Cementing a market’s success

As nationwide growth rewards the UK construction industry, CEMEX’s UK business is committed to continuous improvements to help support such success

CEMEX’s story begins over a century ago as a local cement plant in Northern Mexico. What ensued was a long and successful period of organic and acquired growth to become one of the world’s leading companies, today turning over around $15 billion thanks to the efforts of more than 40,000 employees. In the UK, CEMEX has been a key player in the market for over 80 years supplying an extensive range of products from concrete, cement, mortars, screeds and aggregates to asphalt, concrete block pavings, rail products, and bespoke precast and concrete blocks.

Courtesy of 230 local mixing plants, 63 quarries and a large logistical capability CEMEX UK is able to deliver a complete range of market-leading solutions to meet every application throughout the CEMEX Issue 127 bUK by road, rail, sea and inland waterways. With around 3500 people operating within this network, the UK subsidiary generates close to £775 million in annual sales.

“At CEMEX everything we do is geared towards ensuring that we remain the supplier, employer and solutions partner of choice,” begins Aggregates Operations Director in the UK, Rob Doody. “To this end we have a very strong customer focus and we are constantly evolving in order to become more flexible in our operations, more creative in our commercial offerings, more sustainable in our use of resources, more innovative in conducting our global business, and more efficient in our capital allocation.

“Not only do we endeavour to provide the most reliable and comprehensive array of building materials but we also tailor our products and services to suit our customers’ specific needs across all sectors.” By working closely with its customers CEMEX places great value on developing vertically integrated construction solutions, fostering long-term relationships and constantly innovating to ensure it can offer the best product and finance options available in the UK market.

Such is its scale and leading position in the UK market that CEMEX’s performance is a key indicator of current market conditions, and Rob is able to highlight national growth as the economy continues to rise out of the recession. “The market has been mixed as it grows from the lows of 2007 and 2008 to a more successful year in 2015,” he says. “There is some geographical variation with higher growth in London compared to some conurbations further north. On balance, however, we have seen reasonable growth over the last few years.”

It won’t be news to anybody in the industry that London is currently a bustling hive of construction activity from new high-rise developments and massive redevelopment projects like at Battersea Power Station, to citywide infrastructure upgrades like Crossrail. With the market in such a state of growth, CEMEX has been prompted to expand its offering to the Capital’s marketplace. With a number of sites located right along the River Thames – major ones being Angerstein in Greenwich and Northfleet – all of which have been running at full capacity, the company has recently opened up a new site in Dagenham.

“Despite running at full capacity along the Thames our customers in Central London still needed additional supplies and we identified a particular need to increase sand and gravel capacity further East in Dagenham and north of the river as our major existing sites were all located to the south,” explains Rob. “Whilst the site has been in our ownership for many years importing and distributing modest quantities of aggregates, this is the first time that we have installed a full processing plant to import marine aggregates (using our own dredgers) to produce sand and gravel for our customers.”

Around £48 million of capital is now tied up in the operation of the site, which took 12 months to undergo this recently completed conversion. At full capacity the processing plant is able to produce over 500,000 tonnes of aggregates over the course of the year thanks to an hourly rate of 200 tonnes. “This facility is ideally placed to receive raw materials and distribute finished sand, gravel and hardstone products to a variety of customers in that vicinity. It is the most important aggregate site development in recent times and we are very proud to be able to improve what was an old industrial area into a professional production facility offering a range of products,” Rob continues.

The new Dagenham Wharf site will also form a key part of CEMEX’s national network of production sites, as it provides the ability to import aggregates from other sites around the UK via sea and river and export its own marine dredged materials back out. Putting it at a further logistical advantage within the city of London the site is installed with a new conveyor system, meaning it can CEMEX Issue 127 cload materials on to barges to be transported to some of the key supply areas around the centre of London.

Whilst the Aggregates team in the UK have been busy in the foreground maintaining production quality and expanding capacity, in the background it has been heavily focused on improving its operations in terms of health and safety. In relation to this 2015 was a very successful year with a number of high profile and competitive awards adorning CEMEX UK’s top shelf. In November it was awarded the MPA John Crabb Memorial Trophy, the industry’s highest award for health and safety. The jury particularly commended the team’s approach to leadership and proactive culture. The UK business also won the international CEMEX award for the Best Aggregate Operation out of 53 countries and in December 2015 it achieved its fourth year with zero lost time injuries incurred. Much of this has been down to its ongoing Step In campaign.

“We are very proud of this innovative but very simple initiative,” Rob explains. “It is a concept that encourages everyone to intervene if they see or experience something unsafe. Critically, this is something that impacts every location, every employee and every visitor or contractor that shares our sites. We have pursued Step In with a very extensive campaign to publicise, train and encourage adoption of the scheme by focusing on leadership, training and marketing. All with the specific intention of improving our culture.”

At all levels of the organisation the culture of Step In, which encourages active intervention rather than just personal protection, has been instilled in an attempt to move CEMEX further towards total interdependence when it comes to health and safety. This is facilitated throughout the annual calendar by a number of major training events including its Safety Day Training, to which nearly 100 per cent of its employees have attended, and its Back to Work Training day, which takes place in January and involves closing the business down to continue the discussion as the team looks towards another year.

“This is reinforced with more Stand Down days throughout the year, where we close the business on all sites for a fixed period to communicate and discuss workplace safety even further,” notes Rob. “In addition to this a targeted marketing campaign, which involves widespread branding, has been implemented to ensure that everyone is familiar with the initiative and what it means.”

With such success being experienced from both an operational and commercial standpoint, the future for CEMEX in the UK is defined by even more improvements. Rob highlights that further expansion into various markets around the country will be key to the company’s success over the next 12 months, as will its comprehensive efficiency programme that has been underway for the last four years already. “Called JUSTCI this is a continuous improvement project that has driven phenomenal efficiencies over the last few years with more to go at in the next few years,” he adds. “Our aim is to be the most efficient operator in our market.”

This ambition very much echoes the longer-term strategic vision for CEMEX both around the world and in the UK. As Rob concludes: “We aim to serve the needs of our customers and create value for our stakeholders by becoming the most efficient and innovative building materials company. CEMEX is dedicated to ‘Helping Build a Greater Britain’ and couples financial achievements with a firm commitment to sustainable development. Ultimately, it is very satisfying to be able to grow and deliver better results a far cry from the downturn in 2007 and 2008, and we look forward to continuing this over the coming years.”

It is clear that whilst CEMEX continues to operate successfully on a global scale, it is committed to not losing sight of its local commitments. Its Aggregate division in the UK illustrates this as it continues to trail blaze innovative operational strategies at the same time as keeping up with growing demand and upholding the solid reputation CEMEX has established for itself since 1906. With the UK industry showing little sign of slowing down in the near future, particularly in London, and the company’s many sites across the capital running close to capacity, the coming years look set to cement it even more firmly into such a critical marketplace.

CEMEX UK

Services: Global building solutions company supplying cement, readymixed concrete and aggregates