Innovation is driving advancement of technologies and growth of the cement packaging segment globally. India must be able to take part and reap benefits from them.
While innovation is changing the way every work is done in every field of activity, cement packaging cannot be too different. Though there is hardly any change in the material consumed for manufacturing cement packaging, the new technologies and processes are making them high on productivity, safer, quicker to fill, load and re-load, leak-proof and amenable to automation, when compared to yester years when it was dangerous, hazardous and labour-intensive.
Bags are a common way of distribution in the industry, accounting for about 60 per cent of the product shipped to consumers/users. This also holds true for other developing countries, according to industry sources, which put the figure at 45 per cent on an average. Bulk packaging though is yet to catch up on a large scale in India, it is being patronised by some major cement manufacturers and bulk consumers.
Though there are several manufacturers of cement packaging bags in the country, most of the highly advanced automated machinery and systems are being imported from countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the US, Taiwan, etc.
Innovation has been the key for sustained growth of global players like Windmöller & Hölscher during the recent years, particularly when it has introduced hot air to seal the moisture-proof sacks that used to be closed with adhesives earlier, thereby reducing production costs and technical process limitations. Another global player, FLSmidth offers complete automation solutions by integrating various product types with that of fully automated packing plants, automating even loading and unloading activities.
Packing plants have not only become part of cement production lines, but also grinding stations or cement terminals. A single packing line produces up to 15 to 50 million bags per year based on the material used and the process adopted. That way, packing plants have evolved into complex, fully automated operations, driven by innovation in the recent years.
There are three options for cements sacks: Paper, woven and film. “Paper sacks are a comparatively cost-effective form of packaging made from a renewable source,” says spokesperson of Windmöller & Hölscher, which claims to be the market leader in the field of paper sack systems, with over 90 per cent share globally.
Woven polypropylene (PP)/plastic sacks are very lightweight and tear-resistant, which is particularly useful if the sacks are to be used in tougher environments. So, many Indian companies have embraced the option till the regulatory intervention, citing higher loss of cement in wrong handling. But they face a challenge – necessary deaeration of product.
A natural side effect of packing cementitious material into a polypropylene bag is trapped air. In order to make PP packaging a viable option for cement, this air needed to be managed back out of the process to achieve a uniform and stable
pack, which is a crucial ingredient for efficient palletisation. Achieving this, while maintaining the intended waterproof credentials of polypropylene and maintaining process speed is no mean task. However, this has been enabled by the latest technologies.
Film valve sacks, on the other hand, provide excellent moisture protection, and advertising on them is more effective as they hold print well, a factor which is key, particularly in the field of premium packaging.
“Valve sacks have the important benefit of being able to be filled on nozzle packers, which ensure a high filling output. Valve sack concepts are available in all three major materials (paper, pp-woven, PE-film). Important factors regarding filling speed and automated handling are deaeration performance and form stability,” says W&H.
Packaging in cement production has to fulfil multiple needs like moisture protection, extended shelf-life, clean appearance and good handling, says W&H, while explaining the prerequisites for a cement bag. “Better stackability, pilfer-resistance, anti-counterfeit solution and better aesthetics are some of the reasons why the hot air sealed woven sacks have been preferred in the Indian market,” added the W&H spokesperson. Besides, less flying of packaged product also helps cement users save cost. These benefits also help cement companies create a better brand image in the market-domestic or export.
Look and feel of packaging, which was till recently confined to consumer goods packaging, is becoming an important parameter while selecting the medium of packaging even for the cement industry. Their importance is gaining prominence when it comes to product placement and communication to the end-customer, particularly about the sustainability angle of the product and/or its special strengths and features. As such, sacks need to present all marketing messages in an attractive way.
“Currently additional packaging features like carrying handle or easy opening feel an increasing market demand as those features present an added value regarding sack handling for the end-user,” says W&H.
W&H is also seeing acceptance in India of high-end Biaxially-Oriented Polypropylene (BOPP) laminated hot air sealed block bottom bags, which are much more expensive than the conventional sewn bags, and are amenable for printing very high quality photographic images.
New automatic range
Automation is catching up with packaging processes of cement industry, of late. The technique of making an apparatus, a process, or a system operate automatically as it is described is being opted for by the industry for taking advantage of its well-known attributes – increased productivity, more efficient use of materials, better product quality, improved safety and reduced factory lead times. The packaging automation has extended to loading of closed top and open top trucks or containers by now.
“In India, hot air sealed block bottom bags are the most used for high automation production. The benefit for bag producers is lower manpower requirement for producing as these bags are produced with high speeds and advance automation,” says the W&H spokesperson.
AD PROTEX valve bags produced on CONVERTEX platform by W&H ideally combine minimum raw material usage, adhesive-free sack production and unequalled functionality of their box-shaped design. As a result, they are made in a particularly economical way, but can also be filled and palletized similarly as the conventional pasted valve bags. “Our new production line for cement valve packaging ensures the production of paper sacks which fulfil the requirements for automated high speed filling,” the company said.
Packaging for dry powdered materials like cement has changed little in the last 40 years leaving the end user to cope with the problems associated with the industry standard paper valve sack. As a result problems such as dust, spillage and a relatively high wastage return rate caused by the ingress of water brought about by poor storage conditions have largely remained unchallenged.
However, domestic packaging manufacturer, Arodo has introduced it brand of vacuum bagging system that produces fully deaerated plastic packs that don’t feature perforations of any kind, addressing the concerns of cement manufacturers and their customers. It is projected as a waterproof and tamper-proof cement pack.
“The absence of perforations allows each individual pack to be stored or placed in the most arduous of weather conditions without risk of spoiling the product through water ingress,” says Vikas Marwaha, Director, Arodo India Pvt Ltd. These packs have been placed outside and completely underwater for weeks before retrieving and using the product as if it had been freshly packed, Marwaha claims.
Windmöller & Hölscher has developed CONVERTEX, which heat seals woven PP cross bottom bags and thus eliminates the need of glue for this type of bags. “During the last 10 years the output of the bottomer was more than doubled: from 60 bags per minute to 140 in the last model. This speed represents the technological leadership in this type of equipment,” W&H said, stating that today, CONVERTEX forms the backbone of its extensive portfolio of the woven PP business.
High-quality PP tapes with tenacity up to 7 g/den and indexed micro-perforation provide the technological tools to be able to produce e.g. cement bags with a weight of 65 grams instead of the current global market standard of 80 grams. Drop tests with the LS Bags are done – with the result that LS bags easily excel conventional bags, W&H claims.
The AD proFilm MP sack, launched in 2015, is unusual in the sense that it uses hot air to seal the sacks. This means that it does not require adhesives, which can be the source of significant production costs and technical process limitations. It is manufactured on the AD PLASTIC 2 valve bottomer.
When the company was developing the new AD proFilm MP film valve sack, it chose to focus on two key factors: high moisture protection (MP = moisture-proof), and extending the product’s shelf life. It achieved these through the use of its innovative Breathing Chamber Technology – a ventilation chamber along the longitudinal seam of the sack. “This technology means that effective ventilation and high moisture protection are no longer mutually exclusive”, explains Uwe Köhn, Head of Processing Products at W&H.
In a presentation made on June 21, 2017, Francesco Ferrandico, President-FLSmidth Ventomatic Cement Packaging said that the company’s automation systems range extends beyond filling of sacks to loading into trucks – open or closed. “FLSmidth Ventomatic provides the key product types and integrates them for fully automated packing plants,” Ferrandico said while explaining about different packaging processes that include electronic rotary and inline packers; empty bag applicators; palletizing systems; loaders for closed trucks/containers; and loaders for open top trucks.
FLSmidth claims that its loaders for closed trucks/containers were the first full automatic pallet loading system in the market. Truck/container loaders significantly increase safety level and productivity and they do not use forklifts and relevant operators, it said. Its electronic rotary and inline packer’s equipment for filling bulk cement from silos into bags have an output from 60 tons/h up to 250 tons/h.
Depending on level of automation, packing plants consist of 2 – 8 packing lines, and at full automation, reduces required manpower per shift from 12 to 2 when going from complete manual to automation packing, but with the same output, FLSmidth added.
W&H has seen a huge growth in consumption of hot air sealed woven sacks in Indian market with several plants running already and more on order. It has also seen a trend in the market of use of high-end Biaxially-Oriented Polypropylene (BOPP) laminated hot air sealed Block Bottom bags. “These bags are much more expensive than the conventional sewn bags, but are finding good acceptance in the Indian market. These bags can be printed with very high quality photographic images,” W&H spokesperson said. We also expect increase in consumption of multiwall paper bags in the Indian market. The reasons are very interesting, innovations like high strength paper and water soluble paper done by paper industries.
As packaging industry’s growth is tied to the Indian economy and demand for cement and cement products, growth in these two elements are of critical importance for sustainability and growth of packaging industry in the country. Though the current trends in cement demand do not augur well for the packaging industry, the Union Budget released recently have some good news to bask under.
During the first eight months of FY2018 (2017-18), cement production witnessed a marginal growth of 0.6 per cent at 190.0 million MT compared to 188.8 million MT during the same period the previous year, leading rating agency ICRA said, citing various factors like weak real-estate activity, sand shortage and issues related to implementation of GST as reasons. Based on the current trend, it projected that cement demand is likely to report a modest demand growth of around 2 percent in FY2018.
In a pre-budget (January 31, 2018) analysis, Sabyasachi Majumdar, Senior Vice President & Group Head, ICRA Ratings, said “Going forward, the demand growth is likely to be driven by a pick-up in the housing segment – primarily affordable and rural housing, and infrastructure segment – primarily road and irrigation projects. However, new project announcements from the private sector continue to remain weak and revival of public-private partnership is crucial to improve the pace of infrastructure development.”
“ICRA expects the capacity overhang and moderate demand growth to continue to keep the industry’s capacity utilisation level between 60-65 per cent over the medium term,” Majumdar added.
However, the Union Budget 2018-19 released on February 1, 2018, has some good news for the cement industry. The move to boost the capital outlay of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (housing scheme) -Urban (PMAY-U) five-fold to Rs 31,500 crore, will aid some recovery in the otherwise muted urban-housing demand, which accounts for 30 per cent of cement demand, said leading rating firm, CRISIL in a post-budget report. Besides, increase in outlays for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) and Railways by 11 per and 22 per cent respectively are expected to impact cement demand positively.
However, CRISIL had added a word of caution, when it said, “Healthy budget outlay for cement-intensive infrastructure segments like roadways, irrigation and railways should cement growth (infrastructure share estimated at 20 per cent). However, achievement of budgeted outlay to be key monitorable as some shortfall was observed in the previous fiscal.”
There is a marginal negative stroke for the sector from the budget in the form of social welfare surcharge of 10 per cent on customs duty, which replaces the earlier 3 per cent education cess on custom duty of all imports. This will particularly affect the advanced packaging equipment imports.
Innovations are driving advancement of technologies and growth of the cement packaging segment globally over the recent years. India being one of the major producers of cement has to make inroads into the top echelons of the sector by increasing spending on research and development and entering into joint ventures with major global manufacturers to lower our import dependency in the long run.
Major cement manufacturers like UltraTech Cement, ACC, India Cement and Ambuja have to take the lead in this initiative. This is an imperative when all the major manufacturers have to take advantage of latest technologies and improve their global competitiveness. Full automation may come in handy in this regard by boosting productivity and quality. Reduction of manpower may not be as important for India as it is for many other countries. Labour being cheaper in the country, the companies have to weigh the social impact of full automation in comparison with social benefit of utilising the cheap manpower, if other parameters like quality and productivity are not affected.
Adoption of advanced technologies also means guarding against health hazards for employees and stakeholders, which will lead to attraction and retention of talent, a critical resource for success of any business. It will also lead to optimisation of costs and leads to higher competitiveness, which are essential for the prosperity of companies and the country.
- BS SRINIVASALU REDDY
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