The major challenge for the technology suppliers has been with technologies, which are sized for higher capacities; but when the plants have to be operated at reduced capacities (due to market conditions), they are expected to maintain the same efficiency parameters.
When we talk of technology, we can divide it in two parts -- one is disruptive technology and the other one is sustaining technology. It will be interesting to go deep into interpreting these words in our context. Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M Christensen coined the term disruptive technology. A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry. Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology. Many examples of disruptive technology can be given but for us those have impacted the industry in particular is personal computers, Internet and mobile phones. Examples of sustaining technology are also many, but in cement industry, they are: preheater pre calciner technology, use of vertical roller mills and advancements in instrumentation, use of waste as fuel are few, waste heat recovery, etc.
One perspective of technology, we would like to highlight is that every successful technology abroad need not get a foothold in India. We have a few limitations with our population and country being very large. Human labour is relatively cheap here compared to other places. In construction, pre cast, pre fab technology had huge success elsewhere but not in India. It is quite interesting to study why pre fab industry could not get acceptance particularly in housing sector. One major factor is the low cost of labour, lack of standardisation and customisation expected by the buyer.
Use of waste in cement kilns is another area where we are far behind. Here also accepting the technology isn’t an issue but the problem lies somewhere else. The policy framework and the rigidity of the bureaucrats found to be the main hurdle in the success of using waste material as kiln fuel. Introduction of GST is likely to bring in some change.
While discussing this with some experts like Jayant Saha, YV Satyamurthy, Ashok Dembla and few others, it was felt that cement industry as on date is far away from disruptive technology. However some developments on controlling pollution, use of alternate fuels and more and more use of energy efficient gadgets will be on rise in the days to come.
According to YV Satyamurthy, the real advancement of technology will be the size of the plant, multi-drive vertical roller mills, and use of robotics in laboratory, modular design of grinding plants, continuous emission monitoring system.
All the experts unanimously agreed that we are far behind and need to pull our socks as far as alternate fuels are concerned. Regarding the use of pet coke, it was felt that ban on cement producers is an overreaction of the problem. There is a big difference when pet coke is used by a foundry and by a cement plant. The gaseous pollutants emitted by a cement plant are measured and controlled whereas in case of foundry such provision does not exist. Ashutosh Saxena of NCCBM is of the opinion that more efforts to be put in towards improving clinker factor so that we are able to conserve the limestone deposits. He further suggests that the challenge before industry is to utilise high capacity plant and operate them efficiently even at lower capacity. “It is a major engineering and technological challenge,” he adds.
Ashok Dembla, who represents KHD and is a technology supplier, claims that he has been providing environment-friendly technologies. His company has been providing equipment, which is the best-in-class for energy efficiency and for protecting environment. He has a proven technology for using municipal solid waste as fuel. Every technology available elsewhere will not be successful in India. The technology needs to be adapted to the local conditions or need to be localised before it is widely used. The localisation of technology is very important step in technology absorption. The multinational companies with open mind and strong desire to adapt only could spread across globe. HK Vithlani of FUCHS says the top management need to listen to customers when any new technology is introduced. Customers’ feedback is crucial and has to be a part of system. Superiority of technology occasionally brings in level of arrogance which has to be avoided.
“Indian cement makers are highly tech-savvy”
- Sunil Potdar, Managing Director, Schenck Process Solutions India Pvt Ltd
What are some of the new solutions that you are offering to the cement industry at this point in time?
Schenck Process has been known to the industry more as a weighing and feeding equipment supplier all along, but there are a variety of other solutions that we offer. One of the key deliverables that is relevant in the current context is our alternate fuel solution. We have very successfully installed and handed over a very large alternative fuel feeding system to Lafarge at its Chittorgarh plant. In addition, we have alternative fuel feeding system working at ACC as well as Ambuja’s plants. We do see a lot of potential for that in India as conventional fuel becomes scarce. Three years ago, we acquired a company called ModuPower in Norway that is now an integral part of Schenck Process.
The technology that we offer through ModuPower actually helps bring down particulate emission levels of electrostatic precipitators significantly without the need for adding additional screens or collection equipment. We brought this technology to India in 2016 and it has been very successfully implemented in the Indian cement sector, particularly in cooler ESP applications where dust emissions are significant.
Do you perceive any paradigm shifts or disruptions happening in cement sector that is otherwise considered to be a traditional old economy industry?
Although no major technological change has happened at the heart of the pyro process, a significant effort has gone create collaborations between technology suppliers like us and end users to cut down on consumption of fuel and power as well as reduce emission levels. The Indian industry has embraced all such global technologies to bring about these changes. So, the process might not have changed, but the efficiencies that have been brought about are very significant compared to what used to be the trend 30 years ago.
Another very innovative concept that we have introduced in the country is just-in-time blending. What this means is that when you have cement grinding using fly ash, slag, etc., there is typically separate blending equipment to blend and store cement. Our multi-core system actually undertakes the blending in a very uniform way, online. You do not need a separate blender, so to speak, and the blended cement can go directly into transportation vessels, without provisioning for separate storage silos. This is done very efficiently compared to what was being done in previous times with a separate blender, which used to consume lot of power.
How receptive have Indian cement manufacturers been to all these technological innovations?
Majority of Indian cement manufacturing is privately owned. Compared to a lot of other countries, Indian cement manufacturers have a strong urge to implement the latest technology.
What is your near and medium-term outlook for India’s cement sector?
Investments in greenfield projects will be done very cautiously, but expansion or modernisation of existing plants will happen. A lot depends on how the government spends on construction of infrastructure projects such as interlinking of rivers, high-speed railway, etc. In general, 2015-16 was very subdued in terms of concrete. We are seeing some green shoots of investments coming into the cement industry in India, which is a positive sign.
Since the housing sector continues to be sluggish do you think infrastructure projects will suffice to drive growth?
Definitely! Housing is again almost 40 to 50 per cent of cement consumption. A couple of decades ago if you travelled to a rural part of the country, dwellings were all mud huts. Today you can see the transformation. I think as the rural economy picks up, housing too will get a further boost. In urban India, it will probably be more towards low-cost or super-luxury housing. At the same time, smart city projects are also coming up. These three will be the drivers according to us. There won’t be significant peaks or rallies, but a steady growth in the housing sector. It is the infrastructure sector that will provide these peaks and the current investment in the cement sector is happening in anticipation of that. Even if you consider a two-year gestation period for capacity to rise, people want to be there when the peak happens.