The name Holcim (US) Inc. was launched in December 2001, but the business behind that name began in the 1950s as Dundee Cement Company – a subsidiary of Holderbank Financiere Glaris Ltd., a Swiss cement company founded in 1912. Headquartered in Dundee, Mich., the American company eventually added operations in Missouri and South Carolina, then merged with Ideal Basic Industries in 1990 to form a business known as Holnam.
Holcim (US) Inc. currently ships more than 15 million metric tons of cement products annually from 15 plants located in 13 states to more than 70 distribution terminals. Annual revenues are approximately $1.2 billion, and the customer base covers more than 30 states. The name change of the Michigan-based corporation reflects the $12 billion Swiss parent company’s global marketing strategy and name change to Holcim Ltd in mid-2001.
Cement to Concrete
Tom Chizmadia, Holcim’s vice president of communications and public affairs, describes cement as the essential material for making concrete because cement is the binder for the sand and stone in the mixture that forms concrete. Intriguingly, Chizmadia describes the company’s cement as a “gray powder that has a consistency finer than talcum powder.”
Chizmadia also provides perspective on the size of the operation required to make cement. He says that a typical cement facility occupies hundreds – and often thousands – of acres, most of which is the quarry that yields the basic ingredient – limestone. In the modern dry manufacturing process, limestone is crushed into baseball-sized rocks and then crushed further into a powder before being preheated in towers 200 to 300 feet high. The limestone is then fed into a kiln. The kiln is a brick-lined, rotating steel tube designed to heat raw materials to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit with a flame that reaches 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At that high heat, a chemical reaction causes the limestone to break into cement clinkers, which are sent to grinding mills where gypsum is added and iron balls pound the clinkers into cement powder.
Achieving consistent quality in that powder – the cement used in making concrete for structures ranging from do-it-yourself patios to residential and commercial buildings and sports facilities to roads, tunnels and bridges – is fundamental to Holcim’s operation. Barry Thornbury, manager of promotions, training and corporate marketing, emphasizes the value Holcim places on quality products and service: “What differentiates our products from others is our people. Our people are passionate about what they do, and this passion extends throughout the company. For example, our technical service engineers consistently serve as solution providers for contractors, developers, architects and others who come to us with questions or problems. Many of our customers rely upon our technical service engineers to be on site to make recommendations or analyze a problem, whether or not the product is ours. Strength, performance and passion – they are part of everything we do.”
Holcim employs approximately 2,400 people in the United States, with more than half of them in manufacturing. Chizmadia describes its production as a process that entails the use of large equipment to produce great volumes. He again provides perspective by noting that the kilns used in wet-process cement manufacturing can measure from 300 to 500 feet in length. One notable exception is Holcim’s Clarksville, Mo., plant, where the rotating kiln is 760 feet long and 25 feet in diameter, making it one of the largest pieces of industrial equipment in the world.
Focusing on the value and advantages of cement in construction, Holcim executives enumerate the benefits of the company’s products. Chizmadia points out that more than half of the cement consumed in the United States is used in public-sector projects – including roads, bridges, dams, tunnels, schools, prisons, libraries and hospitals. All of these projects require large amounts of concrete. He also emphasizes that the strength and durability of concrete, especially when selected in road and highway construction, make it more cost-effective over the long term, since the material requires less downtime for maintenance.
Thornbury makes the case for the energy conservation and environmental benefits associated with cement construction. He notes that commercial and residential buildings made with concrete are more energy efficient, since it takes less energy to cool and heat these structures. On hot summer days, due to less vegetation, temperatures in urban areas may be several degrees warmer than in the surrounding suburbs. This “heat island effect,” as it is known, leads to greater electricity demand for air conditioning. Thornbury points out that concrete retains less heat than asphalt on paved surfaces, and consequently reduces the heat island effect within metropolitan areas.
On the subject of the environment, Chizmadia states, “As we transition to the global brand, you’ll see this company continuing a program of sustainable development. Our parent company is a member of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, and you’ll see more activities designed to bring into balance the elements of the “triple bottom line” — economic, environmental and social interests. It’s a progressive way of conducting business, and it will involve increased human and financial resources, but I’m convinced it will separate the top performers from the rest. Eight of our plants have community advisory committees in place, so the people are a part of our process.”
He comments further that the company is taking initiatives to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from its manufacturing processes, use alternative fuels in manufacturing and use slag or fly ash – recyclable byproducts from other processes – to make cement products. Of note, Holcim’s GranCem® cement, a blast-furnace slag product, is now used as a partial replacement for portland cement in concrete, grout and masonry.
Building the Future
Recent high-profile products using Holcim cement products include the bobsled run at the Salt Lake City Olympics; runways, aprons and structures at the new Denver International Airport, where Holcim was the largest single cement supplier; athletes’ housing for the Atlanta Olympics; and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
With a product lineup that includes portland cement, GranCem®, HolCem® high-performance blended cements and other blended products, stuccos, fly ash, Holcim Mortamix® and Rainbow Mortamix® Masonry Cements, the future of Holcim development also includes greater manufacturing capacity.
Referring to recent growth, Chizmadia cites capacity expansions in the period from 1997 to 2000 at Devil’s Slide, Utah, (350,000 to 635,000 metric tons), Midlothian, Texas, (1.1 million to 2.2 million metric tons), and the Birmingham, Ala., GranCem® facility (500,000 metric tons). A new line in Florence, Colo., expanded a 790,000 metric-ton kiln to a 1.9 million metric-ton kiln, and work on the towers there will be finished in 2002. Current and future expansion sites are Holly Hill, S.C., where capacity will double in 2003 from 1.1 million to 2.2 million metric tons, and St. Genevieve County, Mo., where a proposed new plant, currently going through state and federal permitting, will have more than 3 million tons metric capacity. Chizmadia’s final comment on growth, “We will increase capacity and continue to be a prime supplier in the U.S. market,” seems as solid as … well, cement.