Ram Manohar Sowbhagya, Consultant
Cement terminals which are away from an integrated plant serve as important distribution points in the overall business. Cement manufacturers are either setting up their own terminals or are sharing them with other companies. Ram Manohar Sowbhagya has a long experience of being associated with ACC Ltd, which operates a bulk cement terminal at Kalamboli, Navi Mumbai. He gave an insight into the need for such terminals and overall management of the same.
Explain the importance of having a terminal either for packing of cement or for loading of bulk cement in the overall cement distribution matrix. What are the typical investments in plant and machinery excluding land?
Bulk cement handling terminals in the vicinity of large, developing and happening cities/markets play a very important role in proper distribution of cement. The terminals are an extension of very large plants which otherwise normally exist in very remote locations, far away from cities or major consumption points. Therefore terminals facilitate in supplying factory fresh cement with many advantages to the customers, which would have not been possible when cement is transported from a far away source. Terminals help in handling cement in a safe method, ensuring clean environment unlike conventional rail sidings where cement is handled in a very unscientific way with all sorts of hazards.
Once the terminal is established, the same can be used for packing cement and supplying cement in loose form depending on infrastructure developed at the unit. The primary objective of the terminal should be for distributing cement in loose form, in special vehicles like bulkers. However the mode and form of cement distribution is more dictated by the customers needs based on the facilities that are available with them. This necessitates a terminal to have a provision for packing cement in bags too. Having terminals for cement handling can avoid large godowns/warehouses near construction points in otherwise congested areas and residential dwellings. Bulk cement terminals help in increasing efficiency of rail transportation or port operations. Major capital investments required for a terminal other than land are storage silos, unloading / loading equipment, packing plant along with special purpose rail wagons and rail siding and railhead plant or port/ship related infrastructure (ships/ barges, jettys/ports). The capital requirement hence could vary in a large range of nearly Rs 100-200 crore, depending on type of infrastructure needed and capacity of the terminal.
Which are the companies having such facilities?
BCCIL-ACC subsidiary company is the first Rail Bulk Cement Terminal. The Bulk Cement Terminal was set up in Navi Mumbai (Kalamboli) during 1995-96 with participation of Ministry of Industry, World Bank and Indian Railways. There are two more rail bulk terminals that came up much later; one in Bengaluru and another near Hyderabad, both belonging to Grasim Industries.
Besides this, there are three-four port-based bulk cement terminals (Ambuja, UltraTech etc.,) transporting cement through the sea route and handling cement near coastal belts of Mumbai, Surat and Mangalore that have been operating for a few years now. There are a few more terminals that are coming up shortly.
Cochin Port Trust is creating an exclusive facility for handling cement. Please comment.
Though not many details are known it is understood that Ambuja, UltraTech, Zuari and Malabar Cements have developed a bulk cement unit in Kochi, located on the land of Cochin Port Trust with more than a million tonne annual capacity.
When you were at BCCIL, what was the proportion of bagged cement vs that of bulk cement? Is the proportion likely to change and in which direction?
Bulk cement proportion at BCCIL is around 50 per cent. The unit receives cement 100 per cent in bulk form from its source at Wadi. However, while distributing the cement to the market from the terminal, the ratio varies from 40-50 per cent and the balance cement gets packed and despatched to the customer. Though it is always preferable to distribute cement through bulk in loose form as much as possible, the limitation is market demand.
Explain the necessity of having a testing lab at the terminal end when you have a full scale QC laboratory at the plant. What are the routine tests conducted at the packing plant?
The purpose of a testing lab at a bulk cement unit is more for quality assurance rather than for any control or correction purpose at the terminal. Though all tests are carried out at the manufacturing unit, it is necessary for certain tests to be carried out from the quality assurance point of view before the material gets shipped to the customer and also as per the BIS statutory requirement, proper lab facilities manned by a qualified person is mandatory. Physical tests including compressive strength for all ages and limited chemical analysis are done on a daily average basis.
What is your take on HDPE bags as packing material vs paper bags or paper laminated HDPE bags?
PP bags with their ease of usage and relatively low cost are extensively used for packing cement. But use of all PP-based bags is a big challenge to the environment as these are not biodegradable. Laminated bags are better if their relatively higher cost is absorbed as seepage of cement is avoided. Paper bags are environment friendly and are extensively used in the developed world. Paper bags have high burstage issues if operations/machinery are not streamlined, affecting cost and productivity adversely.
To what extent is IT used in terminal operations including vehicle movement?
In general the plant operations at the present are semi-automatic. Operations starting from unloading at terminal till repacking /loading into bulkers are controlled through DCS systems. There is huge scope and operations can be fully automised restricting human involvement to the minimum with proper investments and reliable systems.
The movement of all vehicles inside the premises is monitored and tracked through RFID and the movements outside the premises till the consignment reaches the customer are also tracked through GPS combined with various supporting modules and systems. All these are implemented at ACC´s BCCIL; all these operations help in increasing TAT ( Turn Around Time ) of dedicated vehicles leading to productivity efficiency and economic benefits. As such, IT plays a great role in streamlining operations for better efficiency.
What changes do you foresee in terminal operations in the next five years?
Terminals are objectively meant more for distributing cement in bulk form. Internationally, developed nations have very high proportion of bulk (~ 70 per cent ) whereas our country has not crossed 2 per cent even after 30-40 years of first introduction of bulk transportation. Promotion of usage of bulk cement has not had encouraging effects, probably on account of reluctant customers and continuing old construction practices being followed by government departments which consume cement in large quantities. However more and more RMCs are coming up due to environmental and congestion related aspects over and above customer preferring quality concrete from RMCs. The increase in RMC plants will result in more and more terminals to be installed. There are already quite a few terminals that had come up in the pipeline in the recent past. As more and more companies are keen on having their own terminals it is likely the terminal development will be huge in the next 5 years as compared to the past.