Sharing its expertise to help customers build their businesses is a vital part of the way AfriSam works, and now the company has developed a special value-added service to boost efficiency among concrete product manufacturers (CPMs).
“Times have been tough for most sectors in recent years, and AfriSam is extending its partnership with customers to offer an Efficiency Audit that highlights areas where CPMs can streamline their operating processes making them more profitable,” says Amit Dawneerangen, AfriSam national sales manager.
“We have a close relationship with our customers and this partnership is based on always striving to do things better,” says Dawneerangen. “So the conversations we have with them often touch on a range of technical and commercial challenges that we work to resolve together.”
The Efficiency Audit is conducted by a team of AfriSam experts, who are invited into the customer’s production facility to collect information on a range of operational areas, from raw materials and testing systems, to production processes and quality controls.
“Taking on the role of a technical consultant, we take some of the industry’s most experienced professionals and make them available to the customer, so they can engage on how best to drive down unit costs and improve business sustainability,” he says.
Experts in materials
He emphasises that while CPMs have experienced production managers and staff, it is seldom affordable to have their own materials experts. This is where AfriSam’s Efficiency Audit teams can play a valuable role.
Implementing the initiative is AfriSam’s Centre of Product Excellence and according to manager, Mike McDonald, the Efficiency Audit team focuses on improving the overall cost of production, which may require changes to any of a wide range of variables.
“We are specialists in the materials that make up concrete, so most of our value is added on this side of the business, which also makes up a large part of a customer’s operating cost,” says McDonald. “We can ensure that their material quality and mix is optimal at the lowest possible cost to the business.”
For various reasons including downscaling and retrenchments during the current downturn, many companies do not have a concrete technology specialist in-house. This is a role that AfriSam is well-placed to provide, as a strategic partner, says Dawneerangen.
“Conditions are tough with low growth in the demand for cement and cement products since 2010,” say McDonald. “The focus on cost efficiency has led to a lot of rationalisation, where inefficient plants were closed down and industry had to find ways to consolidate production.”
Dawneerangen highlights the fact that the current industry mindset often focuses only on the cost of materials in terms of Rand-per-ton, leading many businesses to buy the cheapest available materials without carefully considering the impact of this decision on other important business objectives.
“For example, admixtures can be a vitally important ingredient in the success of their products,” he says, “so changing the admixture for the sake of a relatively minor cost saving could have damaging consequences in the production process and end up costing more.”
To get the most out of an Efficiency Audit, says McDonald, there needs to be an open and honest relationship between the team and the customer.
“The customer needs to be able to give us access to their plant and to all their relevant figures and data, so that we have a full and clear understanding of how things work at that facility,” he says. “Clearly it would not be possible to engage usefully and offer constructive advice if important information is hidden.”
The audit is an intensive process involving usually about four experts, each one being a specialist in concrete, cement, aggregates or processes.
“These specialisations do not necessarily reside in a single person, hence the importance of an integrated team, where their knowledge overlaps and reinforces the value for the customer,” McDonald says.
The audit covers the full scope of the operation, from when the materials are delivered, to the in-house testing methods, the manufacturing process and the quality of the end products, says Dawneerangen.
“This reveals areas where improvements can be made, which might include increasing efficiencies or optimising mixes for the purposes intended,” he says. “Many CPM plants employ relatively old technology and methods, and they find it exciting to discuss new ideas that could boost their profitability.”
More to choose
With the continuous evolution of cement applications, there is now a wide range of highly specialised cements that can add extra value to specific applications, while also saving on the overall cost of the operation.
For instance, AfriSam’s innovative Rapid Hard Cement, South Africa’s only product in the 52.5R strength class, is able to give concrete a strength of 30 MPa in just eight hours when correctly activated and treated. This offers CPMs quicker turnaround times as the manufactured concrete product can be released from the mould sooner, making the production cycle more efficient.
The cement’s highly consistent strength performance adds to the value proposition, allowing customers to time their processes with precision. Efficiency is further enhanced by ensuring that there is no breakage due to weakness when products are removed from their moulds.
McDonald emphasises that, with material quality at the heart of the drive toward efficiency, one of the most valuable aspects of the Efficiency Audit is the access that customers gain to AfriSam’s SANAS-accredited laboratory at the Centre of Product Excellence’s Roodepoort premises.
“Here, we can conduct tests on customers’ material at a very high level of integrity and technical standard,” he says. “During the course of an audit, we would conduct a number of tests; concrete is a complex product and requires more than visual assessment before recommendations can be made.”
Cost effective trials
Trials in the laboratory are a very cost effective way of comparing the performance of different materials and identifying the opportunities for improvement, says Dawneerangen.
“Our facilities allow us to simulate the curing process, for instance, with state-of-the-art curing chambers that are controlled for temperature and humidity,” he says. “This means we can test various conditions, especially because our larger customers use this kind of modern technology in their day-to-day processes.”
While quality control tests are conducted at the larger CPMs’ own laboratories, AfriSam’s advantage is the ability to investigate in detail what alterations in the mixture will lead to optimal results.
McDonald also emphasises the value of a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ in any business, bringing a new perspective to potential cost saving opportunities that are not so easily visible to staff who are under daily production pressure and who have grown accustomed to existing patterns and habits.
“Managing and recovering waste is one of those areas where improvement is frequently possible,” he says. “There is often a lot of money literally going down the drain, be it in the form of water, cement, sand or other costly production inputs.”
He concludes by reiterating the importance of looking at the whole production process for efficiency opportunities, rather than trying to save on one or other input in isolation.