Case Studies

GCC of America

State-of-the-art processes perfecting the cement production supply chain

For more than 70 years, Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua (GCC), an international cement manufacturer, has been perfecting a process that’s been around since 5,000 B.C. The Romans were among the first to use concrete in the construction of the Coliseum and other iconic structures that still stand today in first and second centuries A.D.

The concrete used by the Romans and other early civilizations utilized the same hydraulic binder that’s found in concrete today, but the technology was lost after the fall of the Roman Empire and was not rediscovered until the mid-1700s. In 1824, Joseph Aspdin was the first to patent Portland cement and the cement-making process by finely grinding limestone mixed with clay or shale and water to form a versatile, high-strength concrete compound.

Mixing Aspdin’s Portland cement with rock, sand and water produces concrete. When water is added to the mix a chemical reaction known as hydration occurs and the result is the binder, or glue, that holds concrete together.

Concrete remains one of the most versatile building materials on the planet; it can be stained, stamped, colored or formed into any shape or design, limited only by the imagination for a wide variety of construction applications. While the basic formula for cement making hasn’t changed since Aspdin’s invention, the process has revolutionized, becoming more efficient and environmentally friendly; GCC is one of the companies at the forefront of the centuries-old industry.

Rapid U.S. expansion

The world-class company produces, distributes and markets cement, ready-mixed concrete, aggregates and innovative products related to construction industries throughout the U.S. and Mexico. “Our company originated in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1941 and we have be committed to innovation in producing cement and concrete for our customers ever since,” outlines Steve Ambrose, vice president of sales, marketing and logistics for GCC’s U.S. operations.

GCC launched its U.S. division in 1994 with the purchase of a 500,000-ton cement manufacturing facility in Tijeras, N.M., followed by a distribution terminal in Albuquerque and another in El Paso the same year. GCC continued to expand its cement manufacturing capacity in 2001 with the acquisition of Dacotah Cement in Rapid City, S.D.

In 2008, GCC launched a state-of-the-art plant in Pueblo, Colo., that’s modernizing cement production like never before in the industry. With the integration of the Pueblo facility, GCC now reaches more than 5 million tons of cement production annually, from a network of three plants in the U.S. and three in Mexico.

A perfect triangle of efficiency

From Denver to Minot, N.D., Amarillo, Texas, to Great Bend, Kans., Glendive, Mont., to Elida, N.M., GCC’s strategic locations allow the company to reach a level of operational efficiency unlike most in the cement manufacturing and distributing business. From producing its own raw materials down to delivering a finished product on-site, with 1,100 employees at work in the U.S. alone, GCC has developed a trifecta of efficiency in manufacturing, logistics and marketing.

“All of our plants back up all of our plants, all of our terminals back up all of our terminals and we can truck everything in between,” explains Ambrose. “GCC brings a triangle of efficiency in our manufacturing process, logistics and delivery and marketing of our product. Due to the basic fact that it does not make economic sense to ship cement much more than 350 miles by rail or 180 miles by truck, the vertical geography of our plants helps support our operations from as far north as the Canadian border and as far south as Mexico.”

Limitless possibilities at Pueblo

Several years ago, GCC had the vision for a state-of-the-art cement plant and pinpointed Pueblo, Colo., as the host site for one of the company’s most significant undertakings thus far. GCC’s engineering team searched the world over for the newest and best technologies in the production of Portland cement. After years of planning, budgeting, permitting and construction, the Pueblo plant with a 1.4 million ton annual capacity was producing cement in 2008.

To produce more than a million tons annually starts with access to the highest-quality raw materials available. “Our limestone reserve is right in our backyard,” reveals Gina Nance, plant manager of the Pueblo site. “The quality of our limestone at Pueblo is some of the highest in the industry and the plant doesn’t generate any waste because of the quality of the raw materials. It puts GCC in the driver’s seat from an environmental standpoint.”

With a sizable limestone quarry of its own, GCC has a competitive advantage in the markets it serves from the Pueblo plant site. “We’re the second newest plant of this kind in the U.S. with the most up-to-date technology in the industry,” adds Nance. “Most plants across the U.S. have been in operation for 30 years or more. Our operation is more fuel and energy efficient; we’re approximately 100 kilo calories below an average 2000s style plant in regards to fuel consumption.”

The entire Pueblo plant is designed for optimum environmental and energy efficiencies, spanning a cross belt analyzer that analyzes the limestone coming from the quarry to a circular storage dome designed to extract limestone with little chemical variations.

“In every step of our process we’re trying to reduce chemical standard deviation resulting in a smooth burning process and consistent cement quality,” explains Nance. “The plant is compact and streamlined with a vertical cement mill that offers operational efficiencies of up to 20 Kwh per ton. We’re able to produce cement more competitively and move it longer distances, which has been a major driving factor for GCC through the economic downturn.”

Nance describes GCC’s vertical cement mill as the plant’s bread and butter. “This is what gives us the most consistent product in the industry and when you look at GCC versus our competitors, this is what sets us apart,” she continues. “We’re one of the most environmentally sound plants out there. Over the years, more and more companies are switching to vertical cement mills, but we’re really pioneering it right now.”

Not only is GCC leading the charge with innovative technology, Nance is also paving the way for female plant managers in the industry.

A customer-first approach

As an innovation-driven company since its inception, GCC has continuously expanded, but even more so in recent years with a clear, strategic vision and commitment to customer-first service.

“We’ve been very focused on the customer since the start,” shares Ambrose. “Instead of just producing cement, GCC works with the customer to make sure demands are met, even if that means specific mix requirements. With a company of this size, some maybe think if we make it, the customer will come, but what really sets us apart is that we really care about and listen to our customers. GCC’s North American president and global CEO meet with customers regularly. We’re customer-driven, because what we manufacture and distribute requires lots of customer input.”

Whether it’s a parking lot paving job, bridges, floors, building foundations, walls, residential flatwork, soil stabilization or various precast concrete products, GCC’s goal is efficient cement production and distribution that offers the least amount of disruption. “We want to increase the overall profitability of our customers,” explains Ambrose. “Our goal is to keep long term customers; if they walk away then we lose a great deal of value.”

Bouncing Back

Despite long-term relationships and operating one of the most efficient plants in the country, GCC has felt the economic pinch like many others in the cement world. “We’ve been in business since 1941 and 2009 was the first time we’ve had to lay anyone off,” reveals Ambrose. “As a result, GCC had to change some of its marketing focus. By entering new markets, supplying oil well cements to support the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and supporting the wind farm industry, GCC was able to weather the rough economic storm.”

Ambrose goes on to explain that the company began hiring back in mid-2013. “We’re getting the Rapid City plant back up to full strength in the next couple of years and looking to a bright future,” he continues. Through innovative process and the latest and greatest technology, GCC of America continues to create value and increase the competitive advantage of both longstanding and new customers.

Published on: July 9, 2014

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