“FLSmidth began with a focus on cement, building our first plant back in 1887,” Ashworth began. “Our mining and mineral processing business is a much more recent development in comparison. Over the past few years, the market outlook for these two industries has diverged significantly. We therefore came to the view that keeping them together benefitted neither and so made the decision to go forward on a pure play basis.”
A quick look at the market context for cement and mining makes the case. Demand for metals and minerals is expanding and will continue to do to so – in large part due to the green transition. Cement faces a more complex outlook. It undoubtedly remains a critical building material with a key role in delivering both the green transition and sustainable development goals. Yet overall demand is unlikely to grow significantly. The industry must also vastly reduce the around 7% of global CO2 emissions for which it is currently responsible.
Ashworth is not one to be daunted by such challenges, having been instrumental in several transformations over his career, most recently as Managing Director of Eurotherm, a global supplier of process and power control, measurement, data management and automation solutions for the industrial and process markets. Here he successfully positioned the company for sustainable growth through the dynamics of green industrial transformation in glass manufacturing.
“FLSmidth made its name as a full flowsheet provider of cement plants,” he continued. “It is a history that we value and will continue to build on. But today’s cement market is a vastly different world with vastly different challenges than what has gone before. It therefore requires a different operating paradigm that moves away from a projects-based approach to focus on specific products and services. The pure play strategy thus frees us to adapt to the specific market challenges facing our industry and prioritize the supply of core offerings. The prospect of operating under new ownership only reinforces our current transition.”
It is a strategy that will play out in three distinct ways. First, we will continue to help existing plants through the supply of parts, services and upgrades that optimize efficiency, improve productivity, and reduce emissions. “We will bring past installations into the future,” as Ashworth put it. “Meanwhile, new CAPEX installations will focus on our core line of products and emerging green technologies. The third element is future facing. Here our R&D department will continue to work, along with external partners, to deliver the next generation of green technologies.”
Past to future: greening the existing fleet
We might live in a throwaway society – but a cement plant is anything but that. These are assets that represent significant long-term investments. One of the key challenges when it comes to reducing the cement industry’s carbon footprint is thus what to do with existing plants, many of which have decades of operating life left in them. “These plants want to be green!” said Ashworth. “Our job is thus to support them on that journey with a range of services and upgrades that improve operational performance and reduce their environmental footprint.”
One good example of this approach is our portfolio of upgrades for our Pfister® DRW rotor weighfeeders. “Our feeders are built to last, providing plants with accurate raw material and fuel dosing for decades. But, just because a feeder may be aging, doesn’t mean the technology needs to become outdated. Our team continually rolls out upgrades so that a feeder will perform at top condition and have the ability to adapt to changing process requirements such as maximizing the use of alternative fuels.”
Our automation and plant control systems also illustrate how technology must evolve, sometimes dramatically, at existing sites. “Way back in 1969, we pioneered the use of software to optimize cement production and today continue to introduce the latest functionality as evidenced in our launch of ECS/ProcessExpert® V9.0 advanced process control software” noted Ashworth “We are committed to invest and advance our technology so that existing installations can also maximize their participation in the green journey.”
“We now have our own digital leadership team free to focus on delivering cement-specific smart and connected services to our clients,” continued Ashworth. “Digital is key. With each passing year, we see an increase in connected plants and assets. The resulting insights have already manifested in productivity and efficiency gains. For example, our highly skilled Service organization can more effectively and proactively service equipment through remote monitoring and analysis. However, as with most industries, there remains a huge upside as the technology continues to mature.”This is not limited to FLSmidth Cement’s offerings. “We are also embracing the latest digital solutions internally to deliver a more efficient manufacturing and supply chain with greater visibility on procurement and operations.”
Beyond equipment and digital solutions, services such as the company’s reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) program helps plants achieve the most from existing assets. “There is growing recognition of the link between improved maintenance and operating practices and improving plant performance, energy efficiency, and sustainability,” continued Ashworth. “Getting “more from less” is another aspect of sustainability.
CAPEX today for a greener future
Upgrades and services only provide part of our industry’s decarbonization journey, as new CAPEX in the latest green technologies will also be necessary. FLSmidth Cement offers a number of emerging solutions that will help deliver substantial reductions in carbon emissions. Solutions like our calcined clay technology and the innovative FUELFLEX® pyrolyzer, which allows plants to burn up to 100% alternative fuels in the calciner, while also reducing NOx emissions, are two key examples.
The focus on emerging technologies complements and enhances the company’s core product lines: from its efficient and flexible OK™ vertical roller mills to its industry-leading pyroprocessing and Pfister Dosing equipment, its iconic pneumatic conveying pumps and compressors, as well as its successful Ventomatic® bagging and packaging lines. “The pure play approach is guided by the market and thus prioritizes those product lines where we see strong future demand and can offer competitive advantage,” concluded Ashworth. “In many cases, these tend to be those that also have a strong sustainability narrative.”
The focus on core products also resulted in the realization that some existing product lines would be “better served elsewhere, just as we – as FLSmidth Cement – are served better as a pure play cement company,” explained Ashworth. This has led to the decision to divest our Air Pollution Control and MAAG Gears businesses. “Divestment will allow these great businesses to thrive and grow in directions that simply weren’t possible when they were part of our organization; it also allows us to simplify our business and focus our time and investment on our core priorities.”
Creating the green technologies of the future
The final foundation of the new FLSmidth organization looks beyond what is possible now and is innovating the green technologies of the future. “R&D remains an integral part of who we are at FLSmidth Cement,” said Ashworth. “We are committed to delivering the next generation of green cement technologies. We have several ongoing projects, working together with external research institutions, other technology providers, cement companies, funding organizations – many diverse stakeholders -- to see these technologies come to commercial realization.”
The pure play transformation also creates a much more agile corporate structure, able to bring technologies to market and adapt more quickly to fit the future needs of the industry. This has initially seen the company rationalize its manufacturing and supply chains to provide a more responsive and efficient service to customers. “This is only possible because of pure play, which allows us to decouple from the mining business supply chains and move ourselves closer to our customers,” said Ashworth.
People: it is always about the people
Ashworth saved his final remarks for the heart of any business: the people. “Many organizations going through significant change struggle with enthusiasm. But that does not describe my experience of FLSmidth Cement and that is all down to the quality of people we have here! There is a great deal of pride. My job is to nurture that to create a company that remains adaptable and fit for the future. We have proven our ability to embrace change, and the prospect of new ownership will be no different. We will work together as a team to ensure a smooth transition and continued success by staying focused on our customers.”