Cement is a vital building material that demands well-organized distribution and timely delivery; and the most important focus areas are to optimize the logistics value chain of the product which includes first and last mile transportation.
In the last two years, logistics has emerged as a function of critical importance in cement business on par with manufacturing and marketing and sales. This is the activity that links cement from the point of its production till it reaches the hands of the ultimate consumer. When we use the term logistics, we mostly refer to outbound movement; but of course the function must ideally also include inbound logistics or the activities involving inward movement of raw materials, inputs and intermediate goods. But essentially logistics plays a collaborative role between manufacturing on one side and sales on the other.
Cement is a vital building material that demands well-organized distribution and timely delivery. The cost of transporting cement via road comes to about Rs 1-3/tonne/km. The wide range is due to the variation in lead distance, which can range from anywhere between 50-300 km. Longer the distance, lower is the cost of transport. Railway on other hand costs Rs 1.3 to 1.4/tonne/km. However, railway has additional fixed costs related to loading and unloading. The handling cost is high for railways. So for a distance below 200 km, rail is not viable. The total cost of logistics considering inbound and outbound movement can come up to 20-25 per cent of cement price. This is for companies having good infrastructure such as rail sidings, etc, and who transport 40-60 per cent product by rail. For companies that do not have such facilities, the cost can go as high as 30 per cent of the cement cost.
According to Tushar Dave, Vice President - Central Logistics, ACC Ltd, the importance of logistics in cement business cannot be understated. Says Dave, ´Typically, cement has to travel about 400 km from the plant before it reaches the end customer. The cost of outbound logistics represents nearly 20 per cent of net sales; in fact it comprises the second highest share of costs after manufacturing and fuel. On-time delivery is another critical area where logistics plays a role, considering that it is essential to ensure customer satisfaction. In view of these facts, logistics has enormous potential to deliver cost savings while simultaneously impacting customer satisfaction through improvements in service levels.´
He adds, ´A major bottleneck in this front is the time consumed at the loading bay. Trucks typically have had to wait for hours to enter and move out of the plant premises. This takes up a lot of the total travel and turnaround time and congests the bay during peak loading hours. ACC devised a unique solution to this problem by way of introducing the digitalised loading bay.´
Says Praveen Garg, Head - Logistics, Bharathi Cement, ´In the present scenario, logistics in cement industry plays a vital role to decide the competitive advantage or disadvantage for a company. Logistics in Indian cement industry per se is in growth stage and there is a long way to go to achieve consolidation and mature stage. Logistics cost is one of the highest cost elements and contributes 25 to 30 per cent of total spend in cement industry.´ He adds, ´Existing infrastructure related to road, rail and sea transport is a major bottleneck, which does not provide flexibility as compared to developed nations. Indian cement industry still has separate vendors for primary transportation, last mile delivery and supply chain planning. Big 3PL and 4PL players are yet to come in cement logistics that can provide end-to-end solution.´
Speaking about the functional constraints Arun Khurana, Head - Logistics, JK Cement, had this to say. ´Definitely, logistics remains always under pressure when industry scenario is not so good. The prices are not supportive and with the logistics cost is pretty high, always the aim remains to how we can rationalize or optimize the logistics cost. Rail logistics constitutes almost 35 per cent of the total dispatches being done from the factory and now railways is reaching to the point of saturation. In fact, in the last 10 years, the percentage of rail has really come down from 40-45 per cent to 35 per cent and all this is because railways does not have sufficient infrastructure to support the demand requirement. So, the alternate mode comes as road. Again, the biggest challenge here is the availability of skilled drivers. It is not confined to cement alone, but the fact remains that these kinds of challenges are there in the transport industry which is directly linked to the cement industry as well. In the last two years, it seems the supply chain as a function is evolving across industries. So on that extent, skilled manpower available is not to the desired level.´ Speaking about the functional bottlenecks, Capt. Ashok Shrivastava, Chief Executive Officer, Shipping Services, Allcargo Logistics, says, ´The fundamental reasons for challenges or bottlenecks in logistics especially in the cement industry has more to do with the product itself which is high volume and low value. This gives rise to the bottleneck of various kinds from transportation of raw material to plants and then from plants to the end-consumer through distribution channels. The challenge is compounded by India´s unique demography and its fast pace economic growth which is not concentrated in particular locations but is spread across all corners of the country. Thus, the demand is scattered but the production is located sparingly across states keeping in mind the economics of the business. Many of these macroeconomic variables cannot be altered to a greater extent, thus given this industry a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Logistics is the backbone of this product in demography such as India.´
He adds, ´Road has been the tradition medium of transportation, but given the congestion, limitation on quantity which can be carried, costs of toll across highways and the low average speed of movement it has given rail the opportunity to be one of the preferred modes of surface transportation. Coastal shipping has emerged as the most preferred medium of movement of cement, given its advantage in terms of costs as well as capacity to carry larger volume. Coastal shipping will be a game changer for India given that our country is surrounded by over 7,000 km of coastline and the cement industry can leverage this mode of transportation more effectively and efficiently to move its products.´
According to Prabhat Ranjan, AGM - Sales & Logistics, Meghalaya Cement, there are two sides to bringing down cost of logistics; one is infrastructure and the other is technology. ´As far as infrastructure is concerned, whenever a truck load is coming, there should be a scope for return load so that the freight cost remains low. Here in the North-East region, there is no scope for return load as the industry is not developed here. Some bulk terminals can be set up in Delhi in the north and Chennai in south, where bulkers are coming from the cement plant can go back to the cement plant with fly ash. So, they are getting the two-way transportation. Bulkers are unloading the cement in the silos and there it is getting packed. In this mode, the transportation cost is reduced. But in North-East region, the roads are not good for bulkers to ply as it is hilly terrain. Also, cement consumption is very low here compared to other parts of the country. So, in North-East, the scope of bulk terminals is not feasible.´
According to Garg, bulk cement consumption and transportation at present in India is very low which is at a level of 10 per cent only. He says, ´Bulk transportation will increase at 15-20 per cent CAGR in future with consolidation in cement customer segment and growth of ready mix concrete business in India. At present, there is an issue both at the customer end and available logistics infrastructure, which is resulting in such a low bulk transportation percentage in India. This will further increase with introduction of new bulk terminals coming up near major consumption centres.´ He adds, ´Now we are exploring the possibilities to use bulk silo placing unit attached to trucks and these small silos can be carried by trucks to the small construction site. With this concept, small construction site can be converted from bags to bulk. This will reduce the packaging and handling cost to a great extent.´ Says Khurana, ´Bulk cement is used either in RMC or infra projects. But till date, the larger demand coming is from the rural pockets. Big projects like smart cities are at conceptual stage and if it becomes a reality then there is good scope for bulk cement. As of today, the percentage of loose cement sold in India is below 10 per cent of the total sales. The use of bulk cement is majorly at metro cities only. But going forward, if the projects like dedicated freight corridors, smart cities and other mega infra projects, come up, definitely there is a huge scope for bulk cement. If the future growth of cement comes to this segment then there is a huge growth.´
According to Ranjan, bulk transportation is good but there are a lot of technologies need to be developed like the bulk terminals, from where cement can be supplied to big projects. Now the RMC concept is evolved, and they have now started taking bulk cement, which saves costs involved in packing, packaging materials etc. The trend is gaining momentum as before starting big projects, they set up silos because they can set up a silo at 50 per cent production cost of cement and they can use loose cement. Almost every company has started this, especially for hydel projects they are using own silos. Now, NHPC has started this and many private companies are going to start. Even in road projects, bulk handling is going on.
Rail freight impact
According to Khurana, the 2.7 per cent increase in freight rate definitely adds to the cost of cement. He says, ´The input cost in terms of coal and slag transportation has increased almost 7 per cent, which adds to the cost of cement by Rs 2-2.50 per bag. So effectively, there will be a Rs 6-7 hike in per bag cost. But due to less demand in the current market, it is difficult to pass on the cost difference to the end-consumer. As of now, it is really hitting the bottom line of the cement company.´
Ranjan has a different take on this. According to him, freight rate is not a major factor in railway transportation. He says, ´More than freight rate, there are so many other factors that are affecting, which include other policies of Railways, infrastructure at rail yard, etc. Rail yards are working 24 hour, but the labours are available for only eight hours. Railways charges demurrage, if my rakes are getting placed today evening, I have to pay the demurrage charges for the whole night, and the labours will be available in the morning next day. Thus, demurrage charges, labour charges, local infrastructure charges, and other charges are so high which are diluting the increase of freight rates.´
Says Garg, ´Freight rate for cement has been hiked by 2.7 per cent whereas for coal this has been hiked by 6.3 per cent. This will have overall negative impact of around Rs 40 to 60/tonne on bottom line of cement industry. This freight hike by Railways will also impact the rail co-efficient as Railways has increased the freight at the time when diesel prices have come down drastically.´
On a positive angle, Shrivastava had this to say. ´In a growing vibrant economy like India, rise in input costs of variables such as rates, taxes, fuel costs have direct effect on the industry, but the overall advantage of the demand-supply fundamentals are still the more important opportunity for further growth and development. Any business has to be proactive to leverage the developments as well as innovate itself to make convert it into an opportunity.´
Setting up of bulk terminals
According to Garg, setting up of bulk terminals and same shared by different players will give a real boost to cement industry. He says, ´Any grinding unit or bulk cement terminal require at least 50 acre of land near to major cement consumption centres like Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and upcoming metros. If we look at any of existing terminal (existing private siding or railway siding), there is a great scope of sharing existing private/railway siding and other available space in these terminals. This will be a win-win solution for the existing siding operator located nearby major consumption centres to collaborate and share their asset which is not fully utilised. Challenges are from regulation side also the modalities on sharing the existing set-up.´
Says Khurana, ´Collaborating with multiple companies will become challenging from the perspective of different players. Even today, industry has not graduated to a level where people only compete by way of brand. The industry has to reach that level of maturity where different manufacturers collaborate probably for the mutual benefit. Of course, looking at the Indian Railways to do those kinds of investments is not a scenario as of now. But there is a huge potential for private terminals, which are designed in such a way that they can be used as multiple operators rather than for a bagged cargo or loose cement cargo.
Says Dave, ´The future points to a shift towards bulk transport but that would happen gradually over 9 to 12 years horizon in big way once all the stake holders (from manufacturers to end users) are ready and fully on board. It also needs other enablers to be in place such as a shift in the way cement is sold (migration from B2C to B2B) and the availability of appropriate transportation, handling and infrastructure facilities.´
Says Khurana, ´In terms of operational aspect, one of the options available is the mechanisation of the goods shed and the second option is exploring the possibilities of bulk terminals across the country. Many big cement companies can explore upon setting up integrated terminals but for smaller players who have limited volumes and different geographies, this is not operationally viable. So there may be a potential for a common facility that can be utlised by different players and then repack and distribute to the local market from thereon. We have taken such initiatives for our white cement market due to longer distance from our plant in Rajasthan to the market in west coast and down south which is a multimodal type of operation. We have recently commissioned a grinder unit in Haryana which will reduce the load that goes into the road and rail network.´
Manufacturers tend to use a combination of distribution methods, which include bulk and bags via road, rail, in-land transport and by sea. The most inexpensive method of moving cement is in bulk by water. The optimum solution is always a combination of methods. In today´s technologically advanced world, it is possible to use the power of information technology to arrive at optimum solutions using mathematical modelling and algorithms. For effective and optimum costs in cement distribution, one needs to integrate IT solutions with actual demand and supply and, most importantly, include all options of cement movement and storage into the management cycle. One will need to work with almost everyone involved in the supply chain, from the drivers of road bulkers and trucks, the captains of the barges and ships and to the customer engineers who will finally receive the cement for use in their plants.
Shrivastava sums up, ´For the cement industry which includes home grown as well as international players competing for the market, one of the most important focus areas is to optimize the logistics value chain of the product which also included first and last mile transportation. Presently, movement of cement goes through multiple modes and service providers handling the product thus forming part of the overall logistics cost structure. One of the most efficient ways to control and leverage this variable is to look at integrated logistics wherein a provider has the network, the size and scale to provide all types of movement from coastal shipping to trailer movement to last mile distribution, thus forming a value added service. This will make a huge difference in terms of managing the value chain and optimizing costs as well delivery time of the product.´
LOGISTICS CHALLENGES IN NORTH-EAST
OPTIMISING LOGISTICS COST
Very interesting info & facts of the cement industry &
problems related transportation