Editor’s Note: We recorded our first Talking Logistics episode in Spanish recently with Victor Garza, Sales Manager for Latin America at Command Alkon. The following is an excerpt from the transcribed conversation. You can read the full transcript at the Command Alkon website. Stay tuned for more episodes in Spanish coming up in the weeks ahead!
Today we’re going to talk about how to take the first step in automating your concrete production. Why is this issue important? The reason is simple: it’s impossible for concrete producers to control costs, increase productivity, and meet the requirements of their clients if they continue using manual processes.
So how do you begin? What does it mean to automate the different processes in a concrete operation, from the plant to final delivery?
Those are the main questions we’re going to explore in today’s program, and it’s a pleasure to have Victor Garza with us to share his ideas and advice on these topics.
Overview of Concrete Industry in Latin America
ADRIAN: I’m sure there are differences in the concrete industry between North America and Latin America. Can you give us an overview of the industry in Latin America and what are some of the challenges that exist there?
VICTOR: In general, the production of concrete is very similar in all parts of the world, but there are some differences in each region due to construction trends or customs in each market.
Each country has its own construction standards, many of them based on American standards like ASTM or ACI, or European standards, but that does mean each region has some differences in how ready-mix concrete is produced.
Some countries, such as Chile, have a very strong emphasis on quality control, largely because it is a seismic zone. The big cities and metropolitan areas in Latin America have plants with large production capacity, like what we see in the United States and Europe.
But also, in Latin America, I see a greater quantity of small plants, and those are the ones that I see that don’t have as much automation in their processes. Perhaps the culture of using metrics or indicators is not the same as in the larger operations. It is also worth mentioning that in Latin America there are also very large operations that do have a strong focus on productivity and efficiency.
There are also variations in regulations, for example, to be able to install a new plant. In the United States and Europe, the environmental requirements and permits needed for a plant makes installing smaller plants more tedious. I think that’s why we see a larger quantity of small plants in Latin America– perhaps it’s not as difficult to get a permit for a smaller plant.
I think that in Latin America there is an opportunity to improve operations by lowering costs with a focus on productivity. It is also well known that in Latin America, labor costs are lower than those in Europe and the US. That is why perhaps there is not as strong a focus on productivity but implementing an automation system would allow us to have metrics and indicators to measure and compare plants, operations, trucks, and productivity, with the same level of staff.
I think those are the main differences that we see in Latin America.
Existing Inefficiencies at Concrete Plants
ADRIAN: There are many processes in the production of concrete that can benefit from automation. Starting with plant and quarry automation, what inefficiencies exist today and how can automation help?
VICTOR: As you mention Adrian, the most important thing in an operation is to automate the production process in a concrete plant with a batching system that measures each component of the mixture, such as cement, sand, gravel, water, and admixtures. It’s important to measure the components of concrete mixtures with a high level of precision to ensure that the concrete produced is in line with the job or project specifications.
Not having a system means losses in raw materials, performance failures in your mix, and quality control problems at your job or project site. All this has serious implications, as much for the concrete producer as for the contractor or final customer. There are losses in time, and an additional cost in not having the consistent quality of concrete that a system can produce.
The other important part is having information: having an automated production system means having at your disposal data that is generated for every client, mix, job, and delivery.
The important thing is not just having the information; the information by itself is not useful. What’s important is to take the information and analyze it, making reports, indicators, metrics, and comparisons in order to make better decisions in your concrete operation. That is how a concrete company can lower its costs, be more productive, and achieve greater profitability.
Watch the full episode below in Spanish, or read the full transcript in English, for all of Victor’s insights and advice on this topic.