Date: September 2018 (9 posts)
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
Like many other businesses, cement plants increasingly have to focus on short-term returns to the stock market. At the most basic level, profitability or lack thereof can be very simply correlated with two main factors: market dynamics and operational performance. Of course, these two are by no means distinct from each other – it’s certainly possible to be doing badly in a booming market! – but we’ll leave market dynamics for another day and concentrate on what we know best: plant performance.

Diagnosing problems early
The saying goes that prevention is better than a cure, but you can’t prevent much without careful monitoring. Basic process engineering measurements should be carried out on a frequent basis to ensure that all areas of the cement plant are performing in line with expectations. While this may seem like obvious advice to a cement producer, there is significant focus on equipment inspection from the mechanical and electrical perspective; process measurements are often forgotten until the plant is running poorly. Keeping the equipment running is one thing, but keeping it running efficiently is the key to low cost production.

Check your instruments
We rely so heavily on instrumentation to measure our plant operations, but how often do you check the instruments are properly calibrated? How often do we see plants with strange back end gas analyser readings what just aren’t possible – high O2 alongside high CO and SO2? But without checking and trying to understand what is wrong, the readings become the norm and the value of having that instrument becomes zero.

The lesson? If it looks wrong, it probably is wrong. Check your instrumentation regularly.

How often do you take stock checks?
You’d be surprised how often I’ve come across cement plants that don’t regularly check their stocks. Perhaps it’s almost too obvious and that’s why it gets forgotten, but balancing raw meal to clinker and cement stocks is essential, not just to profit margins but also to indicate that something is wrong in the process.

Financial projections are based on assumed quantities – kiln throughput, fuel consumption, etc. It’s worth checking both kiln tonnage and fuel consumption through a clinker weigh-off for 24 hours. Finding that you are using more fuel, or producing less clinker than expected can have a major impact on the company’s financials. A profit warning is never a good thing, but one based on simple accounting mistakes is particularly awful – and totally avoidable. Check and double-check your figures.

Examine trends as well as data
Every modern cement plant collects reams of data, but data without analysis is pointless. Use your data to track trends and you could discover and solve problems before they occur, turn plant performance around and avoid having to write that dreaded note to shareholders.

Plant data can be overwhelming and sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. If you’re struggling to pinpoint the source of a problem, give JAMCEM a call. A fresh pair of experienced eyes can be exactly what you need to identify where plant performance is falling short and how to fix it. Take a look at our references to see how we’ve helped numerous cement plants streamline their operations and improve productivity.
While other industries may be easing into the New Year, January is a frantic time for many cement manufacturers who typically spend at least part of the month working around the clock on the annual maintenance shutdown. In the run-up to plant stoppage, we all hope for a smooth, on-time shutdown with no surprises and no delays, but sadly the reality is often an entirely different – and more expensive – experience that can leave a plant with a kind of ‘maintenance hangover’ well into the spring and beyond.

I have worked on a lot of maintenance stops, both in my time in technical centres and when working on plants and, more recently, as a consultant. For me, achieving a successful maintenance shutdown is all in the planning. Below are some questions I have come across and the answers I have learnt through (sometimes bitter!) experience.

When should you begin planning for the maintenance shutdown?

Preparing for a shutdown is not something that you can slot into the two weeks before the plant is going to stop – it’s an ongoing process that should be considered throughout the year. This process should begin as the last shutdown ends, with a close-out meeting to discuss how this year’s shutdown progressed, the learning outcomes to be gained and any actionable points that could be addressed prior to the next shutdown.

Throughout the year, shutdown jobs should be identified through both the maintenance management system and the results of regular equipment inspections. That way, when the shutdown comes around there should be no surprises, no last-minute contractor call-outs, which can be expensive, and you can be assured that nothing has been forgotten.

How long should you schedule for the shutdown?

Of course, the answer to this question depends largely on the jobs that need to be carried out during stoppage: the length of the shutdown will be at least as long as the longest job. But that’s not the only factor to take into consideration. How quickly does the plant need to be up and running from a business perspective? If sales are low and there is a lot of clinker in stock, could you save money and forego 24-hour working for a longer but significantly less expensive shutdown?

When planning the stoppage time, it is also important to factor in time for delays. If you’ve prepared properly, these should be minimal, but even so there will be things outside of your control that could set your schedule back considerably. I’ve seen delays caused by the smallest things, like not having a crane available, not having the necessary equipment in the right place, and the power being cut to one part of the plant that affects other areas of the repair.

Stopping a plant is a major undertaking and ideally something you’d only want to do once a year so it’s better to plan in the necessary time to do it right rather than rush through the jobs and risk an unplanned shutdown later in the year. Right first time!

What happens when the plant starts back up?

Planning for start-up is just as important as planning for shutdown, but it’s often not given due consideration. For example, leaving enough raw meal in the raw meal silo to start the kilns sounds obvious but when forgotten – as it often is – it can lead to a really difficult start-up and can even undo some of the good work the shutdown has just achieved.

On the topic of supplies, it’s also important that there is sufficient clinker – with a margin for error – so that the plant doesn’t run out of cement. The last thing anyone wants is to have to turn business away while a shutdown overruns.

How can we make the most of our shutdown?

A shutdown offers a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the equipment that is ordinarily off limits. Make the most of this by getting in there with your camera, taking pictures, recording measurements, inspecting refractory depths, etc. This is also a great chance for your personnel to be trained in the operation of equipment and to gain a fuller understanding of what exactly is going on inside these huge pieces of equipment that they usually only have the opportunity to know through a computer screen. Make a point of planning this in, rather than thinking of it as ‘something to do if we get the time’, as the experience gained will pay dividends in the future.

The benefits of a well thought-out maintenance stoppage are fairly obvious, but sometimes it’s hard to define the process that will get you there. If you need any help with the planning or with undertaking a plant shutdown, give JAMCEM Consulting a call. Our team of experts has hands on experience planning and managing maintenance outages in plants all over the world and we’ll be happy to help.
The short-term benefits of an O&M agreement are pretty clear. You’re starting your plant operations with a readymade team of experts, who are driven to prove their value and – if your O&M contractor is also your equipment provider – your investment in their technology. But what about the long-term? What kind of advantages and disadvantages can you expect from your O&M agreement?

Benefits of an O&M contract

- Readymade employees

Training an employee up to standard can take months if not years. The benefits of kicking off a project with employees that are “good to go” cannot be overstated. The successful operation of a plant depends on the experience of the people running it.

- No expenditure on staff training

An associated benefit of readymade employees is that you don’t have to spend either money or time training them, either now or in the future.

- The workforce is focused

Sure, all employees have targets to meet. But the expectations for employees in an O&M agreement are doubled – once from the plant owner and once from the O&M contractor. Workers have to maximise output if they’re to hold on to the contract.

- Expert resources for the wider group

The plant owner will benefit from the expertise of the O&M workforce, whose knowledge can be shared across the owner’s group. In addition, the O&M workforce has the backup of the contractor company, whose expertise can be called upon should extra assistance be needed at the plant.

The disadvantages

- Lack of in-house expertise

Trusting the running of the plant to outside contractors and not investing in a workforce of your own means you will be beholden to the O&M contractor to run the facility and, at least in part, your business. Should things go well and you decide to expand the business, you’d be looking at another O&M agreement, rather than transferring some of your own skilled employees. Knowledge within the group for making business decisions would also be limited, so you’d be relying on the contractor for their input, which might be biased.

- Limited exposure to other equipment suppliers

If your O&M contractor is an equipment supplier, in most cases you will find you have to buy all equipment from or through the O&M supplier. There will be no option to explore other suppliers, even if they are offering a more suitable technology or a better deal. You may even feel like your supplier is maximising their spare parts sales or encouraging unnecessary spending to up their orders.

- Inability to break the contract

Whilst in theory it might be possible to break the contract, the practical aspects of removing the whole workforce and starting again make it almost impossible. The business disruption would be enormous, unless the majority of the people working for the O&M contractor were re-employed by the cement producer, which somewhat defeats the object of replacing the contractor.

- Targets are short term

The payment and performance targets that are put in place for the O&M contractor are always very short term and are often focused on clinker production so plants are pushed to their limits without regard for longer term asset life, which in turn often results in higher maintenance costs in the longer term.

Plan for the future

While there may be advantages to starting plant operations with an O&M agreement in place, we would always recommend planning for the long-term by training your own staff to take over in due course. Ultimately, your plant and your business will benefit from having the skills in-house. To learn more about the training offered by JAMCEM Consulting, visit www.jamcem.com.