In recent years, cement plants have been battling the economic downturn. That has meant budget cuts, which in turn has led to major headcount reduction exercises. Many plants have cut staff right to the minimum and some have gone lower even than that.
We’ve worked with a number of plants on headcount as part of our human capital services and one of the mistakes we’ve seen management make is to only think about headcount in terms of budget. In reality, headcount should always be considered in the context of the plant and operational issues.

Allocate resources to issues
Any exercise to reduce headcount should begin by looking at the plant. What is causing reliability issues? Are there quality issues impacting profitability? What about raw materials? Every plant has its problems and that’s where any discussion of ways to cut costs should begin. Write them all down and decide if they can be resolved. If they can, develop an action plan and consider what resources will be required both during that process and after the issue has been resolved.

How many supervisors does one worker need?
I’ve noticed in a lot of plants the ratio of supervisors to ‘workers’ – those going out on the plant and physically doing the work – is skewed. This is often symptomatic of using old, out of date plant structures in a world where management information systems and planning are now more frequently used. It doesn’t make sense to have too many supervisors and not enough ‘doers’ – especially when personnel can be trained to do the work and can be paid to operate without supervision.

Optimise headcount the same way you optimise production
Every department head should be continually trying to reduce the costs of their department. Headcount should be considered as part of this. That doesn’t mean continually downsizing the department – it means how can you best optimise the skills and experience you have in your team, while also being mindful of the cost? It’s a difficult calculation to make from the inside, which is one of the reasons our Human Capital services exist – sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective on how to best utilise your resources.

Consider the skills value as well as the money
Before you let anyone go, make sure that those who are staying are properly trained and capable of doing the job that will be theirs in the future. We have a lot of highly experienced individuals in our industry – but not enough to satisfy our future need. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of releasing talent, and budgeting for additional training if you do decide to reduce in areas where you don’t have the skills to replace what you’re losing.

Don’t forget the potential cost of reducing headcount
When reductions go too far, too fast, you risk losing much more than you’re saving. For all that automation has done for our plants, there’s still a great deal of value in human skills and human experience. Even the most modern plant requires a certain headcount to run optimally. Going below that threshold can at best place undue pressure on people and equipment, and at worst put people’s lives at risk.

If you’re not sure how best to optimise your human capital, or whether reducing headcount is really the answer, give JAMCEM a call. We’ll be happy to help.


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It’s that time of year again. Budget meetings will probably be a fixture across your calendar this month and there’s a good chance even looking at the date in your diary will give you a headache.

Budget setting is often seen as a challenge between the Senior Management/Executives and the cement plant personnel. On the one side you have the theory – what is possible if everything is running as it seems to on paper – and on the other side there is the reality of daily operations, where budget targets are not always met. With this mindset in place, plant personnel tend to start high with their financial budget and low with their production budget, knowing that there will be extensive negotiations on both.

This kind of mentality doesn’t breed trust between the two sides, which can create issues when management ask for more production and plant personnel attest it can’t be done without more resources. The conversations that follow are probably the cause for your pre-emptive headache. So how do we avoid these difficulties and come up with a budget that works for everyone?

                             "A budget that is forced through without an action plan is doomed from the start"

Budgets need to be reasonable
If both sides start by being realistic and reasonable about what is possible, it’s much easier to trust in the process. Production increases, for example, should be accompanied by action plans that support those increases. Greater throughput will usually require investment or some other resource. If a plant has produced 100 tph all year, it’s unlikely it can achieve 105 tph next year without some level of investment. Both plant personnel and senior management need to be receptive to ideas and practicalities. A budget that is forced through without an action plan is doomed from the start.

Budgets can be negotiated
All that being said, it is reasonable to approach the budget meetings as a platform for negotiation. If senior management wants 105 tph, plant personnel can use the promise of a production increase to negotiate for additional resources.

Prepare for budget meetings
Take the time to properly prepare for budget meetings. From the plant personnel perspective, this means arriving to the meeting with all the facts you need to support your arguments. Itemise the major items in the budget so that you can demonstrate to senior management what you are spending on. Think about what they might realistically ask from you and from the process. Be prepared to answer their questions and counter their arguments on spending with your own.

Include everything you think is necessary in the budget – even those things that may not be necessary right away. It’s better to highlight to senior management what needs doing and the risk of delaying the decision to proceed, than it is not to mention it. All risks should be shared risk, so always be upfront about them.

Be realistic about time as well as money
It’s easy to make false promises when you’re trying to get approval on a project, but it’s important to be realistic. After all, these meetings happen every year and you want the good grace of senior management the next time you come to the table, cap in hand. If CAPEX is involved, set reasonable timescales – especially if the impact of the investment is reflected in the business plan. Bear in mind there may be a ramp up time before new equipment delivers on performance guarantees. And don’t forget to factor in potential project delays.

Defend the essentials
At the end of the day, plant personnel know the process best so when it comes to must-have items, be prepared to mount a defence. JAMCEM has the knowhow to support the entire budget process for your company. We have completed this process many, many times in multinational cement producers. If you need help, give us a call. You can be sure you will end up with a realistic but challenging budget that both sides will be satisfied with.



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If you’re planning to build a cement plant, there is a good chance you have been weighing up the pros and cons of low-cost suppliers. Low-cost suppliers have risen in prominence over the last decade or so, offering significant cost-savings over their more established counterparts – at least in terms of upfront capital costs. However, it is fair to say that in many cases the lower cost at the outset is undermined by the hidden costs that crop up later on.

As an independent consultant who has worked with the full range of equipment suppliers and contractors, I’ve noticed a few common problems that could be addressed to help gain the benefits of lower capital costs without the disadvantages.

Quality of construction
While the quality of the major plant equipment from low-cost suppliers is often not that different from the more expensive alternative, I have seen a lack of consideration given to the ‘smaller’ equipment. Things like hoppers, transfer points and even the belts on conveyors may not get the same attention as the likes of the mills and kilns, but poor quality construction can still lead to failures, downtime, lost profits and expensive cleanup.

Hidden problems
In the process of building a cement plant, a surprising amount is going on underground and it’s difficult to quality control what can’t be seen. Water supply lines with non-standard pipe sizes can cause havoc when repairs are needed. Suppliers need to provide a map of the network and mark all pipe routings.

Sourcing spare parts
When agreeing the terms of the contract, ensure the supplier is clear on where you can buy spare parts for all plant equipment. Much of the instrumentation and small fans/motors are difficult to find locally and a delay on sourcing something small can have far-reaching consequences. 

Proper project management
Every project, whoever is supplying it, needs proper management (though the demands placed on project managers will differ from low-cost to higher-cost projects). Project managers should have significant, relevant experience and ideally you will have more than one person covering the project to establish expectations with the supplier and ensure that these are met. 

Supervisors and Project Managers need to be able to step in when things aren’t right. A constant site presence will help ensure no short cuts are taken and that the project is delivered as expected. If you don’t have the resources in house, consider outsourcing the task to an experienced third party. 

Low-cost suppliers can produce high quality cement plants
All this is not to say that we advise against using low-cost suppliers. Far from it. With experienced project management and supervision, the quality of the project can still be very high. However, when comparing quotes, it is definitely worth considering the extra costs that may arise and factoring that into your decision. It may be that some of those cost savings will need to be spent after all.

If you need help assessing the best solution for your plant, contact JAMCEM for experienced independent advice and support.  


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Cement plants can be dangerous places. There’s a reason for all the PPE. Yet, though awareness of safety issues has improved, and safety is more of a priority than ever, accidents still happen and in some cases these can be devastating. Every injury and life lost at a cement plant is preventable. There’s no reason to expect that someone going to work in the morning shouldn’t return safely home that evening.
Having worked in and around cement plants around the world for more than two decades, I have witnessed the full range of behaviours – from best practice to just plain dangerous. In my experience, being safe is a mind-set that can be encouraged with a few relatively simple techniques.

1) Make safety everyone’s responsibility
Who is responsible for keeping you safe? Is it the Safety Department, making sure that best practices are in place to keep you from harm? Is it your colleague, who will warn you if you’re in danger? Is it you, making sure you follow those practices, heed those dangers, and generally don’t put yourself in unnecessary harm?
The answer, of course, is all of the above. Everyone is accountable for safety. It’s a collective responsibility.

2) Keep safety fresh in people’s minds
We all get complacent. We’re all tempted to take short cuts now and again. But both these things can lead to accidents. Keep safety fresh in people’s minds using tools like:
• Signage. Whether you go for witty or hard-hitting, having plenty of signs around the place will make sure that personnel are constantly reminded of the dangers that surround them. A warning sign will go a long way, but also consider longer-form signs utilizing characters and scenarios with a strong safety message. These can be put up in places where your staff have more time to read.
• Toolbox talks. A brief talk at the start of every shift will help put safety in focus. Some people find it helpful to discuss specific safety concerns, some people talk about their families – i.e. their motivation for keeping safe, while others have found a general safety message about something outside of the plant is just as effective to get people thinking.
• Competitions. Incentivising safety is a good way to change people’s behaviours. More ideas on how to do this are included below.
Remember: whatever techniques you’re using to put safety front and centre in people’s minds will wear off after a while, so switch it up regularly for maximum impact.

3) Use the carrot….
Companies are naturally wary of introducing competitions to incentivise safe behaviours, but the cost of such an initiative is likely to be significantly less than the cost of having an accident. Plus, gamification is a proven method of inducing desired behaviours, so if it works why argue with it?
Incentives don’t have to be monetary. They could be things such as extra vacation hours for every X number of accident-free days, or a fun team-based activity for every quarter that passes without an incident. Experiment with a few ideas and see what gets the best response among your employees.
One thing to consider, though, is how to set up a rewards programme. You can only reward safe behaviour. Though it might be tempting to commend someone for helping another colleague avoid an accident, this is effectively a ‘near miss’ and cannot be rewarded under your general incentives scheme. When accidents happen, everyone loses.

4)…And the stick
Safety rules must be implemented with an iron fist. There can be zero tolerance for unsafe behaviours. Sanctions should be as clear as rewards so that there is no doubt as to the penalty for a breach.
That being said, it is critical that all near misses – and indeed minor accidents – are reported so that efforts can be made to avoid a repetition of the incident. It’s a good idea to factor in reporting to your carrot/stick approach to encourage full disclosure.

5) Show them how it’s done
Management and supervisors need to lead on safety all the time. That means attending toolbox talks, wearing PPE and engaging with any incentives the plant has running. If your management team can’t walk the talk, they should be subject to the same sanctions as everyone else. It’s really important that the entire plant staff plus any outsiders coming in are treated equally when it comes to safety. For example, it sends a very strong message to a plant visitor if they are not put through a safety induction when they arrive at your plant.

If you would like some help overhauling the safety protocols at your plant, give us a call. JAMCEM can run a full safety audit and help you implement new techniques and policy at your plant(s). For more information about our full range of services, visit www.jamcem.com.
Too often, cement plants spend money fixing problems they don’t understand. Without a proper investigation into the root cause of a problem, plants are wasting capital that could be spent on more profitable projects, with no guarantees that the same issues won’t recur. What may seem like a quick fix at the time could end up causing more problems, or result in the plant being unable to make other changes that really would optimise performance.

Instead, when problems occur, the starting point should always be to identify exactly what the issue is and why it is happening before any solutions are proposed. These four steps are crucial to any troubleshooting project.

1. Compare plant performance vs design conditions

Use proper process engineering measurements to determine plant performance and then take those metrics and compare them with the equipment suppliers’ data. Where are the differences occurring? How severe are they?

2. Identify what has changed

We all know that design conditions are not the same as operating conditions. Raw material chemistry and fuel composition are likely to change over time, perhaps in such small degrees that no one is taking much notice. But your process will feel the impact. Identify the changes and when they occurred.

3. Ask the equipment suppliers

Talk to the equipment suppliers about why they’re equipment isn’t operating as designed. Don’t let them blind you with science, or promise some kind of unrealistic panacea – the goal of this exercise is to understand the problem, not just fix it.

4. Perform trials

The information you’ve gathered should lead you to an idea of where the problem began and what you can do to fix it. Whether you can solve the issue in-house, or you need to bring in outside help, it’s good practice to perform trials before making any permanent changes.

These trials need to be planned properly, if they’re to be successful. Establish which parameters will be changed and which will be constant, as well as the ultimate aims of the trials. Ensure there are sufficient personnel to support the trial. Remember that the clinker and cement produced during this period needs to be separated and ground separately to assess the impact of the process changes.

Problem solved

With effort and attention, the route cause of non-performance can normally be identified. Quick fixes may seem appealing, but they can end up costing a lot more time and money in the long run.

Most importantly, it should be the cement producer providing the answers. Be wary of equipment suppliers suggesting expensive solutions to the problem simply to sell more equipment.

If you’d like unbiased support with your troubleshooting project, or you want to increase the skill level of your personnel, JAMCEM Consulting can help. Please contact us on sales@jamcem.com