8th Global Gypsum Conference 2008
12-13 May, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Review by Dr Nino Mancino, conference co-convenor
The 8th Global Gypsum Conference in Dubai was held on 12-13 May 2008, with over 270 delegates from 38 nations attending, making it the most international event in the conference’s distinguished history. The combination of a vibrant exhibition area, a first-class selection of papers, enhanced networking as well as wonderful Middle Eastern hospitality all helped to make Dubai 2008 a massive success, and one of the best Global Gypsum Conferences to date.
Registration and cocktail party
On the afternoon of Sunday 11 May registration began, and continued well into the evening as a steady stream of delegates arrived to meet old friends and make new acquaintances over drinks and food. From an organiser’s point of view, it was good to finally put faces to new names, and share in everyone’s enthusiasm for the start of the conference.
Exhibitors included Aecometric Inc., Alstom Power Inc., Arizona Instrument, Aumund Group, Claudius Peters Technologies, CNBM Int. Corp., Domino , Eclipse, Inc., Erisim Makina Ltd, Fenner Drives, Gebr. Pfeiffer AG, M2G Grelbex, Grenzebach, Gupsos, Gypsum Panels Machinery S.r.l., Gypsum Recycling International A/S, Haver & Boecker, Johns Manville, Limab, MADA Gypsum Co., Mepco Middle East Paper Company, MHC Engineering Fšrdertechnik GmbH, Schenck Process, Seelen A/S, Sensortech Systems Inc., Shandong Sanjin Glass Machinery Co. Ltd, Wacker Chemie, and WTW Americas Inc.
Day one, Monday 12 May
Session 1 – Current status of the global gypsum industry
Dr Robert McCaffrey, conference co-convenor, got the programme of presentations underway with a brief introduction to trends in the gypsum industry, after which he handed over to the first presenter, conference stalwart Dr Bob Bruce. Dr Bruce’s paper, entitled ‘Global Gypsum evolution to 2025’, was in many ways the ideal way to start the conference. Dr Bruce spoke about the gypsum market as it stands today, with mention made of the faltering US market as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis that has sparked a general depression in construction. But according to Dr Bruce, the future is not all doom and gloom. Indeed, Dr Bruce believes that there is excellent potential for growth into developing and emerging markets (not least the Middle East). In addition, Dr Bruce believes that gypsum products have the potential to compete with other building materials, meaning that wallboard products can be utilised in a wider array of applications, such as building exteriors, floors and load-bearing walls. This mix of technical and geographical parameters, should, in the opinion of Dr Bruce, allow the sun to shine on the gypsum industry for many years to come.
Paper number two was a brilliant talk by Nicolas Godet of Exane BNP Paribas. Mr Godet examined short- and long-term strategies of international gypsum companies. Mr Godet began by speaking about short-term market evolution, and then discussed the effect of new building regulations on the gypsum industry, as well as highlighting examples where gypsum companies integrate with insulation firms. Mr Godet commented that this strategy was an excellent way for gypsum companies to increase their market penetration.
The next item on the agenda was a ‘meet the delegates’ session, which was swiftly followed by a coffee and networking break. ‘Meet the delegates’ allows each delegate to introduce themselves, their company and state who they would most like to meet during the conference. A total of four ‘meet the delegates’ took place over the two days and these proved to be very popular.
The third presentation will undoubtedly go down as one of the more dramatic and talked-about in the history of the Global Gypsum Conference. Mrs Isabel Knauf, granddaughter of the original founder of the Knauf group of companies, gave a ‘high-impact’ presentation which she began by stating: “I might not tell you everything I know, but I’m not going to lie. This is not bullshit, so listen carefully.” You could have heard a pin drop. In her presentation she reviewed the market and capacity of gypsum board in the Middle East, stating that in the near-to-medium term the region will have an overcapacity of wallboard. She went on to say that those in the audience that might be thinking of investing in yet more capacity in the region should ‘do their homework’ or be at risk of losing a lot of money. She also pointed out that Knauf is already present in many of the markets in the Middle East, and that it has both experience enough to produce high-quality product and resources enough to remain a player in tough markets. The inferences were plain for all to see.
Session 2: Processing and handling solutions for gypsum
No conference is complete without a session dedicated to the nitty gritty of gypsum production. In this respect the industry was well represented with speakers from Gebr. Pfeiffer, Schenck Process, Claudius Peters and Aumund showcasing their conveying and processing technology.
Dr Carl York Reichardt from Gebr. Pfeiffer spoke about the German company’s range of MPS vertical roller mills and the GK kettle calciner, highlighting positive operating results from case studies around the world.
Schenck Process UK was represented by Kevin Storey who explained the difference between gravimetric and volumetric feeding. Mr Storey argued that gravimetric feeding is the best solution for wallboard manufacturers as it provides better consistency and higher quality material, ultimately meaning better return on investment despite higher initial capital outlay.
Claus-Jürgen Wetzlar of Claudius Peters discussed the benefits of Fluidcon – a pneumatic conveying methodology for gypsum transport. According to Mr Wetzlar, Fluidcon offers energy savings, reduced de-dusting equipment and costs, in addition to improved wear behaviour over conventional pneumatic pipe systems.
Last to speak in this session was Bruce Field of Aumund. Mr Field spoke about Aumund’s range of handling equipment for gypsum, including the Samson Surface Feeder (ideal for transporting sticky gypsum), as well as its belt-bucket elevators, chain conveyors and stacking/reclaiming systems, all of which are available via the various subsidiaries of the Aumund family of companies.
Over 200 people attended the Gala Dinner, an enjoyable event held at the impressive Al Hadheerah Desert Restaurant. Delegates were treated to a lavish meal consisting of traditional Middle Eastern fair and a sumptuous all-you-can-eat barbeque! The entertainment was provided by a highly talented (and popular) belly dancer, a whirling dervish, singers and a light and sound show featuring camel and horse riders on the surrounding dunes. Delegates could also sample the delights of shisha pipes, ride a camel, as well as having a go at handling a live falcon!
As well as food, drink and festivities, the award for Best Exhibition Stand 2008 was awarded to Erisim Makina of Turkey. A highlight of the evening was the announcement of the venue for the 9th Global Gypsum Conference in 2009…Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio was the overwhelming winner out of all the votes cast in the run up to the Dubai conference, and should be a perfect venue for 2009.
Day two, Tuesday 13 May
Session 3: Other gypsum issues – water reduction, mineralogy, new deposits
Day two was kicked-off with an excellent and highly interesting presentation by Charlie Blow of CasoFour Ltd. Mr Blow spoke about water demand during plasterboard production, including what is meant by water demand, how it is measured, the factors that affect it, the economic consequences of water demand and what can be done to reduce it. Put simply, the water that is added to gypsum plaster in order for it flow freely must be removed, a process that adds to the cost of plasterboard. Mr Blow assessed all of these issues in a clear and concise way, and his presentation was extremely well received.
Sampling the atmosphere
Due to last minute (and unavoidable) changes to the programme the delegates were treated to an extra long coffee break. Going around the auditorium and the exhibition area it was clear that these networking sessions were very valuable indeed, with lots of interesting discussions, and sometimes deals, taking place.
Session 4: Environmental best practice in the gypsum industry
Another veteran of Global Gypsum Conference, Henrik Lund Nielsen, then delivered a barnstorming presentation on the subject of gypsum recycling. Mr Nielsen’s company, Gypsum Recycling International, is one of the leading companies involved in this endeavour, supplying recycled material to the world’s largest plasterboard companies. The issue of recycling is becoming increasingly important as landfill and waste regulations, particularly in North America and Europe, become ever more stringent. As Mr Nielsen said in a typically forthright way, plasterboard recycling is no longer ‘nice to have;’ but has become a necessity!
The 13th paper was given Dr Geoffrey Oldroyd who spoke about the importance of best practice in the mining of natural gypsum. There are many aspects to achieving best practice in this field, including optimisation of mineral resource management, skills and culture, health and safety and risk management. Proper planning in all these areas are vital in order to operate a safe, lucrative and efficient mining operation, which benefits all the major and minor stakeholders involved.
Session 5: Improving the product: Adding value
The first paper on the final session of presentations was given by Per Nissen of Danish firm Seelen. Seelen showcased its VIDIS (Visual Diagnostics System). The VIDIS is a automated, camera-based surveillance system that operates on a 24/7 basis. The VIDIS allows plant managers to identify the causes of downtime, either resulting from mechanical wear and tear or from critical process errors. A series of cameras positioned along a production line record its operation on a continual basis, allowing for any errors or malfunctions to be identified remotely. The users of the VIDIS in the insulation industry have already benefited in terms of cost savings, and Seelen hopes to replicate this success in the gypsum industry.
Paper 15 was delivered with some style by Donald J Love of Dow Biocides, part of the Dow Chemical Company. Mr Love’s presentation introduced the concepts of mould, fungicides and mould-resistance testing methods, issues that are certainly relevant to gypsum and plasterboard. Mr Love explained the concept of mould at a fundamental biological level, before discussing the negative aesthetic and health effects of mould, mould resistance in the form of fungicides and their mode of action (typically single- and multi-site fungicides), and the common testing methods used in industry to determine the efficacy of fungicides. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, but taken together they can provide a useful and detailed picture of the ability of a fungicide to act on mould. As Mr Love made clear, wallboard manufacturers must consider a ‘three tier’ approach to treating mould: a) know your fungus; b) know which fungicide you can or should use; and c) understand the value of the different test methods available.
Geoff Wyatt was the next to take the stage, and he proceeded to give a clear and interesting presentation on the subject of GulfWall. Gulfwall is a pre-cast, pre-finished hollow construction panel made from gypsum and glass additives. It can be used for load-bearing walls, ceiling systems, partitions and flooring. Mr Wyatt said that GulfWall has excellent acoustic, structural and fire performance properties, and has the advantage of a relatively low level of embodied energy and is fully recyclable. GulfWall is a popular construction material in hot countries: it has been used successfully in Australia and is gaining in popularity in the Middle East.
The penultimate presentation was delivered with typical Gallic charm by Sylvain Vieujot of Platre.com. Mr Vieujot’s talk was definitely a little different to the ones that came before it: the theme was the restoration of ancient European and Middle East archaeological sites using gypsum mortars designed to replicate those mortars used in the original construction. Mr Vieujot’s team used a combination of electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction techniques to examine the chemical composition of ancient gypsum mortars, and was then able to recreate them synthetically in the laboratory. These reconstituted mortars have been used to restore several historical sites to beautiful effect.
The honour of giving the final presentation of a packed schedule fell to Fadi Moussa of GE Environmental Services. Mr Moussa described the range of pleated filter elements supplied by GE that have been designed to increase productivity and lower outlet dust emissions during wallboard production. These pleated filter elements are endowed with increased filter strength, can be retrofitted, and in terms of operation go well beyond the normal operational lifetimes of conventional filters.
Left: A minaret in the world's third largest mosque, in Abu Dhabi. This was one of the locations on the itinerary of the post-conference tour of the UAE.
The farewell party took place at the magnificent Burj Al-Arab, the sail-shaped mega-hotel that has fast become the icon of modern Dubai. The farewell party took place on the 27th floor of the hotel, which afforded stunning views of the city and the sea. Delegates were able to mix, mingle and relax before the winners of the Global Gypsum Awards 2008 were announced.
The winner of Best Presentation Award went to Donald Love of Dow Biocides for his extremely interesting and useful paper on the science of mould and fungicides. This is a topic that is becoming more and more relevant to the wallboard industry. In second place in the same category was Charlie Blow for his paper on water demand, followed by Henrik Lund Nielsen on the subject of gypsum recycling in third place.
Winner of the Best Gypsum Company of the Year went to Saint-Gobain Gypsum, and the award was collected by Mark Vince Fenson on behalf of Saint-Gobain. In the category of Best Wallboard Plant of the Year, the award went to PABCO Gypsum Las Vegas, with Emil Kopilovich picking up the award. The title of Best Supplier of the Year was bestowed upon Grenzebach, which had namesake Stefan Grenzebach present to collect the award to hearty cheers from his colleagues! The Product of the Year was collected by Meredith Ware on behalf of Serious Materials for its innovative and eco-friendly QuietRock product.
Last but not least, the proud and humble winner of Global Gypsum Personality of the Year went to the well-deserving Alfred Brosig of Grenzebach. Mr Brosig has a long and distinguished association with the gypsum industry, and his knowledge and experience are highly regarded. He is seen left receiving his award from Robert McCaffrey, conference co-convenor, at the Knauf-sponsored Farewell Party at the Burj al Arab.
And with that the conference officially ended. Dubai 2008 was an undeniable success story, with the delegates’ choice of this city well justified. It had its moments of drama and tension to be sure, but these only added to the exciting and inspirational nature of the event. Dubai now takes its place among a venerable list of host cities, which include Bangkok, San Francisco, Miami, Prague, Barcelona, Cancun and Shanghai.
The next city to take up the Global Gypsum Conference flame is Rio de Janeiro in May 2009. We hope (and expect) to see all of this year’s delegates present in Rio, in addition to a new generation of conference first-timers from South America and beyond.
As they say in Brazil, 'Adeus e boa saúde…veja-o em Rio!'