Made Great in Britain: Tarmac Cement

Made Great in Britain: Tarmac Cement

The town of Buxton in the heart of Britain’s stunning Peak District is no stranger to the concept of taking a good local resource  and bottling it , but as PB  recently discovered,  there is another natural commodity  which  enjoys full “bagging” rights.

Time may be of the essence but lime runs it pretty close in these parts where 300 million old quarries have been  mined since the nineteenth century, initially to supply the fledgling chemical industries of the Mersey valley.

Valued as some of the purest of its type in Europe, as many as thirteen small enterprises combined to create the Buxton Lime firm in 1891, becoming the  proud forerunner of  what has subsequently been transformed into one of the most  modern and efficient limestone plants of its kind in the world.

img_8457Now owned by construction giant Tarmac and part of CRH, the leading global diversified building materials group, the Tunstead quarry was opened in 1929 and currently celebrates its fiftieth anniversary of cement production. This came about as the result of problems arising from the quantity of wash plant waste produced during the extraction of the lime.

The washings contained about 50,000 tonnes per year of mainly interstitial clay and faced with planning restrictions on land filling, a cement plant was built to consume the clay which along with lime, silica sand and iron ore is a fundamental ingredient for the production of Portland cement, a product patented by Blue Circle 150 years ago.

At 2km long and 1km wide, Tunstead is the largest quarry of its type in Britain and viewed from one of the 100 ft plus grinding towers is an incredible sight to behold in a region not short on impressive views.

What makes it so attractive to a manufacturer is that 97 percent of the raw material is usable as limestone which feeds the insatiable appetite of the very latest automated production processes, manned by around 450 people.

img_8471At the heart of the process are giant crushers which reduce the raw material to about 6 inches in size whilst secondary crushers and hammer mills take it down to around three inches.

The rock is then combined with other ingredients and heated to around 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit in vast kilns. Elements are then drawn off as gases to produce clinker the size of marbles which are ground down and mixed with limestone to produce the grey powder we all know and love.

At every stage of the process the in-house plant laboratories check the product with chemical and physical tests to ensure it complies with industry standards for setting times and strength.

As site manager Raul Morales  enthuses, “The new bespoke Haver and Boecker 10 spout Adams 2000 plant is the first of its kind in the UK and we’re immensely proud to have it here at Tunstead.”

The considerable investment in the facility enhances Tarmac’s internal supply capacity, service and consistency for customers by strengthening its existing nationwide packaging and packing capabilities for a diverse range of cement options.

He continues: “At the same time, the business has continued to make major strides in reducing its environmental footprint, and using innovative technologies to improve sustainability across the entire supply chain.

img_8530“The manufacturing process requires large amounts of fuels and electricity for heating the kiln and driving the cement mills and an important breakthrough in this respect has been the development of waste-derived fuels. These are increasingly replacing fossil fuels such as coal and Pet coke as the main source of energy in the heating process.

“This includes 100 per cent  biomass carbon neutral fuels such as processed sewage pellets, non biomass fuels like waste derived liquid fuel and recycled fuel oil and partially carbon neutral fuels such as waste tyres.

“As a very privileged neighbour of the peak district national park, we also work very closely with the relevant authorities to provide full support with progressive restoration and biodiversity management initiatives to benefit the natural environment of the locality.”

Pride in the new plant is further endorsed by Kevan Greenhalgh, Packed Buisness Manager for Tarmac’s cement business which supplies a mind boggling  40 million bags annually to the construction sector. Explains Kevan, “the new facility is obviously really exciting for us, but we are confident that it will also bring enormous benefits to our merchant and end user customers in terms of service, supply and innovation.

“It will manufacture the complete range of plastic packed and cement products which have already taken the market by storm and thanks to significant storage capacity, the plant will also house our new 12.5kg Mastercrete mixer bags. Launched earlier this year, at half the size of regular bags, they are designed to be the perfect mix, providing the exact amount for a cement mixer – saving users from needing to split 25kg bags in half and waste material.

img_8518“The bag also has a handle, which reduces the risk of accidents and strains on site. Its another example of our sustainability strategy across the business which defines the focus as People, Planet, Performance and Solutions,” confirms Kevan.

Whilst few could begrudge the Tunstead plant its rightful spot in the ‘limelight’ currently, it would be the first to concede the crucial role its older brother down the road in Barnstone has played in making it all possible.

Cement manufacture began on this historic site in 1885 and was home to the first rotary kilns. Over the years and after much trial and error it came to specialise in cements for the mining industry, but with the industry’s decline the site ceased manufacturing cement clinker in 2006.

In its time it supplied cement used to build many prominent landmarks in and around Nottingham. Today, after much reorganisation under the watchful eye of factory manager Chris Stephens, Barnstone is the hub of innovation for Tarmac’s blending and packing operations.

Tasked with coming up with revolutionary packed products, it was responsible for the development of plastic packaging which has now become an industry standard.

As Chris explains, “clearly, given the age and history of the Barnstone site we are required to approach things in a fundamentally different way than at Tunstead, but that vast experience has proved invaluable in helping to bring new products and solutions to market.

“Our highly skilled engineers found a way forward in which plastic bags could be introduced when the popular opinion was that it just wasn’t feasible. The ready-to-use tubs were also conceived and turned around in just nine months here in Barnstone, whilst hundreds of tonnes of products are packed and produced in this factory each year and it is now widely considered as one of the pioneers in the field”

img_8532Chris continues: “One of our stars is a prototype packer, the Adams 200. This allows customers to order mixed pallets of products from the plant for the first time.

“Prior to this cement clients were universally restricted in how they could buy products due to limitations in the flexibility of combining different products on the same pallet. Now they can mix and match with significant benefits to their stock holding and bottom lines.”

That may be true and the product portfolio of  specialist cements and renders is far removed from the days of ordinary Portland, take it or leave it. But one thing has endured throughout – the iconic blue circle logo. Something which Tarmac Communications Manager, Mike Lomax is delighted about:

“As a company Tarmac has over 150 years experience and despite enduring world wars, economic depressions and its fair share of takeovers and acquisitions it has remained committed to building on its reputation as the UK’s leading cement manufacturer and it continues to provide pioneering cement products.

“Many of these developments are industry firsts and that innovation is driven by knowledge. We are constantly seeking market insights from customers to find solutions for their daily requirements. That small logo comes with a very big legacy indeed.”

In other words, when it comes to cementing long lasting relationships, few do it better than Tarmac!

Did you know that bricklayer Joesph Aspdin of Leeds first made Portland Cement (so called because he thought it resembled the hue of Portland Stone) in the early 19th century by burning powdered limestone and clay on a kitchen stove. He laid the foundation quite literally for an industry that has helped shaped the world we live and work in today.

For more information on Tarmac click here.

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