Caribbean Cement Company (CCC), a subsidiary of Trinidadian-based TCL Group, finds itself having to address questions about its inability to supply the entire local market and the quality of its cement. Earlier this month, it had to recall a batch of 500 tonnes of faulty cement and then had to halt deliveries for several days. With the construction industry now buoyant with projects such as the construction of yet another Riu hotel, the next phase of Highway 2000, Harmony Cove, the refurbishment of Sabina Park in time for World Cup cricket next year, the Greenfields project, not to mention the many residential properties under construction, cement is very much in demand.
Why did that batch of 500 tonnes of cement go faulty? "It was operational issues that resulted in this batch of 500 tonnes of cement displaying false setting levels," said Haynes. "What our investigations have revealed is that that batch was created during heightened temperatures in the mill, making the cement harden quicker than it should have. There were also variances due to the use of materials from a different quarry location. Within an hour of getting a complaint that this cement was faulty, we conducted an internal investigation and recalled the batch in question with many bags returned to the plant by customers." The recall took place between February 19 and 27.
The company is now working more closely with the Bureau of Standards on quality issues and rigorous testing measures are being employed to ensure that faulty cement does not continue to enter the market. After shutting down the dispatch plant, CCC conducted additional testing as a precautionary measure. The situation that now prevails is that cement produced by the company undergoes two testing measures - one by the company and the other by the Bureau of Standards. Haynes said that within the next four months, CCC expects to regain the Bureau of Standards’ certification mark, which should further assist the company’s quality control procedures.
"As far as the quality management systems are concerned, we have now developed all our documentation and we are at the point where we need to be more qualitative in our approach to manufacturing. We are going through two steps.
The first is to step up our compliance checks, and from next week we will invite the Bureau of Standards to come in and go through our quality systems by doing a full audit leading to a certification mark. The Bureau will be conducting quality testing more frequently than it has done before.
Haynes says that before the batch of 500 tonnes of cement was recalled for false settings, the company was getting complaints leading it to conduct earlier investigations. It then issued a recall from February 19 to 27. It discovered that some cement sold in that period was responding very differently when tested and that in some cases the cement was of a brownish/yellowish colour and not hardening at the required strength. The testing revealed that the response was sporadic - some were fine and others showed up anomalies.
The company halted production and distribution on March 16 and resumed operations on a phased basis on March 23. On Sunday the 26th, it started delivery of bulk cement. On Wednesday of this week, it resumed sales of jumbo bags of cement and today will again begin to sell the smaller 42.5-kilogram bags.
Haynes said that the plant was back to a daily output of 3000 tonnes of cement a day and has this month imported 17,000 tonnes of bulk cement. It is now unloading 10,000 tonnes of bagged cement from a ship in one of its three ports.
"When we produce a product we do so at above JS 32, which sets the minimum standard for the strength of cement. We operate a cushion, which is above that. From October of last year we noticed a fall-off from our usual strength, which was still above the minimum standard cushion. Now there are big projects going on right now and the construction industry is enjoying a boom, yet there have not been any catastrophic failures with buildings collapsing because of sub-standard cement. However, we did get complaints, especially from pre-mix suppliers and constructors because as our cement strengths fell off, they needed to adjust their setting standards for their mixes."
Back in November 2004, the decision was taken by the Jamaican government to raise the duties on imported cement to 40 per cent, in effect giving CCC a monopoly. Last year, with the company supplying close to a million tonnes of cement and with a government-guaranteed protection, it could safely proclaim that it was able to supply the entire local market. A year on, this is no longer the case, largely because of the explosion in the construction industry.
"I want to make it clear here that we approached various government ministries when we saw the market growing and advised them that the market demand was now exceeding our manufacturing capabilities. We were very upfront about that. Minister Paulwell has invited other suppliers to source and bring in cement and we have no problem with that," said Haynes.