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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.