Since 2014, Wagners Cement’s Pinkenba grinding and bagging facility at the Port of Brisbane has become the jewel in the company’s crown, particularly due to its decision to commission a new vertical roller mill (VRM) on site.
Complementing the existing horizontal grinding (ball) mill, the new VRM has been producing cement and ground slag and at a capacity of 800,000 tonnes per annum – a significant increase when compared with the 500,000-tonne-per-annum ball mill.
The blending capabilities of the VRM also put Wagners into an enviable position in the Queensland market, especially as the producer is now offering a wide range of triple-blended cements (incorporating cement, lime, slag and/or fly-ash) on demand.
Developments at the Wagners’ Pinkenba facility on the banks of the Brisbane River, and with the business itself, haven’t stopped and show no signs of slowing.
Anthony Freer took up the General Manager – Cement position at the company just over a year ago and has been a core driver in the development of the Wagners cement business since.
“I started out in the civil and infrastructure side of the business and the opportunity for cement then came up. It just seemed like really good opportunity to help develop a core part of Wagners’ business, which has grown immensely since we started working in cement in 2009,” he says.
He adds the decision to upgrade to the VRM at Pinkenba required significant investment, but has been a major catalyst in establishing it as a market-leading facility in Queensland.
“The addition of the VRM shows that we’re really investing in what we’re doing. It was a fairly big call at the time and the only one of two VRMs in Australia that’s grinding cement.
“In the last couple of years we’ve certainly increased our focus on innovation where we’re able to do more blends, particularly within stabilisation and not just readymix products.”
The VRM has also realised a significant reduction in electricity consumption, compared with the company’s conventional ball mill. “I think the industry as a whole is concerned as rising energy prices is one of the biggest threats to production processes today. The industry is getting some certainty and confidence because companies such as Wagners are still investing in their facilities,” Mr. Freer says.
“We’re making sure our business is sustainable for the future and leaves a more effective energy footprint in a market where energy prices go up every day.”
Mr. Freer says developments in the wider road cement industry have also helped fuel the company’s growth.
“Cement Concrete & Aggregates Australia (the industry body for heavy construction materials in Australia) has been very active in progressing the industry and the government has been quite supportive of growing the sector for the next couple of decades,” he says.
As a strong supporter of the peak industry body for pavement stabilisation in Australia AustStab, Wagners has also become more involved in smaller road and civil applications in rural areas, further increasing its presence in the market.
“It’s an interesting time. We’ve been quite focused on the establishing the VRM and making sure we were producing a good level of product throughout the upgrades to the site, and now we’re moving into the second stage of that development,” Mr. Freer says.
The business is continually investing more into quality and process control of its products by building a wharf at the Pinkenba site, which will provide a strategic advantage for the business, given its proximity to the busy Port of Brisbane.
“The addition of the wharf will open up our capabilities and take considerable risk out of the process by allowing us to transport the materials ourselves. It just takes a lot of the angst out of the process, giving us the opportunity to improve how we deliver our services,” Mr. Freer explains, adding that the next phase in the site’s development will also include the addition of a new clinker shed and storage facilities.
He says the site additions are helping establish high end facilities not just for the business, but for its customers too. “We work really hard to have good facilities available for customers when they take delivery of a product themselves, and the goal is to help make their lives easier, which is why the developments at Pinkenba have been a major focus of ours.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to grow the business, which for us has been realised by being on the cutting edge of the VRM technology.”
Not only is the firm’s new wharf development at Pinkenba boosting its potential for the future, but its environmentally-minded product – Earth Friendly Concrete (EFC) – has even caught the Queensland Government’s attention.
Wagners’ EFC was announced as a recipient of $250,000 under the state government’s Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas Fund at the end of October last year.
The new eco-friendly concrete, which is made possible thanks to the fine grinding precision of the VRM, is aimed at reducing carbon emissions and is already being used in Brisbane’s West Wellcamp Airport project.
“This project could see Queensland become a global leader in environmentally friendly concrete production by reducing carbon emissions,” said Queensland Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch at the time of the announcement.
“It has the potential to generate more than 80 jobs initially, and hundreds more into the future.”
EFC uses a geopolymer binder system made from the chemical activation of industrial waste by-products, with the technology reducing the carbon emissions associated with normal Portland cement by 80 to 90 per cent. It equals or betters the engineering and construction properties of normal cement.
“We are already gaining significant interest for EFC applications in international markets and have a Memorandum of Understanding in place between Wagners and India’s JSW Group’s JSW Cement,” says Head of Wagners’ concrete division Joe Wagner.
“JSW Cement is one of the leading brands in India, and EFC will add value to the downstream by-products of JSW’s steel and power generation businesses which makes it a perfect fit.”
To meet growing domestic and international demand, Wagners will scale up commercial production of tailor-made hardener chemicals used in the “top secret formula” to produce EFC.
“The opportunity provided by the Ignite Ideas Fund is the first step in allowing us to manufacture commercial quantities of our additive, and will mean we are a significant step closer to improving the cost and overall performance of EFC,” Mr. Wagner said.
“The road construction sector in particular is recognising that and, as a producer in this market, we’re aiming to do the right thing environmentally in terms of our carbon footprint, and that will continue to develop,” Mr. Freer adds.
“We’re certainly seeing a movement in the councils around the country in regards to project stabilisation. There is high demand for slag and hydrated lime for stabilisation projects, which provides more opportunity for us to grow in that area too.
“The stabilisation side of the industry tends to ride like a roller coaster. Sometimes there’s not much going on and that can make it hard to produce reliable quantities of product,” he explains, adding that the often-turbulent nature of the market is also one challenge Wagners aims to address through the developments at its Pinkenba site.
Mr. Freer asserts that the continued investment at its Pinkenba facility and throughout Queensland has set Wagners up for ongoing success.
“We’ve been really particular about our investments in innovation, and the VRM is proof of our success in this area.
“It’s given us the ability to produce different products more effectively than ever before,” he says. “This is making us one of the more efficient producers in the industry.
“I think we’re well placed to see more market growth in Queensland and potentially move further into New South Wales in the years to come. At Wagners we’re putting our head down and getting on with it.”