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Raising the bar: Innovative management in cement manufacturing (pt.2)

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.

This is the second instalment of an article by Dr S B Hegde. The first part can be found here.

Leveraging big data and machine learning

Harnessing the power of big data and machine learning holds immense potential for cement manufacturers seeking to bolster their strategic vision and market agility:

Analysing market trends:

Traditional market analysis methods often fall short in capturing the complexity and nuances of today's dynamic marketplace. Big data analytics offer a solution by enabling companies to process vast volumes of structured and unstructured data to uncover actionable insights. By analysing consumer behaviour patterns, social media sentiment, and macroeconomic indicators, cement manufacturers can gain a comprehensive understanding of market trends and customer preferences, enabling them to make data-driven decisions with confidence.

The global big data market size is expected to reach US$229.4 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 10.4% from 2019 to 2025, as per a report by Grand View Research.

Predicting demand fluctuations:

Accurately forecasting demand fluctuations is paramount for optimising production schedules, inventory management, and resource allocation. Machine learning algorithms excel in this domain by analysing historical sales data, seasonality patterns, and external factors such as weather conditions and infrastructure projects. By leveraging predictive modelling techniques, cement manufacturers can anticipate demand variations with precision, mitigating the risks of underutilised capacity or inventory stockouts.

Companies that implement predictive analytics experience an average 20% increase in sales, according to a study by Forbes.

Making informed strategic decisions:

Armed with insights derived from big data analytics and machine learning, cement manufacturers can make informed strategic decisions across various facets of their operations. From optimising supply chain logistics and pricing strategies to identifying opportunities for product innovation and market expansion, data-driven decision-making empowers companies to stay ahead of the curve. For instance, real-time monitoring of production processes using IoT sensors can enable proactive maintenance interventions, minimising downtime and enhancing operational efficiency.

According to a study by IDC, companies that invest in data-driven decision-making achieve productivity gains that are 5 – 6% higher than their peers.

Operational excellence

In the pursuit of operational excellence, cement manufacturers are increasingly turning to robotics, automation, and autonomous systems to optimise efficiency and performance.

Robotics and automation:

Robotic process automation is revolutionising cement manufacturing by streamlining repetitive tasks, enhancing accuracy, and reducing operational costs. Robots are deployed across various stages of the production process, from raw material handling and crushing to packaging and logistics.

Collaborative robots equipped with advanced sensors and vision systems can perform intricate tasks with precision, such as sample analysis, quality control inspections, and equipment maintenance.

Holcim, one of the world's largest cement manufacturers, implemented robotic solutions in its plants to automate palletising operations. By deploying robotic palletisers, the company achieved a significant reduction in manual labour requirements, increased throughput, and improved workplace safety.

Autonomous systems:

Autonomous systems, including drones, vehicles, and machinery, are transforming cement plant operations by enabling remote monitoring, inspection, and maintenance tasks. Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and LiDAR sensors can perform aerial surveys, monitor inventory stockpiles, and conduct infrastructure inspections with unparalleled efficiency and accuracy.

Autonomous vehicles, such as self-driving trucks and forklifts, navigate plant premises autonomously using advanced GPS, LiDAR, and radar systems. These vehicles optimise material handling processes, reduce fuel consumption, and minimise the risk of accidents.

Cemex, a global leader in building materials, deployed drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras in its cement plants to conduct kiln inspections. By automating the inspection process, the company improved safety, reduced downtime, and identified potential maintenance issues before they escalated into costly failures.

Advanced analytics and predictive maintenance:

Harnessing the power of advanced analytics and predictive maintenance technologies, cement manufacturers can optimise equipment reliability, minimise downtime, and extend asset lifespan. Machine learning algorithms analyse sensor data from equipment and machinery to predict potential failures and prescribe proactive maintenance interventions.

Predictive maintenance models utilise historical performance data, operating conditions, and failure patterns to forecast equipment failures with high accuracy. These models enable maintenance teams to prioritise critical assets, optimise maintenance schedules, and reduce unplanned downtime.

UltraTech Cement, India's largest cement producer, implemented a predictive maintenance solution powered by machine learning algorithms. By analysing real-time sensor data from critical equipment, UltraTech reduced maintenance costs by 15%, increased equipment uptime by 20%, and improved overall operational efficiency.

Human capital revolution

Investing in workforce development and upskilling initiatives is paramount for cement manufacturers aiming to foster a culture of innovation, adaptability, and continuous improvement.

Importance of workforce development:

Innovation and adaptability:

A skilled and knowledgeable workforce forms the cornerstone of innovation and adaptability within cement manufacturing companies. By investing in workforce development, companies cultivate a culture of creativity and problem-solving, enabling employees to identify opportunities for process optimisation, product innovation, and sustainability initiatives.

A study by Deloitte found that organisations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes compared to their counterparts.

Operational efficiency:

Well-trained employees are better equipped to perform their roles efficiently, reducing errors, minimising downtime, and optimising resource utilisation. Continuous upskilling ensures that employees stay abreast of the latest technologies, best practices, and regulatory requirements, enhancing overall operational performance and competitiveness.

According to research by McKinsey, companies that invest in employee training and development achieve 26% higher revenue per employee and experience a 12% higher profit margin than those that do not prioritise training.

Innovative training programmes:

Immersive learning platforms:

Employers are increasingly turning to immersive learning platforms, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), to deliver engaging and interactive training experiences. These platforms simulate real-world scenarios, allowing employees to practice skills, troubleshoot issues, and familiarise themselves with equipment and processes in a risk-free environment.

Heidelberg Materials, a global building materials company, developed a VR training programme for cement plant operators. The programme immerses trainees in virtual plant environments, where they learn to operate equipment, identify safety hazards, and respond to emergencies, resulting in a 60% reduction in onboarding time and a 25% decrease in safety incidents.

Gamified learning modules:

Gamification techniques, such as leaderboards, badges, and rewards, are employed to gamify learning modules and incentivise employee engagement. By transforming learning into a fun and competitive experience, gamified training programmes motivate employees to actively participate, track their progress, and achieve mastery of key concepts and skills.

A study by TalentLMS found that gamified e-learning programmes result in a 14% higher skill-based knowledge retention rate compared to traditional training methods.

Personalised learning pathways:

Tailoring learning experiences to individual employee needs and preferences enhances engagement and effectiveness. Personalised learning platforms leverage data analytics and AI algorithms to assess employee skill gaps, recommend relevant training modules, and track progress over time, ensuring that learning initiatives align with organisational objectives and employee career aspirations.

Holcim implemented a personalised learning platform that curates custom learning pathways for employees based on their job roles, performance evaluations, and professional development goals. The platform provides access to a diverse range of training resources, including online courses, webinars, and mentorship programmes, resulting in a 30% increase in employee satisfaction and a 20% improvement in job performance metrics.

The third part of this article will be available 5th 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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