Technology innovations for cement logistics
With nearly 455 million tonnes (MT) of cement production capacity, India is the second largest producer of cement in the world. No wonder, India's cement industry is a vital part of its economy, providing employment to more than a million people, directly or indirectly. The cement production capacity is estimated to touch 550 MT by 2020. The top 20 companies account for around 70 per cent of the total production. Logistics accounts for a significant portion of the cost incurred by the cement plants. It is estimated that 30 per cent of a cement bag's price is directly or indirectly due to logistics overhead. One of the biggest drawbacks in the Indian cement industry is due to the lack of technology adoption in logistics operations.
Advanced technology solutions like IoT (Internet of Things), artificial intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and sophisticated optimisation algorithms like Constraint Planning (CP) have been adopted successfully by the technology sector in various industries like e-commerce and have resulted in their astronomical growth. However, this is yet to be implemented in the cement sector in a significant manner.
While the cement companies have made a lot of efforts in adopting the latest computerised digital techniques with Distributed Control System (DCS), they have not unfortunately kept pace in analytical decision support solutions that comes from AI based on embedded machinery, neuron network and similar advanced intelligence techniques.
Optimisation of cement-related logistics is an appropriate area where AI can be adopted through computerised software programmes where the machines are enabled to think like people and mimic the action of competent logistic specialists using a series of programmed techniques.
There are two primary domains where technology can be leveraged for greater or larger benefit in an overall cement plant for logistics management:
- Distance/trip management
- Yard management
- Distance/trip management
Distance/trip management logistics platform ensures super-optimal utilization of the plant's field assets (trucks). Its main emphasis is on the following areas:
Instant fleet assignment: Give the supplier an instant picture of the fleet distribution in the plant, assignment to a specific distributor, at the godown, the fleet that is expected to reach the plant the following day and week. This enables the plant significantly in its inventory planning process.
Distributor profile analysis: A learning-based analysis system that enables the plant to prioritise deployment of fleet based for the fastest turn-around-time from distributor. End consumer usage analysis: Delivers insightful data on consumption pattern of customers, broken down amongst multiple geographical patterns. This gives the cement organisations a great perspective on the target demographic and growth areas to focus on.
Control tower: Has a scalable architecture that provides hierarchical visibility of the fleet's performance at plant level, zonal level, regional level and headquarters.
Enables the organisation to enable proper load distribution and maximum productivity for each plant across its scope of operations, especially for multi-unit cement companies.
Electronic proof of delivery: Speed up the end-to-end operations with built-in system, which enables the plant to get an immediate acknowledgement from the customer as soon as he receives the shipment. This speeds up the entire process flow and the invoicing/payment cycle.
Yard management is another crucial aspect in maximising the operational efficiency of a plant. It starts from summoning a truck assigned to a delivery and ends with the truck driving out of the plant with an invoice and an e-way bill.
This process is typically broken down in three stages:
- Truck placement at packer
- Packer assignment
- Invoice and e-way bill generation
Truck Placement: The flow chart shows the steps involved in truck placement. It is a shocking revelation to know that the time involved in summoning a truck, getting the appropriate in-passes generated, measuring unladen weight of the truck to the placement of the truck at the packer could consume anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours in many cement plants.
This results in a huge wastage in plant utilization in addition to the overhead in manual resources in this process. An AI based truck placement solution automates the entire process, enables a backend platform that can be managed and monitored remotely and reduces the entire flow to be executable in just 15 minutes.
Packer assignment: A truck assignment to a packer is a manual process and the efficiency of assignment is at the mercy of the supervisor involved in the assignment flow. This could result in an overhead in unnecessary packer re-loading due to incorrect assignments. Packer management algorithm based on AI is a constraint driven algorithm that understand various usage modes of the packers, the cement grades, the MRP and bag colour requirements into its proprietary algorithm and define the most optimal truck to packer assignment. This significantly improves the packer utilisation efficiency. Packer being a very critical resource in the plant, it is extremely essential to ensure that packers are maximally utilised during assignments.
Invoice & e-way bill generation: The last step in yard management is the measurement of laden weight of the vehicle to determine the weight of cargo, generation of invoice for the end customer and appropriate documentation to let the truck on its way to the customer. A typical cement plant today consumes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour due to human intervention involved in each step. An AI-based advanced yard management system leverages the power of connected IoT technologies to automate the entire process and make it seamless to the user. It eliminates the need for human intervention and automates the process of all document generation.
The growing demand in the cement industry needs the cement plants to embrace the latest and adopt the best technology for the industry. It can otherwise run the risk of getting left behind and trying to compete with the advanced domestic and global cement sector that is able to drive its margins higher through the power of technology.
AI platform delivers the power back into the hands of the supplier. It enables the plant to get its operations to work at maximum capacity. The platform enables the cement plant to have an end-to-end control of its operations, understand and leverage the consumption pattern of the consumer and maximise the reach to end customer with enhanced visibility into operational model.
While a large number of reputed international vendors are working in the field of digital and advanced control systems in production process in the cement industry, only a very few organisations are today working and utilising all advanced techniques in the field of logistics planning. Those involved in the field of logistics planning and optimisation know that the commercial benefits, which can be derived from optimisation of logistics, which are possible through AI tools, can be quite comparable to the optimisation efforts, which are going on in the manufacturing process of Cement.
Enmovil Solutions based in Hyderabad, with a team of technology expertise, are delivering such state-of-the-art solutions to improve the cement plant logistics, resulting in high level cost effectiveness. Enmovil Solutions have been availing the services of ERCOM in order to customise their logistics optimisation solutions to make it specific and tailor-made to the cement industry.
About the author PK Ghosh, Chairman, ERCOM Engineers