15th Global Gypsum Conference, Exhibition and Awards
26 - 27 October 2015, New Orleans, USA
Review by conference convenor Robert McCaffrey
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The 15th Global Gypsum Conference has successfully taken place in New Orleans, the characterful city on the Mississippi Delta in the Deep South of the USA, with around 315 delegates from 34 countries, 41 exhibitors and 18 presentations over two days. The 16th Global Gypsum Conference will take place in October 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand.
The 15th Global Gypsum Conference took place almost exactly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina partially destroyed the city, and delegates were reminded of the event by the torrential rains and buffeting winds of the remains of Hurricane Patricia that swept over the city as many of them arrived. A well-attended welcome party took place in the Global Gypsum exhibition area, which featured 41 different companies offering a wide variety of gypsum-related equipment, additives and services from around the world: Chinese companies were notably present in the exhibition area, offering single pieces of equipment and even full board lines.
The next day, Peter Edwards, editor of Global Gypsum Magazine, started the conference with an overview of global gypsum production. He pointed out that China is the world's largest gypsum producer, followed by the US, Iran, Thailand and Iraq. Saint-Gobain in the world's largest wallboard producer, followed by Knauf, BNBM, USG, National Gypsum and Boral. South America and MENA have grown fast over the last ten years, as has Russia, while the US has mothballed wallboard plants during the Great Recession. In terms of wallboard production, the US is the largest producer, followed by China, Japan, Russia, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, South Korea and Turkey. Using an analysis of production capacity per inhabitant, Peter suggested that the middle-sized and large population countries like Indonesia and India have massive potential for wallboard market growth.
Bob Bruce of The NuGyp Corp. next spoke about the relationship between the global gypsum industry and climate change. Bob quoted the UN in stating that humankind emits around 34bnt of CO2 per year, but a total of 49bnt of CO2 equivalents, and is currently on course to cause global warming of 3.5°C by 2100. The only way to avoid this, said Bob, is to stabilise the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at 450ppm by 2030, compared to the current level of around 400ppm. Bob suggested that the global average of CO2 production by wallboard is around 2.4kg/m2, equating to 24Mt of CO2 for the global wallboard industry, and around 15Mt for the global plaster industry, with the total of 39Mt of CO2, equating to 0.25% of global CO2 emissions. Bob suggested many ways in which the wallboard industry can reduce its specific CO2 emissions, including reduction of slurry water, local delivery, co-generation, increasing drying efficiency and many others. The largest opportunity is to reduce the amount of slurry water that needs to be evaporated: reduction of the drying energy of wallboard by 30% represents a saving of 293g of CO2/m2 (and saves money too). Bob also suggested that gypsum should be formulated to enable it to replace more CO2-intensive materials, such as cement (for example in floors), and that it can benefit by being used in systems that can incorporate more insulation to promote more energy-efficient buildings.
Robert McCaffrey conducted an audience-generated SWOT analysis of the global wallboard industry, which essentially concluded that population growth, GDP growth and urbanisation offered huge opportunities for the current and future gypsum industry.
Robert Morrow of Innogyps next asked delegates 'who is the real customer'? In retail, the customer is the person on the other side of the cash register. However, there are often 'influencers' that are involved in the buying decision. A traditional product flow would go from supplier, manufacturer, distributor, contractor/installer to the owner. However, Rob pointed out that the contractor/installer often originates the purchase, complicating the flow of decisions. The identity of the owner is also a crucial factor, since the 'retail' owner will make different decisions from a corporate owner. In fact, buying groups or a central procurement division for developers may add in another layer of influencers. Other main influencers will include standards bodies, system developers, architects, designers, specifiers, developers and tenants. Robert shows a chart of the cross-linkages, which clearly demonstrated that 'it's complicated.' The purchase cost of board can be simple or complicated, from being a straight price, to being a price minus a plethora of discounts. The quantification of quality is an ongoing challenge, but customers know bad quality and bad service when they see it or experience it. On-spec material where and when a customer wants it is obviously good service. Producers also compete with each other on the range of products that they produce, although some just produce a small range of products - hopefully very well. Producers also compete by producing specialised products, with high performance, which also allows the opportunity for differentiation. Relationships can be important for some customers, but for others the relationship with a supplier is simply not a factor in the final calculation as to whom to buy from. Robert said that producers can create a 'pull' for their product by marketing to the final customers (such as specifiers, architects and designers) as well as offering a 'push' approach by making sure that their products are available via a variety of distribution channels.
Nikzad Oraee of Khorasan Gypsum introduced his company and his country. Iran is the 29th largest economy in the world, with a population of 79m. The economy has been badly hit by international sanctions over its nuclear ambitions, but new developments mean that economic prospects are looking up. Khorasan Gypsum was established in 1954 and is the largest gypsum producer in the Middle East, producing general purpose white plaster as well as gypsum blocks. The plant's main markets are in the east of Iran and to Afghanistan: brand recognition and equity are both high. There is almost no synthetic gypsum plaster production in Iran, with practically all gypsum used being quarried. The vast majority of plaster is used for plastering walls, and there is currently no significant market for wallboard, although there is a market for gypsum-based ceiling tiles. Nikzad said that through a combination of factors, the country suffered from high inflation, high interest rates, low demand and high levels of supply of gypsum products, leading to fierce competition and price wars. The country is now preparing for a post-sanctions period of economic development. Stagnation during the sanctions era which coincided with the global recession, may have led to a large degree of pent-up demand. Nikzad suggested that demand for wallboard may be about to take off.
Geoff Wilson of Owens Corning next spoke about how glass can add performance to gypsum boards. Geoff suggested that there is generally a 15 year time gap between the invention or introduction of a glass-based fibre product before it gains very widespread use in the industry. Non-wovens are made of a wet-use chopped glass fibre strand slurry which is formed into a mat, dried and cured in an oven and then rolled and cut to specific widths. Glass fibres added to the core improve board cohesion during fire exposure and dehydration of gypsum to anhydrite and can help wallboards meet fire standards. Glass-faced gypsum boards have improved weather and abuse resistance, better dimensional stability and a better resistance to mould compared to paper-faced boards. He suggested that the use of glass facers can add flexural strength to wallboard, which can in turn allow modification and optimisation of gypsum slurry parameters.
Gerry Brown of Elkem next spoke about the use of microsilica in fire-resistant gypsum board. Microsilica, silica fume and fumed silica are synonyms of amorphous SiO2 spheres of diameter 0.15nm, formed as a by-product of EAF steel production. During exposure to fire, gypsum will dehydrate to anhydrite, undergoing a volume reduction. Glass fibres, vermiculite and clays can all be used to improve fire resistance, as can silica fume microspheres. Although the addition of microsilica in experiments did not reduce cracking of gypsum at high temperatures, it did increase the time taken for a board to fail under high temperatures. Addition of microsilica in greater dosages also reduced the degree of shrinkage at progressively higher levels. There are 700 trillion gypsum crystals per 1m2 of 12.7mm wallboard (calculated by Mark Flumiani of Innogyps), and the addition of 5% by weight of microsilica adds around 100 microspheres of silica to each gypsum crystal, to total around 70 quadrillion microspheres per 1m2 of board. The presence of the microsilica seems to modify crystal changes at high temperature, reducing the rate of a solid-state reordering of needle-like anhydrite crystals into lower-friction more globular forms, allowing the gypsum to retain its strength for longer. "Additive costs and required dosages allow microsilica to outperform other fire performance additives," Gerry concluded.
Ronny Velicogna of Archer Daniels Midland next spoke about the use of starch in gypsum wallboard. Starch started out in the 1920s being used to help to form and to protect the paper-stucco bond. With starch, gypsum crystals are protected from drying out and breaking when exposed to heat in the dryer: starch also seems to act as an adhesive to stick the core to the paper. Starch migrates with the water from the board core towards the surfaces, so that it is concentrated at the surfaces by the end of the board dryer. Acid can be used to chop up starch molecules to make it easier for them to migrate through the matrix of gypsum crystals in the board. Latterly, starch has increasingly been used to improve board strength, through the modification of fracture mechanics. Mark Flumiani of Innogyps has effectively used the analogy of a swimming pool full of nails to picture the microscopic arrangement of interlocking gypsum crystals on the macro scale.
Ben Shafer of Pabco Gypsum next spoke on the use of sound-damping wallboard to modernise speech privacy in commercial buildings. Speech Privacy Class (SPC) is equal to the background noise plus the sound transmission loss through a wall or wall system. An SPC of 75 would equate to being able to hear a couple of words occasionally from the other side of a wall, with higher numbers indicating a higher reduction in sound transmission. The addition of extra layers of wallboard will increase the SPC of a wall or system, but it may not increase it past the SPC level of 75 that might be considered as acceptable. A constrained layer damping (CLD) panel system consists of a layer of a rubbery substance sandwiched between two wallboard panels (or, as Ben described it, in the middle of a single wallboard panel that had been carefully sliced in half). The rubbery layer shears and absorbs energy when sound impinges upon it and so does not transmit sound to the next layer of board. The CLD board is especially effective at damping higher frequency sounds.
The last presentation of the day was a multi-authored paper, presented by Felix Weiher of Jungbunzlauer, a leading manufacturer of organic acids. Felix suggested that glauconates and glucono-delta-lactone can be used as effective set retarders for gypsum spray plaster, and suggested that they can be used as partial or total replacements for tartaric-acid-based set retarders.
Global Gypsum Awards Gala Dinner
At the end of the first full day of the conference, delegates visited 'Mardi Gras World,' in New Orleans, firstly to enjoy drinks at a realistic southern plantation mansion, and later on dining on authentic southern classics like gumbo and jambalaya, among the gaudy and outsize floats of the city's famous parades, serenaded by a funky jazz band. During the evening, the 10th Global Gypsum Awards were presented. Winner of the Global Gypsum 'company of the year' was Mexico's Panel Rey; 'supplier of the year' was Gyptech; 'product of the year' was Knauf's Diamant group of high performance board products; winner of the 'outstanding contribution to the global gypsum industry' was the US Gypsum Association; 'plant of the year' was National Gypsum's Charlotte plant in North Carolina; while the 'Global Gypsum personality of the year' was Bill White of USG.
The first presentation on the second day of the conference was given by Tim Allsup of Fuchs Lubritech, on behalf of the author, Stefan Winkler. Tim reminded delegates that a good chain lubricant needs to have good penetrability, a low tendency to build up solid residues, a low evaporation loss, adhesiveness, environmental compatibility and of course good lubrication properties. The optimal point of application is as the chain leaves the driving sprocket, so that the lubricant has time to work its way into the slack chain before it arrives at the driven sprocket, for example in a chain-driven wallboard dryer. There are a variety of means of applying the lubricant to the chain, and the most appropriate must be selected for maximum efficiency of lubricant application. A variety of sophisticated tests can be used to determine the applicability of different lubricants for use in the wallboard industry.
Mark Kampe of CEC Combustion Safety pointed out that the wallboard industry - particularly in North America - is being challenged to operate its combustion systems safely, due to ageing equipment, through personnel challenges (notably the retirement of older experienced workers) and through company capital expenditure policies (or lack of them). Firstly, said Mark, to improve combustion safety, there must be 'corporate buy-in' to the programme: everything else stems from this first step. Combustion in the wallboard industry takes place in calciners, kettles, boilers and dryers: Mark listed just some of the faults that may contribute to less than perfect combustor safety, including faulty switches, leaky regulators and pilot flames, corrosion, defective interlocks and many others. His company's approach is to audit the faults, and then to triage them into critical, mandatory and advisory actions. Each category of fault is progressively addressed, not only to improve combustion safety, but at the same time to improve combustion efficiency. However, tuning burners for emissions compliance can lead to less than perfect burner efficiency - at some point it may be necessary to invest in a new high performance burner.
Brian Keiger, chief sales officer of Grenzebach Intralogistics, next spoke on a topic new to the Global Gypsum Conference, that of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in warehouse and manufacturing. Navigation of the AGVs can be achieved using lasers, magnetic tape, inductive wires, inertial systems, radar-like systems, and a combination of systems. AGVs can best be used in the wallboard industry for transportation of paper rolls, for the distribution of additives, the distribution of dunnage and pallets and of course for the warehousing of the final product. AGVs can improve warehousing efficiency by reducing labour costs, increasing flexibility, improving safety, increasing productivity and by increasing accuracy and precision.
Next up was Jeff Warren of Gyptech, speaking about moisture analysis of plaster in gypsum board manufacture. Jeff pointed out that water is present in plaster in a variety of forms: as free water and as combined water in the variety of crystal forms in the stucco. "If you think that something is simple, you simply haven't understood the situation," said Jeff, alluding to plaster composition, but then quoted Albert Einstein, saying "Keep it as simple as possible, but not simpler." Fully automated laboratory instruments are widely available that combine an analytical balance with a heat source, that will heat a sample from low to high temperatures, progressively driving off free water and then combined water. Jeff suggested that the set-up of the instrument and its programming may critically affect the results of these instruments. Gaining correct data is crucial, since the composition of the gypsum coming into the process will radically affect the production parameters - and understanding the variability (and controlling it) will allow the optimisation of the process. Jeff listed the myriad factors that can jeopardise the 'truth' in trying to determine the composition of a sample. The Gyptech Stucco Analyser has been developed to minimise these factors, to try to maximize the usefulness of the numbers that come out of the instrument.
Eckhard Sander of Gebr. Pfeiffer, a 100% family-owned group of companies, next spoke about calcining of gypsum with Pfeiffer equipment. Eckhard said that the MPS mill can be operated at 90°C when it will just dry and grind the material, whereas if operated at 120 - 140°C there will be partial dehydration of the gypsum in the mill and when operated at above 160°C there will be full calcination of the material as well as grinding. The mill is capable of grinding natural gypsum, FGD gypsum and also blends of gypsum including recycled gypsum (although he suggested that the presence of glass fibres in the recycled fraction would lead to higher wear rates in the classifier). The adjustable speed of the main mill drive by a frequency converter means that the mill can be operated at turndowns of up to 50%. Eckhard concluded by saying that the mill produces beta-hemihydrate plaster with constant setting time which is critical for reliable operation of a gypsum wallboard line.
In the final trio of papers, Volker Goecke of Claudius Peters was first to present, on a new automatic grinding pressure adjustment approach for gypsum grinding. The CP EM mill uses large grinding balls that roll in a circular ring, with the ring rotating faster than the balls, causing the balls to rotate. In addition to the weight of the balls, there is a frame on top of the balls, the downward pressure of which may be adjusted with mechanical or hydraulic means: this can be important if a foreign body somehow makes its way into the grinding bed. Volker gave details of a new pulsation-damped hydro-pneumatic tensioning system incorporating an accumulator. The hydraulic system pushes down on the springs that then push down on the top frame. Pressure on the frame can be reduced so that the start-up torque is also reduced and the grinding bed can be stabilised before full load is applied, reducing start-up vibrations. Additionally, with an appropriate feedback loop, the system allows automatic adjustment of the grinding pressure.
The penultimate presentation was given by Anshuman Pandey of Opra Turbines, speaking on the topic of co-generation of heat and power at gypsum factories. Anshuman pointed out that buying electrical energy and generating your own heat leads to a power efficiency of only around 50%, whereas operating a combined heat and power (CHP) system, by burning gas in a gas turbine, to generate your own heat and electrical power, leads to an efficiency of up to 85%. He stated that wallboard requires around 1.8kWh/m2 in thermal energy to produce, but only around 0.6kWh/m2 of electrical energy, which is a suitable ratio for CHP from a gas turbine. An Opra OP16 gas turbine has already been implemented at a 28Mm2/year wallboard factory in the Netherlands, delivering the factory's full power demand and supplying 5.8MW of thermal energy to the plant's dryers. Low gas prices and high electricity prices are required for the turbine to be economic on an ongoing basis, while subsidies may make a difference in getting the project off the ground in the first place.
Dimo Anders gave the final presentation at the conference on behalf of Bernd Luebbert of Claudius Peters Projects, on the topic of big bag filling and on palletising systems in the gypsum industry. The Pacpal big bag filling system can fill bags from 500-2000kg, each with 2 - 4 loops, using all types of industrial pallets, with a capacity up to 30 bags per hour. After the slings are manually hooked on by workers operating on a raised gantry, a small fan then inflates the bag and a feeding flow control gate (or feeding screw conveyor) is then used to control the rate of filling of material into the bag: a fork-lift can then be used to remove the pallet and the big bag. The company also offers high-capacity palletising equipment for gypsum and other powdered materials in 'normal' bags, with capacities up to 5000 bags/hour.
The conference concluded with two well-attended discussion groups; one on board performance optimisation through the use of additives; and one on trends and markets.
Farewell and prize-giving
After the end of the conference programme, delegates walked down famous Canal Street and into the historic French Quarter, to experience the delights of Bourbon Street from the balcony of a well-situated bar, at the event's farewell party, sponsored by Hamburger Containerboard. The winners of the best presentation awards were announced, with Jeff Warren of Gyptech coming third with his paper on gypsum moisture analysis; Nikzad Oraee of Khorasan Gypsum was second with his paper on gypsum in Iran; while Brian Keiger of Grenzebach won the best presentation prize for his paper on automated guided vehicles. Grenzebach also won the prize for 'best exhibition stand.'
It was announced at the conference that the next Global Gypsum Conference will take place in Bangkok, in October 2016, seemingly a very popular location - giving delegates the opportunity to do business in the 'gypsum heart' of Asia. Large delegations are expected to attend from Japan, South Korea and China, among others. We look forward to meeting old friends and to making new contacts in the gypsum industry in 2016 in Bangkok: see you there!