‘We’ve the highest strength cement’
Ambuja Cement, one of India's largest cement companies, manufactures 13 million tonnes cement per annum. It exports to Sri Lanka, the Middle East, Africa and Bangladesh.
Cyrus M. Dordi, Vice President, speaks to Dilip Phansalkar about current and future trends in the industry.
Is the construction industry experiencing a boom? What growth do you expect in the cement sector in the near future?
Yes, and there are clear signs. For instance, infrastructure development is taking place in a big way all over the country. The number of high-rise structures is increasing, slums will be replaced with large concrete dwellings and sprawling housing and commercial complexes are coming up everywhere. All this activity means looking into environmental issues also, like sanitation, water supply, drainage, traffic jams, pollution, so that citizens are not adversely affected by development and the growth of structures. In the cement sector, at least 6 to 8 per cent annual growth in expected. The growth in Maharashtra will be maximum since the state is the chief consumer of cement.
What is the quality of Indian cement vis-à-vis international standards?
The quality of Indian cement is as good as anywhere in the world. India is the world's second largest manufacturer of cement. However, this industry can go into diversification by producing cement-based products and other concrete materials or even increase the capacity in cement production itself. With the involvement of large foreign players, more professionalism will come into this industry.
Has Ambuja planned any new grades of cement?
Today we manufacture the highest strength cement in India, which is far above the minimum strength of 53 Mpa required by the Bureau of Indian Standards for 53 grade Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC). Ambuja produces almost 70 Mpa plus grade of OPC. In case of blended cements the grade is around 60 to 65 Mpa, depending on the percentage blending of mineral admixtures.
With construction getting complex, is there a need to improve cement quality?
I don't feel that there is a need to improve the quality of cement, but certainly there is a large scope to improve the quality of construction. The use of good quality cement is vital, but it does not ensure quality of concrete if proper controls are not exercised during concrete production. Various steps are involved in the making of concrete. Since quality of construction has always been of grave concern for Ambuja, right from our inception we have a separate department with highly qualified and experienced civil engineers who train workers, supervisors, site engineers and even common people in various aspects of quality construction and repair practices. This special department is called Technical Services or Advisory Cell.
Do you foresee growth in the manufacturing capacity of cement?
Yes. The growth will come from two areas: (1) New manufacturing units that will be located close to limestone quarries. (2) By blending mineral admixtures like fly ash and ground granulated glass furnace slag. In Ambuja itself we've observed that without setting up new plants or grinding units, our capacity has increased over half a million tonnes last year due to judicious use of fly ash in our cement.
Over the next three years Rs 20,000 crore would be invested in the cement industry, where will the new plants be located?
Basically, cement plants have to be located near limestone quarries, or grinding units can be located close to the source of fly ash, that is, thermal power station burning coal or slag source, that is, steel manufacturing units. In India, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra have pockets of good quality limestone.
As a result of Holcim's involvement, what will be the impact on Ambuja?
A Swiss cement giant Holcim (second largest in the world) has joined hands with Ambuja Group, and has invested nearly $ 200 million. We've entered into a strategic alliance with Holcim which operates a capacity of over 150 million tones in 70 countries across all continents, and has been in cement business for over 90 years. This tie-up will go a long way to add value to the Ambuja Group. With this new alliance, we look forward to strengthening ourselves in the best business practices to satisfy our consumers.
Is the alliance trend worldwide which will mean few major players?
Yes, the trend is not limited to India alone, but is worldwide. Such alliances mean better quality product, stable pricing, diversifications, such as production of ready mix wet concrete, ready mix dry mortar and concrete and even aggregates (stone chips) manufacturing units.
What role will FDI play in the cement industry?
India is known to be one of the fastest developing countries in the world and it will benefit from FDI. If the governments at the Centre and state and their policies remain stable, they will surely attract foreign investments in a big way.
[2 May 2005]