Heavy industry, like Cement, is often hit further down the line during recessions or economic crisis – with the current epidemic, the reality of social distancing and lock-downs hits the cement industry at the same time as everybody else. As a District Sales Manager in the Northeast US, Jonathan Nolter, has been in ongoing dialogue with a series of customers in recent days and it is the uncertainty that is the biggest concern, he explains; “all the cement manufacturers in my district are still producing as if things are normal. The main issue right now is the uncertainty of the future; will they be forced to shut down, what will the cement market be in the next 3, 6, 12 months and what will this do to their outage plans in early 2021.”
To avoid having multiple contractors on site, some plants have not had their 2020 winter outage yet. These plants are now tasked with trying to make equipment run for an extended period - not knowing when they’ll have a chance to do major maintenance to it. Jonathan sees different options for those; “some may go with a major fall outage, others might have a brief, early summer outage and then a second, brief fall outage if needed.”
One little warning
To eliminate parts of the uncertainty, Jonathan’s message to all his customers is a reassurance that whatever the scenario they are pursuing, FLSmidth is still operating and available to assist as needed. “Our business offices and sales teams are working remotely and available by phone and email. Also, all our manufacturing facilities within North America and China are operating,” says Jonathan, with one little warning; “lead times are going to be affected by this pandemic, so get long lead items on order quickly.”
As plant managers around the world act to mitigate the risks of the current situation and just as importantly, plan for the aftermath, we asked Jonathan about his recommendations for which spare-parts to buy right now; “well, my first recommendation is not to panic – that never solved anything. But, I do recommend considering long lead items you plan to buy in the next 2-3 years; gears, large castings, complex fabrications, certain high-tolerance bearings for example. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these deliveries push out farther than a year or more due to the difficulties shops will have with personnel, delays from suppliers and restrictions in logistics.
Troubleshooting with video chat
Having been in the industry for nearly 15 years, Jonathan does notice how the industry is quick to adapt to the current situation; “so far, I haven’t had any type of troubleshooting phone calls or emails where a photo or two weren’t enough to understand the issue and get the customer a reply from FLSmidth’s engineering or product managers. I could see using video chat features becoming more important if social distancing continues for months instead of just weeks.”
Finally, when asked about any learnings from the restrictions that society and the industry is under; “at this time, it’s too early for me to say.” and Jonathan concludes, “one thing is for sure; the cement industry is resilient and characterized by ingenuity, we solve problems every day and we will deal with anything Corona throws at us. When this thing blows over, there is still a need for schools, houses and infrastructure requiring cement.
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