Innovation cements the future of Ireland’s construction industry
19 September 2013
Irish Cement has made a significant contribution to the growth and transformation of Ireland over the past 75 years from what was then a rural, agricultural country on the periphery of Europe into what is now a largely urban based, 21st-century modern economy.
Today, modern production plants at Platin in Co Meath and Castlemungret in Co Limerick incorporate the most up-to-date and efficient production technologies and serve home and export markets with a portfolio of eco-efficient products that will make a lasting contribution to the built environment.
Following the Cement Act of 1933, which provided the legal framework for the development of a cement industry in Ireland, ‘Cement Ltd’ was registered as a Limited Liability Company in May 1936. Séamus Lynch, managing director of Irish Cement Ltd, explained: “When the company was established in the mid 1930s, it was decided to build a new 150,000 tonne cement factory at Drogheda and a second 75,000 tonne facility at Castlemungret.
“The two plants both came into operation in the spring of 1938 and it was actually Seán Lemass, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, who officially opened both plants simultaneously at 12.15pm on May 23 1938.” Due to increasing demand, it was soon decided to double capacity at the Drogheda plant with a second production line, which commenced operations in 1940.
Lynch pointed out that despite the impact of World War II, many large construction projects were going ahead in Ireland during the 1940s. “The new State was starting to take shape with big projects such as Busáras in Dublin and the Liffey Hydro-Electric Scheme coming through,” he said. “The new aprons and runway at Dublin Airport created significant demand for large volumes of concrete which led to the first deliveries of cement in bulk in 1946. Ready-mixed concrete was produced in Dublin for the first time in 1949, and we saw steady growth in demand for bulk cement from then on.”
In late 1951, plans were developed to extend both works. In 1954, a third unit of 150,000 tonnes at Drogheda and a second unit of 100,000 tonnes at Limerick came into production.
INCREASED CAPACITY AND OVERSEAS INITIATIVES
In the 1960s, production capacity was further increased to meet growing demand levels by commissioning three new kilns at Limerick in 1961, 1964 and 1965. These brought total production levels to over one million tonnes. Meanwhile in Drogheda, Lynch said it was the beginning of a new chapter.
“In 1968, Cement Ltd decided to build a new factory at a green field site at Platin outside Drogheda to meet the demands of the expanding economy and Platin Kiln 1, the first dry process plant in Ireland, was commissioned in 1972,” he said.
Platin Kiln 1 increased annual production capacity by over 400,000 tonnes and soon after, a second kiln project followed which was at the time the largest single construction project ever undertaken by Cement Ltd. Commissioned in 1977, Kiln 2 added an impressive 1 million tonnes of extra capacity.
By now Cement Ltd and Roadstone Ltd had merged to form Cement Roadstone Holdings Ltd (subsequently renamed CRH Plc), which has grown to become one of the world’s largest building material companies. In addition, as Lynch explained, the name of the company was changed to Irish Cement Ltd: “In December 1978, we became Irish Cement Ltd to reflect the long history of indigenous cement manufacture at Drogheda and Limerick and, more appropriately, to brand the company and its products as being 100 per cent Irish.”
Following the highly successful introduction of the new dry process kilns at Platin during the 1970s, the company then turned its attention to a major modernisation project at Limerick Works, which saw the commissioning of a new Kiln 6 dry process line in 1983.
As a response to the 1980s recession, Irish Cement established Irish Cement Consultancy Services to market internationally the considerable engineering skills built up over many decades with a view to maintaining these skills within the company. Lynch said it was an innovative move.
“It helped preserve corporate knowledge within the company in a period of prolonged downturn,” he explained. “Throughout the 1980s, our engineers managed many significant projects across five continents, particularly Africa. New export opportunities in the UK were also identified and new markets were developed here promoting the use of concrete, particularly in agriculture.”
The recession of the 1980s gave way to renewed growth during the 1990s and early 2000s. The company responded to the increased demand by implementing a number of major projects to enhance capacity at Limerick and Platin. In late 2008, a new state-of-the-art energy efficient Kiln line (Kiln 3) with modern milling technology and a production capacity of 1.4 million tonnes was successfully completed at Platin, and is now one of the most energy-efficient facilities in Europe.
ECO CREDENTIALS AND SUSTAINABILITY
A major product development programme was launched in the early 2000s to establish the most sustainable eco-efficient low carbon product portfolio for the future. It was another industry first for Irish Cement and an important part of the company’s sustainability strategy.
“We identified CEM II Portland – limestone cement, which is produced by grinding unburnt naturally occurring limestone with clinker, as the sustainable flagship product for the future and we first introduced it to the market in 2007,” said Lynch. “It has become the main cement used throughout Ireland.”
In recent years, Irish Cement Ltd has taken further strides in its commitment to sustainable cement production – the substitution of fossil fuels with alternative waste-derived fuels in Platin Works. Lynch explains, “As well as enhancing the company’s strategy of producing sustainable, low-carbon cements, it makes a significant contribution to national waste management by diverting waste from landfill.”
Throughout the history of Irish Cement Ltd, there have been periods of growth and recession. “Throughout these periods, Irish Cement Ltd has contributed to the local communities in which it operates, giving employment in the north east and mid west. Throughout Ireland, the sustainable development of the built environment – houses, schools, hospitals, farms, roads, commercial and industrial buildings and infrastructure of all kinds – has been made possible through concrete made with the company’s products over this period.”
Notwithstanding the current construction climate, Lynch is optimistic about the future. “With modern energy efficient plants, Irish Cement Ltd’s new eco-efficient product portfolio and technical excellence, both in cement plant process technology and cement and concrete technology in use, is well positioned to continue making a major contribution to the sustainable development of Ireland into the future,” he concluded.
The decision to establish Cement Ltd in 1938 was early recognition by the State of the importance of indigenous cement production using locally available and sustainable Irish raw materials. This remains as important a principle today as 75 years ago. Irish Cement is one of the most modern efficient cement production facilities in Europe, allowing it to compete internationally and sustain jobs and investment. Technological investments such as Kiln 3, and innovations like low carbon CEM II cement and low carbon alternative fuels, have significantly reduced emissions as part of Irish Cement’s commitment to long-term sustainable operations.
Irish Cement has also played an important role in the development of the CRH Group worldwide, and has proven to be a world-class training ground for many of CRH’s global management team. Many of CRH’s senior executives and engineers in Europe and Asia have come through Irish Cement. This expertise flows back into Irish Cement, helping it in planning for the company’s next 75 years in Ireland.