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Raising the bar: Innovative management in cement manufacturing (pt.3)

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 third instalment of an article by Dr S B Hegde. The second part can be found here.

Safety redefined

In the high-stakes environment of cement manufacturing, workplace safety stands as a paramount concern, demanding solutions to mitigate risks and protect the well-being of employees.

Importance of workplace safety

Human capital preservation:

Ensuring a safe working environment is not just a legal obligation but a moral imperative for cement manufacturers. Prioritising workplace safety safeguards the physical and mental well-being of employees, reducing the incidence of accidents, injuries, and fatalities, and fostering a culture of care and responsibility.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease globally, underscoring the urgency of prioritising workplace safety.

Operational continuity:

Safety incidents can disrupt operations, leading to production delays, financial losses, and reputational damage. By proactively addressing safety risks and implementing preventive measures, companies minimise downtime, maintain regulatory compliance, and safeguard business continuity.

The Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) reports that safety incidents result in an average of 20% more days lost per injury in the cement industry compared to other manufacturing sectors, highlighting the need for robust safety measures.

Predictive analytics and AI-powered safety systems

Early hazard detection:

Predictive analytics harnesses historical data, real-time sensor inputs, and machine learning algorithms to identify potential safety hazards before they escalate into critical incidents. By analysing patterns and trends, predictive models can forecast equipment failures, process deviations, and environmental risks, enabling proactive interventions to mitigate hazards.

The National Safety Council estimates that preventable workplace injuries cost businesses over US$170 billion annually in direct and indirect expenses, emphasising the financial imperative of predictive safety measures.

Proactive risk mitigation:

AI-powered safety systems leverage advanced sensors, computer vision, and natural language processing to monitor workplace conditions, detect anomalies, and issue real-time alerts to operators and supervisors. These systems enable rapid response to safety threats, enabling swift evacuation, emergency shutdowns, and incident investigations.

Holcim implemented an AI-powered safety monitoring system in its cement plants, which uses computer vision to detect unsafe behaviours, such as inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) usage or unauthorised access to restricted areas. The system issues instant alerts to supervisors, enabling timely interventions and corrective actions, resulting in a 30% reduction in safety incidents within the first year of implementation.

Best practices and success stories:

Holcim achieved a significant reduction in safety incidents by implementing a comprehensive safety management system. By fostering a safety-first culture, investing in employee training, and deploying AI-powered safety technologies, the company achieved a 50% decrease in lost-time injuries and a 25% improvement in safety compliance metrics.

Cemex, another prominent cement manufacturer, transformed its safety performance by embracing predictive analytics and IoT-enabled safety devices. By equipping employees with wearable sensors, deploying drones for aerial inspections, and leveraging predictive maintenance algorithms, Cemex reduced safety incidents by 40% and achieved a 20% increase in safety audit scores.

Product innovation

In the fiercely competitive landscape of the cement manufacturing industry, product innovation stands as a crucial driver of market differentiation and customer satisfaction, offering solutions that not only meet but exceed evolving construction needs.

Significance of product innovation

Market differentiation:

Innovation in cement products allows manufacturers to differentiate themselves from competitors by offering unique features, superior performance characteristics, and sustainable solutions. By continuously improving product offerings, companies can capture market share, command premium prices, and establish themselves as industry leaders.

According to a study by McKinsey, companies that prioritise innovation achieve 2.2 times higher revenue growth and 3.2 times higher shareholder returns compared to their peers.

Meeting evolving customer needs:

As construction practices evolve and sustainability concerns mount, customers demand cement products that deliver enhanced performance, durability, and environmental benefits. Product innovation enables manufacturers to address these evolving needs, providing tailored solutions that optimise construction processes, minimise environmental impact, and deliver long-term value to customers.

The World Green Building Council estimates that green building materials, including eco-friendly cement products, are projected to capture a market share of US$234 billion by 2030, driven by increasing demand for sustainable construction solutions.

Innovative cement products and applications

Nanotechnology-infused cement:

Nanotechnology holds immense promise for revolutionising cement manufacturing by enhancing the strength, durability, and sustainability of concrete structures. Nanoparticles, such as silica fume, graphene oxide, and titanium dioxide, can be incorporated into cement formulations to improve mechanical properties, reduce water permeability, and enhance resistance to corrosion and deterioration.

CeraTech, a leading provider of advanced cementitious materials, developed a nanotechnology-infused cement called Ekkomaxx®. By incorporating nano-sized additives, Ekkomaxx achieves compressive strengths up to 30 000 psi, surpassing traditional cementitious products, and offers unparalleled resistance to chemical attack, abrasion, and freeze-thaw cycles.

Advanced composite materials:

Innovative cement manufacturers are exploring the potential of advanced composite materials, such as fibre-reinforced concrete (FRC) and ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC), to deliver superior performance in demanding construction applications. These materials combine cementitious binders with high-strength fibres, additives, and admixtures to enhance structural integrity, durability, and design flexibility.

Holcim introduced Ductal®, an ultra-high-performance concrete renowned for its exceptional mechanical properties and versatility. With compressive strengths exceeding 30 000 psi and flexural strengths up to 10 000 psi, Ductal enables the construction of slender, lightweight structures with minimal material usage, reducing environmental impact and construction costs.

Sustainable cement blends:

In response to growing environmental concerns, cement manufacturers are developing sustainable cement blends that incorporate supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs), such as fly ash, slag, and calcined clays, to reduce carbon emissions and conserve natural resources. These blended cements offer comparable performance to traditional Portland cement while significantly lowering embodied carbon and energy consumption.

According to the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA), the use of SCMs in cement production can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 40% compared to conventional cement formulations, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts on a global scale.

The fourth part of this article will be available 6th 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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