Challenges are more opportunities for the future

Challenges are more opportunities for the future

Martin Kriegner, CEO, Lafarge India

Taking over as a CEO for Lafarge India Iin January 2012, Martin Kriegner talks to ICR about the range of products, their research center and the challenges faced by the company in India.

Please elaborate on the products like Concreto, Duraguard, Hydromedia, M95, Mega series, Agilia and Artevia and Aadhar.
As a prescriptive solution provider Lafarge focuses on three key areas which are: building performance, efficiency and speed of construction. This includes a stringent quality assurance program to ensure that reliability, transparency and consistency in quality are maintained throughout. Being close to our customers to meet their needs requires constant innovation. The products you are mentioning are an outcome of this innovative approach.

Lafarge Concreto is the progeny of the company's global expertise and local knowledge. It is a premium cement of international standard with superior structural strength and enhanced quality offering smoother finish to make homes aesthetically unique. An international tamper resistant packaging provides the best freshness. Duraguard VRT has a unique particle size distribution of cement that reduces water demand and makes denser concrete, which prevents porosity and water ingress. The high quality of raw materials used reduces development of cracks and the deterioration of reinforcement concrete.

Artevia is a range of decorative concretes for outdoor and indoor applications and has a large product range to give aesthetically pleasing surface effects combining design and performance.

The Mega High Strength concrete addresses specific needs of the customers like increased speed of construction. Mega High Strength concrete helps increase the floor area without compromising on the strength of the building. This product makes the structural design lean therefore increasing the floor space.

Hydromedia, Lafarge's pervious concrete, offers very high permeability and drainage capacity by absorbing rainwater and facilitates the natural run-off into the ground. It also avoids saturation of the storm water treatment network, reducing the risk of flooding. This means fewer puddles, safer roads, pathways and parking lots for the city's users. Hydromedia is especially well suited for low-traffic roads, and sports pitches.

Agilia is a self-consolidating concrete that is easily placed and significantly reduces construction time and cost, eliminating the need for vibration due to its fluid and stable properties. The product line is suitable for all types of commercial, residential, and institutional applications.The complete range of Agilia Foundations, Blockfill, Horizontal, and Vertical products changes the way concrete construction is done while contributing to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification requirements. This product has many benefits: It eliminates the need for vibration, improves safety and working conditions and reduces excess noise on the jobsite.

Aadhar is a common housing solution for people with limited means. This Low Cost Binder (LCB) is available at an affordable price for the customer with limited means. The product is more performance oriented and will replace conventional mud as the building material. The product provides the user the flexibility to use the product themselves 'do it yourself' which helps reduce the dependency and the extra cost of using the services of an applicator/ mason. The product can be used on the floor, for wall coating or as a binder with mud.

The product reduces maintenance cost while providing considerable durability to the construction, the product prevents problems created by rodents, snakes and termites and provides an overall healthy and hygienic atmosphere to the house.

Does laying the above mentioned products need specialised training for workers?
Yes, the concrete which we produce is very different from the normal concrete, and requires special training. We do provide in-house training and have centers in various parts of the country.

How much does the company spend on R&D annually and what are the best practices that Lafarge has put in place for the Indian market
As a group, Lafarge invests more than - 120 million per year to research, product development and industrial performance and process improvement, which is significantly higher than that of other players in the sector. We have an international network of 1,000 employees working in R&D around the globe, including the world's leading research facility in construction materials based in Lyon.

The same mindset is here in India, where we have invested significant resources in understanding and meeting the needs of the Indian industry. As a result, we inaugurated our first Construction Development Lab (CDL) here in Mumbai in March. This laboratory works in tandem with Lafarge's other R&D activities to design and develop products, systems and services that are fully adapted to the construction needs of the ever moving Indian market as well as meeting social, economic and environmental requirements. This work has led to products such as Lafarge Concreto, Lafarge Hydromedia Lafarge Artevia, which have been well accepted by our customers. Hydromedia has been test marketed in India as pilot projects in Santa Cruz, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai and has received favorable responses.

What kind of measures has Lafarge taken to make sure that the products and manufacturing processes are eco-friendly?
For many years, Lafarge has been working to set an example of leadership in business sustainability in terms of protecting the environment, social responsibility and corporate governance. We were the first manufacturer in the construction materials sector to publicly set targets for reducing CO2 emissions in 2000. Since 2007, the Group has implemented a sustainability Ambitions program that sets out its priorities and measurable commitments.

At the end of this program, we had achieved our key commitment of reducing net CO2 emissions per ton of cement produced across the Group by 20 percent.

A new phase in our sustainability commitment was made in June with the launch of Sustainability Ambitions 2020. The 34 new Ambitions are organised around the three main pillars of sustainable development - social, economic and environmental - and are coupled with demanding quantitative targets. These Ambitions are the result of an extensive collaborative approach, involving employees and managers, the panel of stakeholders, major partners such as WWF and CARE and our International Advisory Board, asking them both what they expected of their company and what contribution Lafarge could make to society.

Already, our operations in India are focused on contributing to the achievement of these Ambitions. For instance, in the Ambition to use more of non-fossil fuels in our cement plants by 2020, which would not only save energy, but would also, eliminate this waste.

Here in India, we have achieved a very high rate of blended cements which is also helping to reduce the environmental footprint, while increasing the quality and performance of our products.

Being into aggregates business, what kind of procurement processes has Lafarge put in place in order to ensure high quality?
Lafarge has leveraged its wide experience to create a strong knowledge base. The Stringent Quality Assurance program ensures that consistency, transparency and strong controls are maintained across the globe. At Lafarge consistent supply to our customers is important, wherein the customer can be sure that he receives the same amount as requisitioned by him. In addition quality testing is carried out on a daily basis and gradation report is generated before dispatch to ensure consistency of quality. Mining aggregates may be perceived as a simple business. But to have aggregate plants producing high quality aggregates is a very 'sophisticated process' and requires long time practical experience, which is available within Lafarge. For me, this is a major area for differentiation in India.

What are the challenges faced by the company in India? What steps have you taken to combat them?
There are of course challenges in our sector in India, like low penetration in construction and attracting the right talent to meet our customer needs. For me, these challenges are more opportunities for the future. The potential for construction in India is enormous. Through our network of cement, RMX and aggregates plants we can provide integrated solutions to various customer segments. This integrated approach will also be the platform for further innovation by primarily looking at the needs of various customers rather than selling a product at the lowest price. Innovative solutions will increase the value for the customers and Lafarge, creating a win-win solution.

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