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Cross-training personnel in the cement industry – Part 1

Published by
World Cement,

The cement industry and other similar industries have gone through a significant amount of change in the past several years. The global recession affected the manufacturing of products and drastically reduced the production of cement. Reduced production levels, coupled with the increased production capacity of the new, large preheater kilns installed around the world, meant that the cement industry was hit particularly hard. As a result, many companies were forced to close down plants, offer early retirement to eligible employees and, in many cases, plants were simply downsized in response to lower production demands. Simply put, a great amount of expertise walked out of the door and left a void in the technical knowledge of maintenance personnel that once existed at plant level.

In a 2012 study, ManpowerGroup revealed that the greatest shortage of jobs prevalent to any business sector in the world is the lack of skilled labour, such as iron workers, millwrights, mechanics, electricians and other related trades personnel. In the report, the age of the work force in these different trades showed that approximately 55% was over the age of 45 and 20% were between 55 and 64 years old. In the next 10 years, we will see another large turnover in maintenance personnel at plant level. In addition to this, there are fewer younger skilled workers entering the industry to fill the rapidly increasing void. The question we must ask ourselves in this industry is: where are we going to find the skilled personnel to meet maintenance staff requirements?

When entering the industry 30 years ago, there were vocational schools present in the US secondary education system, strong unions that would place personnel in extensive apprenticeship programmes and wages that attracted young people into industry. In the United States, such vocational schools no longer exist in the education system and the remaining unions have difficulty in attracting young people into apprenticeship programmes. Many plants have been forced to hire inexperienced personnel and have them enter an on-the-job type of training programme. Once personnel are hired and trained, there is difficulty in keeping them long-term because of the attraction to find a job in a cleaner environment and which pays better. According to the ManpowerGroup report in 2012, 13% of employers experienced a high level of impact to their business as a result of the skilled labour shortage and, in 2013, 19% of employers cited that the labour shortage had a high level of impact on their business. This trend will continue to rise for at least the next decade. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are in the midst of a skilled labour crisis.

Furthermore, in today’s market there is the pressure to increase the reliability of existing equipment and optimise the efficiency of processes throughout the plant. For many cement manufacturers, this means performing maintenance on equipment with less experienced personnel, fewer people and older equipment. Now that production levels are on the rise slightly and there are signs of recovery in the industry, the pressure will be placed on maintenance departments to keep equipment running without the benefit of extended plant outages as a result of production limitations. These departments will face serious challenges in the coming years.

For this reason, many plants across a wide variety of industries are faced with the need to cross-train other personnel in the plant to carry out necessary maintenance functions. One of the simplest ways to utilise non-maintenance personnel to assist the maintenance departments is by training operators and oilers, for example, to perform simple inspections on equipment such as kilns and mills. In part two of this article there is a simple outline of an inspection programme on a kiln that will enable these non-maintenance personnel to relay information to the maintenance and production departments so that trends can be established to enhance a predictive reliability programme.

Read part 2 of this article here

Written by John H. Ross, Industrial Kiln & Dryer Group, USA and edited by . To read the full version of this article, please download a copy of the May issue of World Cement.

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