The construction materials industry can improve its customer-supplier interface if it takes up Industry 4.0, notes South African ReadyMix Association (Sarma) director Johan van Wyk.
“The current economic climate impacts on construction materials in the same way as the construction industry, for obvious reasons. With the lack of big infrastructure projects, construction materials supply has changed from supplying large quantities to sites to supplying smaller quantities to a greater number of construction sites.”
He adds that transport costs impact on the price of the materials being supplied to more sites.
Although there are always new technologies entering the construction industry, such as more advanced control systems on readymix trucks, Van Wyk mentions that the industry might not adopt Industry 4.0 because of the skills shortage in the sector. It takes money and time to train staff in using the new technologies on, for example, trucks and at a plant, so many producers would rather opt to continue using older, known technology.
Meanwhile, he notes that, as the market becomes more competitive, the readymix industry has to design concrete to ever-decreasing margins and tighter controls, using more technical products. “Smaller margins mean that the possibility of things going wrong in unskilled hands becomes bigger.”
The perception that readymix concrete is always less expensive than site-mixed concrete is not accurate, as it depends on the size of the project, Van Wyk explains.
“When clients realise what goes into the production of quality concrete, they soon find out that site-mixed concrete can be much more expensive.”
Van Wyk says that Sarma still aims to make readymix concrete the construction material of choice. “We have the interests of the readymix industry at heart and will continue to set the standard for readymix concrete. We will assist our members in attaining the necessary legal compliance and quality to be fully accredited.
“We have seen some bigger projects being awarded and, as confidence and the construction market grows, slow growth will accelerate again.”