COVID-19: Voices from the Cement Industry - Interview with Tom Schuler, Solidia CEO

As part of our programme of connecting our global members during the COVID-19 outbreak, WCA is hosting video interviews with our members to discuss the situations in their countries and to find out more about the impacts of the pandemic on the cement industry around the world. Here is an interview with Mr Tom Schuler, CEO of Solidia, USA and WCA Associate Corporate Member.

Video Transcript

[How has COVID-19 impacted your company?]

We have an industry that by and large is open, so we are having to work with our customers, either live or remotely to support them so we have more work going on right now that I could have ever imagined. It has not slowed down for us, if anything it has accelerated. 

We have not slowed down the capacity we have in place at all, EP Henry would tell you that they’re effectively sold out and are anxious to start up this new capacity in about two weeks so they can meet that demand, they expect that to be sold out as well, so even in this environment, certainly the performance of the product is driving the day 


[How are you keeping your employees safe?]

We’re doing some equipment installations right now, we’ve had to change completely the way our employees work together and with contractors that are able to work, and then we do have in our office setting, if you can work from home we have people working from home, there’s limited testing going on but everybody follows the right PPE standards, social distancing standards, we make sure we’re doing everything to keep our employees are safe.


[Is the COVID-19 situation going to change how your business operates going forwards?]

I think we’re finding that telecommuting is not a bad thing, I think people are more productive in a lot of cases, in some cases nothing beats pulling people together but that will certainly change. Doing development at the customer as opposed to doing it at our facility makes it more efficient, makes it faster, and makes it so the customer sees results earlier. The other thing that we’re doing is spending a lot of time with preplanning everything so that when we are able to get on site, that everything is laid out, it’s coordinated with the customer, so that initial load of work that really no one has time to do, is critical to making all the work when it does happen go much faster as opposed to iterating. The thing that we’re also realising is that we have to have localised employment. We’re going to need a European team, need a Chinese team to facilitate better customer support. 

What we are hearing anecdotally is a lot of focus on people rethinking the way that they work, the products that they choose, and this idea that you go outside and my wife said this the other day, it just smells different, it smells fresher, the sky is clearer, the stars sparkle, and people are going wow, I like that. You see all these stories in India they can now see the mountains again, and there is no question that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we’re positioned to take advantage of any increased interest in sustainable products, but I think that we rely at this point still on a better product that makes our customers more money, and the fact that it’s green is just going to be the icing on the cake. 

We did some research in December to find out how consumers really think about sustainability, and our belief was that it was going to be well down the list, and what the contractors came back and said was no, it was right up there with performance.


[Solidia has recently developed a new product which can be used for readymix applications. What is the idea behind this?]

What we’ve found is that fly ash and slag are becoming less available and the prices are going up, the quality is going down. If I’m in Texas where I have to use slag for ASR mitigation, I can’t get it and the price is through the roof, so what we found out was that Solidia cement has the chemistry to behave like a slag or a fly ash and sometimes both, and what we’ve found even more interesting is if I take that slag or particular fly ash as well and I carbonate it, is it’s even better performing in terms of slag replacement. So our idea was can I take the CO2 that’s emitted at a cement plant and carbonate the cement in the mill or in some other fashion, so that way you can get double benefit of an SCM you control, that’s engineered, it’s got a predictable price and quality but it sucks up a lot of CO2.