At a virtual press briefing held on May 19, 2021 broadcasted from their Taguig headquarters, leading local cement manufacturer Republic Cement is disrupting the cement industry by using data science and artificial intelligence (DSAI) to cut CO2 emissions and produce stronger and more consistent cement.
The strength of cement is typically measured only after a 28-day waiting period, wherein samples cast from one batch of cement are molded into cubes, cured, and tested for its strength using a compressive strength testing machine. The compressive strength testing machine applies pressure to the cement cube until the sample breaks, making the load or weight at which the sample breaks the strength of the cement batch.
Since cement was reinvented in the late 1800s, cement strength has been traditionally determined through this process and projects can only be fully certain of a cement batch’s strength and quality after this 28-day test. This is done to ensure that the quality of the cement used will lead to safe and strong structures that conform to Philippine National Standards as well as the standards required by the project. While the process is a commonly accepted practice, Republic Cement posed the questions: What if we can eliminate this wait time? How would it affect the manufacturing process, the customer’s projects, and the cement industry as a whole?
Data Science Tool to Instantly Predict Cement Strength
To begin working towards this, Republic Cement put in place a comprehensive data infrastructure to collect relevant data about the various states and chemical compounds present in cement across the whole manufacturing process and identifying its qualities after curing for 28 days. Further to just collecting and digitizing Republic’s data, there was also a need to process this data into relevant information. Up until a year ago, the data was simply sitting in a database with little to no role in decisions that affected the 28-day strength testing results, which largely relied on reactive decisions based on these results.
The consequences of not having this data to support the cement manufacturing process was the inefficient use of raw materials, which translated to higher costs. This overcompensation is done to ensure that the cement meets both the Philippine National Standards on 28-day Strength as well as Republic’s own more stringent quality standards.
In exploring how to turn its data into relevant information, Republic Cement teamed up with the Aboitiz Data Science (ADI) to build an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool for its cement manufacturing operations. The product is designed as a DSAI application to help operators and quality managers optimize concentrations of raw ingredients in the cement mix by instantly harnessing complex algorithms, thus saving time and resources. The development of the product also led to innovative data-driven adjustments making it important for the company to embed the tool as part of daily operations.
“The application of DSAI in Cement is extremely exciting as it demonstrates that DSAI can be a core differentiator in traditional industries while also allowing them to flourish digitally. This is just the start, our focus is to innovate and systematically operationalize DSAI benefits in areas such as customer engagement, operations and in materializing ESG [Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance] goals,” said Dr. David R. Hardoon, Aboitiz Data Innovation Managing Director.
As of May 2021, two of Republic’s manufacturing plants are now utilizing the AI tool as part of the overall process strategy, yielding positive results. Improvements on the first deployment are also underway, while expansion to all Republic sites is ongoing.
Reduced CO2 Emissions
In line with its decades-long commitment to a greener environment, Republic has always sought to reduce CO2 emissions through manufacturing greener cement. In the manufacturing process, this is done through using alternative fuel that substitutes for non-renewable fuels, continuously upgrading to more energy efficient technologies, and embedding sustainability throughout the manufacturing process.
Through the application of data science and being able to accurately predict 28-day cement strength, Republic has been able to further optimize its manufacturing process. By better managing its resources, coupled with the increased efficiency of raw materials used in cement production, the company effectively reduces CO2 emissions while maximizing cement quality and strength. These adjustments, coupled with Republic’s numerous greening initiatives, will also lead to more sustainable operations in the long term.
Republic Cement’s VP for Manufacturing Lloyd Vicente shared “Sustainability and building a greener environment for generations to come remains a top priority at Republic Cement. Through this, we intend to do our part in restoring and preserving our environment while producing the best quality cement for the Filipino consumer.”
Getting Stronger Cement Faster for Build, Build, Build
Through the application of DSAI and streamlining operations, Republic is able to optimize production to better provide for the country’s cement requirements. In line with the current administration’s infrastructure push through the Build, Build, Build Program, projects will now be able to commence projects without having to wait for the 28-day strength testing period. Customers are now assured of the cement’s strength immediately upon production thanks to Data Science.
“Republic has and will remain a close partner in building the nation,” said Republic Cement President & CEO Nabil Francis. “Through the use of DSAI, we intend to translate this efficiency in process into something that benefits all Filipinos and will encourage Filipino consumers to patronize local cement. It is our intention that, by further assuring consumers of the strength, quality, and consistency of cement that they are buying, that consumer confidence will also rise.” By buying locally manufactured cement, consumers inject three times more into the local economy than when buying imported cement products. This is particularly crucial as the country works towards its recover after the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These programs in DSAI are also a great opportunity to develop local talent,” added Francis. Republic Cement is currently developing the first batch of data scientists for the Philippine cement industry. “The Filipino is immensely talented and we have great potential in the country because of the resilience, creativity, and talent of its people. Republic Cement remains committed to doing our part in empowering the Filipino on its journey to building a greener and stronger Republic.”