Ashok Kumar Dembla, President and Managing Director, Customer Service Center India, KHD Humboldt Wedag International
In an interview, Ashok Kumar Dembla, President and Managing Director, Customer Service Center India, KHD Humboldt Wedag International, believes that digitalisation has benefitted core manufacturing in terms of better tools to design systems.
What are some of the recent technology trends in your segment?
We have taken [primary and secondary] steps towards reduction of the dangerous NOx and SOx emissions by pushing our pyroredox technology in the market. That means, even if you use hard coals like pet coke, there is a possibility to maintain emission levels within limits.
Another big challenge is in the area of alternate fuels. Presently, the amount of alternate fuels used is much less. As you have seen, the Delhi smog is essentially because of burning of stubble by farmers. If the same stubble can be channelised with government support to fire a kiln; that is a solution. There are very good techniques available for preparation of municipal waste, but individual companies are not able to spend that much on their own. May be the government bodies can step in and help the municipalities across India to prepare the waste for cement industry.
Similarly, other waste materials from chemical and pharmaceutical industries are also in demand. By reducing the industry’s dependence of coal, they also help in conservation of natural resource as well as environment protection. Several European countries use 60 per cent of waste materials as fuel. But in India, on an average, it is not more than 10 per cent. There are bottlenecks in terms of handling, government support and interest from entities that generate waste. We also have a technology for calcined clay, which can be used as a substitute for limestone.
How much of your R&D happens in India?
Our competence centre is in Cologne, Germany. The knowledge gained at our plants is shared with the competence centre. Projects where pilot-scale investment is required are taken up by Cologne. But from a practical and industrial perspective, whatever experience we gain through on-site modifications, we get them rectified by Cologne and then the solution becomes part of our day-to-day practice.
As far as KHD Humboldt Wedag is concerned, what are the new solutions that you would be offering to your clients this year?
Our solutions will be to curb/reduce NOx emissions in new plants. We also give solutions such as combustion chamber for alternate fuels. Some of our clients want to make provision to use between 10 to 20 percent as alternate fuels. So, we design the plant according to their requirement. In terms of electrical energy, there is a major emphasis these days on recovery of waste heat from the circuit. We are very pro-active in that area. At times, this energy is sufficient to run up to 80 per cent of the pyro system. That’s a huge saving!
Simultaneously, there are a lot of talks about disruptions in the industry on account of digitalisation. What is your take on that?
Digitalisation has benefitted core manufacturing in terms of better tools to design systems. Most clients now want drawings in 3D. We also have to provide those solutions in Inventor or similar 3D softwares like Autocad and/or Revit. Ansys is used for CFD analysis. But more than us, digitalisation is helping cement manufacturers to plan their distribution and market strategy better. Moreover, since it gives them access to lot of information in the pre-project phase itself, they don’t need to approach various regulatory agencies for clarifications every now and then. Management information system has substantially improved with digitalisation.
Does older cement plants find it challenging to cope up with new regulations?
Although older plants have got some relaxation from the government, but their problems are two-fold i.e. to make investment and to find availability of right technology. Technologies have developed over the last 2-3 years in India based on user experience in Europe and other developed countries. Now, it is about striking the right balance between investment and gain. The plants are, therefore, taking some time to decide on how much to invest. They are also trying to convince the government to move slowly while implementing stringent environmental norms, because they are facing problems of higher production costs and in improving overall sales.
When it comes to environmental norms there are primary solutions, which include use of technology to reduce emissions. Secondary solutions might entail injecting of ammonia or other chemicals into the system. But that has its limitations. One, the cost of production goes up, and, second, handling of chemical compounds like ammonia creates several other issues. As a technology supplier, we therefore, try to initiate primary steps in the process itself to curb pollutants. That’s the right approach.
What is your outlook for the cement sector over the next 12 months?
At the moment, cement plants are operating at between 65 to 75 per cent capacity utilisation. The industry is facing the challenge of increasing capacity utilisation to at least 80 per cent for better plant viability. For its part, the government has taken steps to develop smart cities, build more roads and invest in new pathways, all of which will require cement. But it is the housing sector that continues to account for the bulk consumption of nearly 60 per cent of cement production. However, that also means an average person must have the capacity to invest in a home. We are quite optimistic that present situation of economy will start improving substantially by 2019 as the additional government plans would have started taking firm shape by then.