So, ‘Global Cement’ is 20 years old. The fore-runner of this magazine - Asian Cement and Construction Materials Magazine - was first published in January 1997. The magazine was later amalgamated with other titles to become GCL: Global Cement and Lime Magazine and finally became simply Global Cement Magazine in October 2006. The original magazine was created in an attic on a computer with a then-huge memory of 1Gb. Each issue took up 500Mb of space, and so had to be separately archived each month, to make room for the next month’s issue. We used huge SyQuest disk drives to send data to the printer. We scanned in real photographs using a scanner that cost around Euro/$/£3000 - something you could buy now for less than £300. When that first issue was published, I was a young man of 29, with a full head of hair, and was yet to meet my wife.
Looking through that first issue (pictured right) is like flying through time. In that first issue - January 1997 - only three advertisers had an email address on their ad - and only two had a web site (H.W. Carlsen and Dome Technology). All the ads had a telephone and fax number on them - and many still had Telex numbers as well. (If you are too young to have heard of ‘telex,’ you can look it up on the internet). The fact that you could start a business relationship with someone on the basis of calling them up on the telephone now seems quaint, but that is the way they used to do it.
Many of the companies that appear in that magazine are still with us - Heko, KHD, Köppern, Loesche, Magotteaux, Siemens, Venti Oelde - and some are not, or at least not with the same names: they have been subsumed into other companies and renamed - although the people remain the same. The technology back then would be familiar to anyone working at a cement plant today - things have not moved quickly. Some of the themes that appeared in the news in that first issue are oddly familiar - ‘North Korea isolated, desperate for trade;’ ‘Woes befall ACC;’ ‘Hopes rise in Japan.’ One headline, ‘Foreign firms eye Asian market,’ foretells the feeding frenzy that took place once the Asian Crisis took hold (only six months after that first issue of Asian Cement Magazine), when cement factories and companies became desperately cheap for western multinationals that were - back then - flush with cash (or credit, at least). China was still buying equipment - even cement plants - from western companies.
Absent from the magazine is any mention of global warming or greenhouse gases. There is no mention of alternative fuels. The Euro was some years in the future (in terms of notes and coins). Some people, not many, had mobile phones (the size and weight of a brick).
Now almost everyone has a smart phone (a powerful internet-connected hand-sized computer/camera that can also make telephone calls). The internet is ubiquitous and is changing or undermining almost all established processes and industries (think news, taxis, dating, TV, estate agency, crime, activism, knowledge, gambling, shopping, education, work, democracy, etc, etc). Fortunately for all of us, cement cannot be made on or distributed via the internet (yet).
This issue of Global Cement Magazine reflects today’s pre-occupations - with alternative fuels, reducing the clinker factor, emissions trading, environmental performance and increased cost-efficiency (that, at least, will never change - the bean-counters will always ultimately be in charge). China is in the ascendant - selling cement and equipment to the rest of the world. Now I’m 49 with no hair, but with two daughters who are mostly grown up and thinking about leaving home (them, not me).
What will Global Cement be writing about in January 2037? My guess is that any doubts about anthropogenic global warming will have been laid to rest - one way or another. The cement industry may be in the front line of assaults on CO2-producing industries and the focus will still be on reducing the clinker factor - using slag, fly-ash, activated ultra-fine limestone, rice husk ash and anything else that the industry can get its hand on that works. By 2037 everyone will be using AF - everyone.
I think though that when people look back on 2017 from 2037, they will say that we were sleepwalking into trouble. The chances of China having a massive financial crash are already high - and increasing. When the Chinese Crash happens, it will not be a happy sight. The US owes around US$20trn and that’s set to go up a lot under Mr Trump. Can it increase forever? It cannot. Finally, the same people that made billions betting against sub-prime mortgages are now betting that the Euro will fail. The Euro Crash will make Brexit look like a tea party.
In 2037, when I’ll be 69 (hopefully still fit and a doting grandfather), Global Cement Magazine will be 40 years old. From being one of the youngest people at our cement conferences, I will be one of the oldest. Still, in 20 years time, an age of 69 will be considered youthful. I look forward to coming to work on my anti-gravity hover board. Here’s to another 20 years!