Next year South Africa’s Concrete Manufacturers Association (CMA) celebrates its 40th anniversary. TABJ got in touch with CMA director Hamish Laing to speak about the trade association’s role in promoting its industry and find out how it has taken on the challenges it has been forced to confront during the current global financial turmoil.
How did the CMA come into existence and what is its role?
The association was set up 39 years ago when the whole concept of making masonry bricks and blocks out of concrete first came to South Africa.
It was founded by manufacturers to develop the standards and the technical detailing for concrete products, and is today responsible for setting industry guidelines.
We are made up of six divisions, which run their own affairs, but if they decide to carry out research and development project then we would assist them in commissioning consultants.
It used to be a called the Concrete Masonry Association, but it has evolved over the years to include concrete pipes, roof tiles, floor slabs, paving and concrete retaining wall blocks.
What are the benefits of being a CMA member?
We are seen as an authority and we do revisions of standards on a regular basis, which are approved by an independent entity. Therefore, one of the key advantages of being a member of the association is that you can join your local division technical sub-committee and play some role in influencing the standards.
We also do a lot of marketing on behalf of our members and promote our members as trusted technical leaders. Someone looking for a concrete-related product is able to go onto our website to find their nearest member and buy from them.
Do you support the cement sector through educational initiatives?
We work to encourage younger engineers and students to come and find out more about concrete and often hold seminars that offer background information and updates on technical developments.
We also spend time with education establishments so that we can catch young engineers as early as possible in their careers and we produce technical publications to assist suppliers and influencers to specify and use our products properly.
Are you working with any national associations from neighbouring countries?
Unfortunately not, but we do have some members from neighbouring countries who wanted to be associated with us because there is no national association in Zimbabwean, Botswana or Mozambique for example.
Some of these companies like to be able to come to our meetings and stay abreast with the technological changes and trends taking place within the industry.
How did last decade’s property development boom affect the industry in South Africa?
While I wasn’t with the association at the time, I was with a commercial company and saw how prices accelerated beyond inflation.
That was the old supply and demand scenario, which has led to raw materials — especially the selling price of concrete products — to accelerate beyond inflation.
I do, however, predict a period of growth in the retrofitting construction sector, which would benefit the cement industry, because a lot of cement goes into these types of projects.
How did the global downturn affect the industry and the CMA’s standing?
The first bubble to burst was the residential bubble and that bubble burst very quickly for those involved in residential construction, which includes a lot of masonry and roof tiles firms.
Many of our members were, however, involved in infrastructure projects for last year’s World Cup, and some parts of the industry that were not solely focused on the residential side of things enjoyed a honeymoon period, and following the meltdown continued to grow.
South Africa remains quite strong when it comes to the concrete sector and, despite some of our members complaining, if you actually look at the production averages we had some huge years that were abnormal; if you take them out of the equation then we are actually not doing too badly.
A few of our members invested in extra production capacity during the good times and now they’re looking a little bit silly with their huge machines, but without receiving the orders required to ensure they are being used.
But we have only lost one member in the last two years and we gained one from Zimbabwe, so there was very little attrition, which was quite surprising.
Surely concrete manufacturers are benefitting from the resource boom currently taking place across Southern Africa?
My personal feeling is that South Africa is badly positioned to make use of the boom further north; because of the logistics it’s a tough market to crack.
But even though we’ve had a downturn, cement sales figures have stopped dropping and have equalised with a slight increase in the past three months. Before that they had been consistently dropping for three years.
We’re probably looking more at of an L-shaped rise rather than a V-shaped rise, so it’s going to be a slow increase.
Is the industry attempting to improve its environmental impact and lower the notoriously high amount of CO2 it produces?
Some of our members are constantly looking at reducing their carbon dioxide emissions and with our partners at the Cement and Concrete Institute we are pushing sustainability initiatives.
Cement is the second most used product in the world, second only to water, so it produces a lot of carbon dioxide; but if you dilute it with aggregate it can actually be relatively green.
We are encouraging our members to use as much recycled concrete as possible, and one of our members in Cape Town uses up to 80 per cent of recycled material in his process.
In the old days we’d knock down a building and dump it, but these days it is processed through mobile crushers and often sent to people like this member who will use the material in block making, or for road material, so it’s not being wasted.