Business, The Star
Company Aims to Make a Difference in Building Materials Industry
Mention concrete batching plants, and residents instantly purse their lips in disapproval. After all, few like the dusty roads left behind by mixer trucks that could barely hold their load of concrete properly, causing messy spillage all over the city.
However, the world's largest cement company, Lafarge, is aiming to do things differently here in Malaysia. As the world number two player in aggregates (stones and sand) and number four in concrete, the company feels it has a role to play in showing the rest of the industry players how to conduct business responsibly.
Lafarge Malaysia Bhd is now operating what is possibly the cleanest concrete batching plant ever seen here.
How clean is clean? It is so clean that trucks entering its premises do not even need to be washed before they exit the compound.
More importantly, it is impossible to overload a Lafarge truck with cement, as overloading is one of the main contributors to concrete spillage.
"If the truck can carry 12 cubic metres of concrete, we only fill in 10. If it can only take eight, we only put in six," said Rick Pucci, vice-president of Lafarge Malaysia's concrete division.
The impossibility of overloading a truck is due to the fact that each of them is tracked separately, and a transponder identifies the specifications of the truck and its load capacity.
"The operator at the plant cannot start batching if the volume being ordered exceeds the capacity of the truck," said Pucci in an interview to showcase the corporation's latest fully automated ready-mixed concrete batching plant on Jalan Empat in Kuala Lumpur's Jalan Chan Sow Lin area.
The plant, costing at least RM7mil, is the state-of-the-art as far as Malaysia is concerned.
First of all, it is almost totally enclosed, thus cutting down the decibels to its surroundings significantly.
This enclosure also helps to cut down the emission of dust to the environment. Lafarge is doing more than just building a giant envelope over the cement silos.
It has to do with the enforcement of good work practices, such as ensuring that the dust trap (fitted with high-efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA) is always switched on whenever (again through automation) cement is being pumped into the silos from cement trucks.
There is also a series of warning lights as well as audible alarm that will alert the cement truck drivers whether the cement level within the silo is already at the limit, thus minimising the chances of rupturing the silo through overpressurisation or overfilling.
"The filters are also regularly maintained to ensure they provide the required filtration," said Pucci.
That said, it suggests that cement silos that show a lot of dust around the top and sides (not seen at this plant) is regularly discharging cement dust without adequate or totally no filtration.
The trump card of this plant, which sits on a very compact site measuring 0.65ha (1.6 acres), is its aggregate recycling facility. "Construction site can sometimes return the concrete to us when they overorder, or when the delivered concrete does not fall within their required specifications," said Pucci.
Concrete is a mix of cement, water, and aggregates (sand and stones), and it only has a shelf live of about two hours after it is batched.
"If it is a high quality mix, we can consider adding something into the mix to make a lower quality concrete, but for a lower quality mix, there is not much to be done," said Pucci.
At its older plants, Lafarge turns returned concrete into large blocks to be resold, but these do not fetch very good prices.
At the Chan Sow Lin plant, returned concrete can now be separated to recover the sand and stones, while ensuring that the waste water is properly treated before discharge.
"This demonstrates Lafarge's commitment to sustainable construction as it reduces wastage," said Pucci, who added that the high cost of aggregates now is also a push factor to its decision to reclaim them.
Lafarge's effort is significant as some other concrete batchers just discard returned concrete without making any attempt to convert them into anything useful, but instead, contribute to the ever-shrinking landfill or dumping ground space problem.
But back to DBKL's chief concern, which is concrete spillage on our roads. "We understand that they are coming up with guidelines for new concrete plants in the city, but we decided that we will proceed first with this ‘green' direction," said Pucci.
DBKL many not be exactly talking about green, but they are definitely after clean roads, and in this regard, driver training is just as important.
"We teach our drivers to operate the speed of the mixer so that is spins at appropriate speeds. Too fast may cause an extremely unbalanced load of concrete as the truck takes a corner, raising the possibility of overturning.
"Too slow a speed may jeopardise the integrity of the concrete mix within the mixer, affecting its property," said Pucci in illustrating the balancing act that the plant, truck and driver has to play in meeting various stakeholders' requirements.
With 31 concrete batching plants in Malaysia, Lafarge is a company that others look upon to set a good example.
The Chan Sow Lin plant represents the future of concrete batching within an urban area, and sets the benchmark in many respects for dozens of plants owned by others all over the city. It is not far fetched to say that someday, somehow, all batching plants will look like this.