How many employees require a Cement Plant?? by LUIS FUENTES
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Trough my 29 years of career in the cement industry I have been witness of that this question appears time to time, specially in the economical crisis moments. Many times has been answered using all kind of simplistic criteria, for example; using a rate (ton of cement /person) or taken as reference other plant of similar production capacity. At the end this decision is so critical that taken the wrong path it could; increase the costs, increase the risk of accidents, reduce reliability and the life of the assets.
In many cases the main reason that incentive the innovation in the cement industry was the reduction in hand labour for example; the develop of the rotary kiln in USA instead of England, even if was invented in that country. Note.- I already talked about it, in my 2 articles in LinkedIn related with rotary kiln development.
Actually some studies and reports have concluded that the minimal number of persons necessary to operate a cement plant is 120.
But the answer it is not so simple because the number of people required for a cement plant vary according to 18 factors, classified in 4 categories .
1.- COUNTING CRITERIA
The first problem is that it does not exist standardize criteria for the Headcount in a cement plant,
The companies have different criteria for the classification of employee and subcontractors, and this issue does not help to know the right number of people working in a cement plant and even worse if this number is the optimal headcount.
Outsourcing Operation areas.- Several companies around 1990 started outsourcing the Quarry Operation, under different kind of contracts; paying for ton produced or for the number of hand labor. The Cement Packing Area (Dispatch) sometimes is operated almost completely for external companies, but under supervision of the owner. These 2 areas are intensive in hand labour; included them in the total headcount it could make an important difference compared with not.
Outsourcing Utilities (Power, Water, and Air).- Usually the Electric Power is taken from an external company. But in some cases the situation is different a) The cement company has its own power plant, b) The use of Waste Heat Recovery (WHR) for power generation, c) The use of Green energy because in the last years more and more cement plants have wind and solar power parks next to the cement plant. In these 3 cases it could be affected the headcount.
Outsourcing Services.- Is getting normal from 20 years ago that all the jobs not related directly with the O&M (Operation and Maintenance) of the plant are carry out for outsourcing services companies for example; Employee Transportation, Canteen service, Gardening, Security, Offices Housekeeping, Emergency services (Medic, ambulance drivers, fire fighting operator), etc.
Outsourcing Industrial Services.- In some cement plants the cleaning of dust spillages is made by external specialized companies for vacuum or shoveling. Other services as crane operation, or belt conveyor repairs are done for third party or internally.
Subcontractors for Internal Logistics.- Activities as moving clinker, limestone, coal, etc. from one are to other of the plant, frequently are made for subcontractor companies that operate external equipment providing this service including the man labor.
The Country Labor Law.- Not all the countries work the same number of hours in a year. For Example in Mexico the average employee works 2,258 hrs/year vs its German colleague works 1,356 hrs., 65% more hours in Mexico! Why? Because the blue collar worker in Mexico has approx. 1-2 weeks of vacation/year vs 5-6 in Germany plus the working hours/week in Germany are 37 vs 48 in Mexico.
Weather.- Extreme weather as 1) long cold seasons produce more blockages, frozen equipment, interruptions, etc. 2) Heavy rain seasons cause blockages for wet materials, flooded areas, use of pumps for drying, use of mobile equipment for cleaning mud, damages in roofs, etc. 3) In some middle east countries or north Africa zones with many hot days the people take breaks when working in open sunny areas, this issue increase the number of people to do these kind of activities. The same criteria applies for the opposite; working under cold temperature.
Remote area locations.- When the plant is located in a very isolated region, it is necessary to be as autonomous as possible, avoiding the use of external services that it could take many hours even days to be in plant in case of emergencies, for example: belt conveyor repairs, welders, refractory installers, etc. This situation will increase the headcount.
3.- DESIGN AND LEVEL OF MODERNIZATION
Number of lines. This has a great impact in the headcount for example:
- If your process has 4 lines to produce the same that 1 line, you could have 2 or 3 times more people,
- If you have 2 twin lines that produce the double that a similar one but it takes for the twin lines just 1.5 the people for one.
Number of Main Equipment.- If you have the Plant A that produce X Ton with a equipment distribution 1:1:1:1 ( 1 Raw Mill :1 Kiln :1 Cement Mill :1 fuel Mill) vs Plant B with a equipment distribution 4:2:4:2 you could require approx 50 or 75% more people
Level of complexity.- The number of materials to manage in the plant will be require more people because you will need more equipment. This apply for the number of; fuels, raw materials, type of cements, etc.
Fuel Preparation.- Depending of the type of fuel will be the amount of people necessary to manage it. For example you will require more people to operate the boilers to heating up the heavy oil versus the amount of employed if you use propane fuel gas. The alternative fuels sometimes require some preparation in the plant to allow the use of them, this operation require intensive man labour.
Lay out.- The design or re-design of the lay out of the equipment could make more complex the process increasing the moves of material using mobile equipment or transport equipment (belt conveyors, air slides, etc.) Usually the old plants that make a lot of upgrades but limited or mixing different technologies, they look in some cases as a “Frankenstein” lay out requiring more people compared with a new modern plant of similar capacity.
Level of Automation.- You could have a new plant with old technology or with equipment that requires more people to operate. For example a Packer machine with manual feeding bags vs automatic feeder plus Palletizer it will require less personal. The same applies for the rest of the plant and equipment.
Type of Quarry.- The quarry operation could be outsourcing and it will no be part of the head count. In case the quarry be part of the cement plant team, you could have several variations that it will affect the amount of people required to operate it:
- Use or not of drilling and blasting operation
- Distance to the plant and way of transport (mobile equipment, belt conveyor, boat, bombing trough pipe, etc.)
- Size and type of Mobile equipment.
- Type of Crushing system (closed/open circuit, 2/1 crushers)
Type of Dispatch.- The type and/or distribution of the dispatch could make a big difference in the amount of people required to operate it.
- Bulk by Truck, train or Boat.
- Bags by Manual loading or Pallet by truck or train
- % of production for Bulk or Bags.
4.- PEOPLE EFFICIENCY
Level of skills.- The Profile of the team plus the experience and skills will make a great difference that it will impact all the KPIs. In order to compensate the bad performance caused for the lack of skilled people it will be necessary contract more persons but in some cases the quantity will be not enough. The level of leadership (communication, motivation, accountability, etc.) is included in this point as well.
Systems of work.- You could have high skilled personal but working without modern efficient systems it could increase the amount of people to compensate the inefficiencies due; redundant activities, bureaucratic procedures, delays in authorizations, mistakes, etc . These systems could be interconnected or not, good designed or not, upgraded or not., all these situations could modify the headcount of the plant.
- Is important to understand that minimize the amount of the employees in the plant no necessary will lead to savings, because the KPIs could result affected including the cost of production and/or the life of the equipment.
- To make a Headcount Benchmark is important first to standardize the counting criteria of the people.
- To evaluate how many persons is the optimal to operate your plant you need to follow a methodology that involve the 18 factors mentioned in this article. Note.- If you want more information about this method please not hesitate to contact me.