This article was published in the April issue of Global Cement Magazine in 2017.
Pit stops in modern motorsport are carried out in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Blink... and you miss it. High-tech tools, optimised processes and the latest advances in IT have been the main drivers behind this progress. Data and algorithms can also help cement producers to speed up their loading processes.
■ by Dirk Schlemper and Thomas Bergmans, INFORM GmbH, Germany
The race car pulls in, stops in a precise position, gets jacked up immediately, its tyres are changed, the jacks are dropped and the car races away. Precisely timed pit stops are vital to turn race strategy into success. Time lost to unscheduled stops is hard to catch up. What used to be a time-consuming exercise in the past has come down to a two-second, perfectly choreographed performance of man and machine.
Racing garages today look more like a control room than a mechanic’s work area. On each bench, there are more computer monitors than oil smeared wrenches. Real-time data insights allow engineers to track and analyse car performance while it is out on the circuit, helping the team to predict what will happen next.
In the daily race of cement distribution, loading processes are still a far cry from the mind-blowing pit stops we see in motorsport. A look at cement plants around the world reveals that long lines of idling trucks in front of the entrance gate or loading bays are still a common sight. Although cement handling and loading equipment can be highly innovative today and operations can be fully automated, turnaround times seem to have benefitted little from these advances.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Core competencies give companies a value-adding position in the market place. For cement producers these are typically product development, manufacturing processes and quality control.
Close-to-core competencies like onsite yard management (gate, loading, weighbridges and related tasks) often receive less attention. These processes tend to be less efficient and are often performed in the same manner as they were 20 years ago. Once the gates to the outside world of distribution are opened, process standards hardly exist and/or services are outsourced to third parties. However, yard and distribution can contribute significant value to one’s position in the market place, for example, by driving customer satisfaction and lowering logistics costs. Depending on the region, logistics costs equate to 15-25% of a cement producer’s sales revenue.
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