Additionally, innovative strategies enable exploration of new business models, product diversification, and market expansion, ensuring sustained competitiveness in a dynamic landscape.

Strategic vision and market agility

In the fiercely competitive realm of cement manufacturing, strategic vision and agile responses to market dynamics are indispensable for industry players striving to maintain a leading edge.

Anticipating market shifts:

In an era marked by rapid changes and disruptions, cement manufacturers must possess a strategic vision that extends beyond the immediate horizon. Anticipating market shifts involves not only reacting to existing trends but also forecasting emerging ones. For instance, leveraging predictive analytics algorithms can enable companies to identify early signals of market trends, empowering them to pivot swiftly and capitalise on emerging opportunities.

According to a report by McKinsey, companies that excel in strategic planning and foresight outperform their peers by an average of 10% in revenue growth and 5% in profitability.

Responding to competitive pressures:

The cement industry is no stranger to intense competition, both domestically and globally. As new players enter the market and existing ones evolve, companies must exhibit agility in responding to competitive pressures. This entails not only refining existing strategies but also embracing innovation to differentiate themselves. For instance, exploring novel construction techniques, such as 3D printing with cementitious materials, can position companies at the forefront of innovation, offering unique value propositions to customers.

The global cement market is projected to reach US$481 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7% from 2020 to 2027, according to a report by Grand View Research.

The second part of this article will be available 4th June

About the author

Dr. S B Hegde, currently a Professor at Jain College of Engineering and Technology, Hubli, Karnataka, India and a Visiting Professor at Pennsylvania State University, USA brings over three decades of leadership experience in the cement industry both in India and internationally.

With a remarkable scholarly record including over 198 research papers published in national and international journals, and holding six patents (with four more filed in the USA in 2023), Dr. Hegde's expertise spans Indian and international contexts.

He serves as an expert panel member for some of the reputed international journals, among other prestigious editorial roles, and extends advisory services to multinational cement companies and governmental think tanks.

Notably, Dr. Hegde was honoured with the ‘Global Visionary Award’ in 2020 by the Gujarat Chambers of Commerce and Industry and World Vision for his outstanding leadership and contributions.

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