Cement producers today are continually looking to reduce operating costs without compromising equipment availability and production capacity. Even with the most technically advanced production equipment, a proactive maintenance scheme is key to achieving greater productivity.
One of the most modern cement plants in Latin America, Cementos Argos S.A. in Cartagena, Colombia, has set itself high standards in plant performance, safety and environmental sustainability. In 2011, the plant completed a major plant expansion. Even though performance guarantees were consistently met after this, plant management believed that performance could be significantly lifted. They demanded improvements throughout the plant – in equipment availability, reliability and plant safety, particularly during the wet season, which had become especially challenging.
Alberto Riobo, Plant Manager at Argos Cartagena explains the plant’s clear strategic goals: “We wanted our plant to be environmentally friendly and safe and healthy for employees. But we were naturally also focused on our clients and that our production met their volume, time and quality expectations. At the same time, we wanted a highly efficient plant with reduced production costs. These objectives imply high reliability of equipment, processes and staff, so we needed to improve plant performance to help meet the strategic goals.”
Building trust through 3P
Argos Cartagena approached FLSmidth during 2014 to discuss whether and how FLSmidth specialists could assist in boosting plant performance. FLSmidth was already familiar with the Cartagena plant, since it had been involved with equipment supply and commissioning of the recent 5,000 tpd brownfield development in 2011.
Following an initial analysis by FLSmidth’s Pennsylvania-based Field Services team, several meetings were held with representatives of Argos Cartagena, who asked FLSmidth to prepare a plan to address the plant’s challenges and improve overall performance. In close cooperation with plant management and Argos’ senior management, a special plant performance programme – dubbed 3P – was developed.
Cementos Argos placed its trust in FLSmidth, a company known for its high performance and reputation
Expectations were high: "We expected FLSmidth to offer accelerated and appropriate technical support and to provide a level of knowledge and expertise in accordance with the situation and in alignment with our objectives. It was also important that FLSmidth’s advisors onsite would feel as though they were part of the Argos Cartagena team,” adds Alberto Riobo.
3P is based on a two-phased approach with the goal of improving plant reliability and performance. Specifically, the aim was to increase the reliability factor (RF) of the kiln on cement line four to an industry-leading level of 94 percent.
Alberto Riobo explains that this was necessary to meet the high demand in the market. But responding to the demand had been challenged by some key issues: know-how loss resulting from heavy competition for resources, aspects of raw materials not matching the original design and areas of optimisation within the plant’s maintenance systems.
From the outset, both companies agreed that the plant and maintenance managers were actively involved in planning this programme.
For the programme to succeed, we needed to build it together with the plant and maintenance managers, not only because of their intimate knowledge of the plant, but also because they would be the people who would drive changes forward within Argos’ organisation
Understanding root causes
Phase one of 3P involved plant diagnostics, operations supervision, and operator training. Conducted in late 2014, much of this involved focusing on root cause analysis, which was vital to long-term success, explains William Lewis: “A mechanical failure is often related to operations. You don’t just fix a problem, you need to go to the root cause, so we spent time working on this with plant management. The programme was also about engaging the plant’s staff and helping to increase the knowledge base at the plant through interactive training so they can fix issues themselves. This was particularly important because of the relatively high staff turnover at the plant.”
Alberto Riobo agrees that staff training was one of the key objectives: “We wanted FLSmidth’s specialist engineers to assist us in training staff with an emphasis on control room technicians, maintenance technicians and production engineers. Training should also involve redefining production, maintenance and quality control structure and roles, restructuring and redefining predictive and preventive maintenance scope. We also wanted to develop and restructure our RCM (ed. reliability-centred maintenance) capabilities within the maintenance process.”
Phase two of 3P, run from January through September 2015, involved implementing preventative and proactive maintenance protocols, modifications, and process optimisation to achieve the plant’s run factor and reliability targets. This involved a mechanical engineer and commissioning specialist from FLSmidth Field Services providing mentoring and technical support to plant maintenance and production staff. The primary focus was the plant’s kiln line four, but special attention was also paid to cement mills six and seven as they were operating below optimised capacity and run factor.
One of the important objectives for the performance programme was adapting the plant’s capabilities to better handle the characteristics of the raw material, which was generally stickier than expected. They needed to be able to sort raw materials correctly and improve the reliability of the reclaim system.
Higher Reliability Factor
Less than a year after its implementation, it became clear that 3P had produced impressive results. By the middle of 2015, the reliability factor (RF) of cement kiln line four had consistently hit 92 percent, and the 94 percent goal was achieved in the period from July to October. In fact, the kiln achieved a nearly 100 percent RF by the end of 2015. At the same time, the RF of cement mills six and seven increased by approximately 19 percent.
This had several positive implications for Argos Cartagena’s operations. The first was a boost in clinker production capacity from a long-term average of 4,900 tpd to 5,200 tpd (with a peak capacity of 5,400 tpd), correlating to a potential gain of approximately USD five million in cement profitability per annum for the plant. Second, the plant significantly reduced fuel and energy costs and achieved positive margin differences between actual and budgeted capacity. In 2015, average specific fuel consumption decreased by four percent from 2014.
But there are also other highly significant, albeit less tangible, benefits of the 3P program, according to William Lewis, FLSmidth “The training conducted by FLSmidth Institute, mentoring, improved protocols and best practices, and improved safety are invaluable and will serve Argos Cartagena well going forward.”
Alberto Riobo identified three key reasons behind the successful outcome of the performance programme:
“First was gaining a clear understanding and definition of the issue through close teamwork in the 3P programme. Second was getting the support of top management, and third was the support of the advisers from FLSmidth.
FLSmidth met and exceeded our expectations on numerous occasions, especially through their continuous availability in providing technical support and spare parts management. They made special contributions through their level of expertise, disposition towards attending to project requirements, and their attitude towards service
William Lewis, FLSmidth was also delighted at the programme’s success, which he put down to a tremendous effort by the Cartagena plant management and staff together with their partnership with FLSmidth through the entire programme.
With plant performance improved significantly, efforts are now turned towards plant optimisation and RCM implementation. FLSmidth continues to provide support in these areas as well as in mentoring and technical support to plant maintenance and the production department.
With a total installed cement capacity of 19.9 million tpy, Argos is a multinational company that produces and markets cement and ready mix concrete through its operations in Colombia, the United States, Central America and the Caribbean. The recently expanded Cementos Argos S.A. cement plant in the port city of Cartagena is one of the most modern in Latin America. The 5000 tpd brownfield project was commissioned by FLSmidth in 2011.
The project's key performance indicators were:
- Reliability factor: The equipment’s ability to operate without interruption
- Run factor: The equipment’s operating time during the period
- Performance: Actual output performance in relation to the expected output.