This was the decision facing Buzzi Unicem’s US division. Several of their plants are entering their more ‘tender’ years, giving rise to a number of repair, maintenance and upgrade projects. With a relatively small head office in Bethlehem, PA, Buzzi has the knowhow in-house but not the manpower. Instead, they wanted to outsource the installation of these projects to a trusted partner.
Having worked with FLSmidth on the pneumatic conveying side for a number of terminals projects, our two companies already had a good relationship. But with all these essential upgrades on the horizon, it was time to take it to the next level.
Buzzi’s aging beauties
With plants of this age, one project can often lead to another. FLSmidth was awarded the contracts at the Greencastle Plant for supply and install of a major Clinker Cooler rebuild, supply and install of ET450 Dryer Crusher housing, rotor, inlet and outlet ducts replacement and supply and install kiln tire pads, plus replacement of ball mill section and diaphragm. While preparatory discussions were ongoing, the kiln failed. FLSmidth crews were promptly called upon to weld repair a mill shell crack, replace mill liners and weld repair two cracked kiln tires and resurface the tires after the weld repairs were completed.
Similarly, at the Hercules plant, we were contracted to supply and install a new nose section for kiln 1, but our work at the site ultimately included multiple other services including roller and tyre pad work on the second and third piers of kiln 3. This work, as well as a number of other tasks, was added on once we were already onsite, extending the shutdown while we worked together to ensure the plant could get back to work safely and efficiently.
The fast and the furiously accurate
One of the reasons that Buzzi chose to work with us over other, sometimes cheaper, suppliers is our ability to respond quickly and effectively. Take the kiln nose section, for example. This project wasn’t originally planned as part of the Hercules shutdown. But, when it became apparent that it needed to be taken care of quickly, or risk a serious failure later on, we were able to take on the job at very short notice. We manufactured this new section in three weeks and built it in three pieces that could be slotted in without having to take the kiln apart, thus reducing downtime.
Full service solutions
“Installation services are a key part of our offering,” says Chris Sweeney, General Manager - NAMER Cement Site Sales, “Some cement plants have relationships with local contractors and they outsource installation projects to them. But this may come with its disadvantages. For example, the plant – who intended to outsource the project – may find themselves acting as go-between between the equipment supplier and the installation company. That’s a lot of work that they just don’t need. And it’s so easy for miscommunications to occur that can set projects back by weeks. Every delay is another expense.”
For Buzzi, the advantage of using a ‘one stop shop’ kind of service like ours is that they can truly hand these projects over. We handled both the parts supply and the installation (through our Installation Services team) and we did it quickly and accurately.
“Using our own installation resources is an advantage to us, too,” says Chris. “It enables free, easy communications that help us avoid mistakes. Working together on the big picture and the small details ensures we are able to deliver exactly what the customer needs. And our combined experience helps us to highlight and deal with any issues that come up along the way.”
Not just paying for a service, but also buying time
When you outsource projects like these mechanical upgrades to a third party who is capable of running everything on a turnkey basis, you give yourself one less thing to worry about. In a plant that is coming to a point where a lot of work may need doing in a market that, until recent events took over, was doing pretty well, delegating some of that responsibility is a distinct advantage.
We often see customers so bogged down by the day-to-day that they simply haven’t had the thinking time to consider what might be around the corner. What work might need doing. What trend they might be missing. For Buzzi, this thinking time was a major factor in outsourcing these jobs to FLSmidth. They knew they were handing them over to a solutions provider who cares, who will deliver on time without cutting corners. Safe in that knowledge, they have been able to focus on other elements of their business.
In these challenging times, FLSmidth has been a valuable partner in maintaining our eight plants. Turnkey maintenance projects with FLSmidth over the last few years have been successful for both our companies.
A partnership based on trust
The success of these projects hinges on close communication, both between the different parts of FLSmidth and with Buzzi. So how do you foster that?
“Personally, I think there are a number of factors involved,” says Chris. “For one, you have to be available. I always want my colleagues and our customers to know I’m only a phone call or text message away. It’s also really important to be clear and to check that you have understood clearly. If we’d been at all vague about that three-piece nose shell, it wouldn’t have gone in and it wouldn’t have fit back together. Transparency – on both sides – is also important. And of course, you have to deliver on your promises. Once you’ve shown that you can be trusted, the relationship goes from strength to strength.”
“I have worked with Chris Sweeney and FLSmidth for over 15 years, states Fran Schadler, Corporate Maintenance Manager, Buzzi Unicem USA. "In these challenging times, FLSmidth has been a valuable partner in maintaining our eight plants. Turnkey maintenance projects with FLSmidth over the last few years have been successful for both our companies.”
Some of the projects mentioned above have since been put on hold due to the limitations imposed by social distancing requirements amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But we do still have people onsite carrying out those essential works that can be done safely.
In the wake of this pandemic, we expect more customers to seek out local partners to overcome any future travel restrictions. Thanks to the size and distribution of our business, FLSmidth is uniquely placed to be that local partner almost anywhere in the world.
This article was first published in the June edition of World Cement.