Chinese global cement influence grows

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There have been quite a few new cement plant project announcements in the past week, with expansions announced in Mexico, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Uzbekistan. 11.8Mt/yr of new capacity has been announced in just a week, mostly from a whopping 9.0Mt/yr project in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, the first in that Province. Notable in this project, as well as two of the others, is the involvement, once again, of large Chinese-based cement plant manufacturers and / or finance and associated influence from Chinese parties.

Of course, this trend is nothing new. The rise of Chinese cement plant manufacturers, particularly into Africa and other developing cement markets, has been covered in previous Global Cement Weekly columns. However, it does appear to be stepping up a notch in 2018 compared to previous years. So far this year we have reported on 21 confirmed Chinese cement plants being built in 15 countries other than China, from the planning stage to ‘up-and-running.’ A total of 37.2Mt/yr, more than the capacity of Germany, is being built across Algeria, Cambodia, Cameroon, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Zambia. That’s not including a similarly large number of news stories where the supplier is not explicitly stated. This is seen a lot in Indian projects, as well as in Vietnam, where the cement sector appears to still be expanding, despite the government’s pronouncements. In many of these cases, and elsewhere, these unidentified suppliers are likely to be Chinese.

The driver for this increase in Chinese-led cement sector investment is, of course, the severe overcapacity in China’s domestic cement sector. The government is currently undertaking its most drastic capacity reduction measures so far. The ongoing integration of Sinoma and CNBM is one example of the lengths it will go to to reduce the current inefficiencies in the sector. This week the Chinese government reiterated its strict prohibition on new greenfield cement plants. It also warned that any producer that wants to upgrade its plant with a new line must only install the same capacity as the line that will be replaced, amid concerns that some were flouting this rule. This comes as the profits of major producers have been rising. Presumably the government would like them to climb further still.

So where does this leave the more established (read ‘European’) cement plant manufacturers such as Fives, FLSmidth, KHD and thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions, some of which are fully or partly-owned by Chinese companies? Well, with fewer full-line projects available in developing regions due to the rise of the Chinese, they have become increasingly specialised in specific areas. Those that want European equipment will increasingly specify a pyro-line from Supplier A, a mill or two from Supplier B, conveyors and storage from supplier C, and so on. Arranging this, as it turns out, is something that Chinese plant manufacturers are quite keen to do. Take, for example, FLSmidth working for Sinoma (China) alongside Atlas Copco (Sweden) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (Japan) on a cement plant in Indonesia. Indeed, FLSmidth signed a framework with CNBM on future collaborations in July 2018. FLSmidth and CNBM already have an extensive ‘back catalogue’ of joint projects. FLSmidth has valuable expertise that Chinese firms need to complete these kinds of projects.

Of course, another European supplier, Germany’s KHD, is mostly owned by China’s AVIC. In a forthcoming interview in the September 2018 issue of Global Cement Magazine, KHD’s CEO Gerold Keune states that the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) scene is now ‘completely dominated’ by Chinese suppliers. KHD fits in by providing a wide range of equipment but, crucially, great expertise in pyroprocessing and crushing solutions. It itself relies on smaller firms to provide their knowledge to specific parts of a larger project, be it conveyors, feeding systems or silos. Everyone is getting better and better, but in a smaller and smaller area.

Also in the September 2018 issue of Global Cement Magazine will be a report from the VDMA’s Large Industrial Plant Manufacturer’s group (AGAB) in Germany, which highlights another advantage for the Europeans: Digitisation. According to a VDMA survey, the industry anticipates a positive influence from digitisation activities on sales and earnings and expects to see margins improve by up to 10% as a result of the efficiencies it offers over the next three years. In this regard they are ahead of the Chinese mega-suppliers.

The conclusion from this wide-ranging column? The integration of Chinese weight and European know-how is stepping up a notch and will only accelerate from here. Can everyone be ‘winners?’ The next few years may reveal some of the answers.

Last modified on 16 August 2018

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