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Summer 2016

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First cement company in SC
Giant was the first cement company in South Carolina and has been making its product in Dorchester County since 1949.

When It Comes To Cement, They’re Giant

Edmo Gutierrez, the plant manager at Giant Cement Co.’s facility near Harleyville, has a succinct way of expressing how the product is made at the Dorchester County facility.

“Making cement is not rocket science,” he said. “It’s rock science.” And what helps from the get-go is having the “right rocks”  near the plant. That’s why it’s no coincidence that three cement companies have located in the Harleyville and Holly Hill areas of South Carolina.

The attraction? It is the natural limestone formations that were deposited in this part of the world millions of years ago. Near the surface and relatively easy to mine, this soft rock forms the bedrock of a large-scale manufacturing process.

“Eighty-five percent of cement is limestone,” Gutierrez said. “We are fortunate to have this resource here.”

Giant Cement began operations in the Lowcountry in 1949 at the site they now occupy, acquiring it from an
aluminum manufacturer.

Santee Cooper serves the plant, one of the state-owned electric and water utility’s 27 large industrial customers in 10 South Carolina counties. It almost goes without saying that reliable, affordable electricity is key to any successful plant such as Giant’s operation, where 130 are on the payroll.

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The pre-heater tower, left, is 360-feet high and is capable of producing up to 3,000 tons of clinker product per day. These gas ducts and cyclones, right, are located at the top of the vertical raw mill.

“More than 40 percent of the variable cost to make cement is fuels and power,” Gutierrez said. “I think what we have is a very fair price and we have a very good and close relationship with Santee Cooper. I consider Santee Cooper not so much as a supplier, but as a partner. The quality of the power supply is really good, reliable, and consistent. We talk with Santee Cooper on a regular basis and if we need to call upon them, we always get an immediate response.”

A large Santee Cooper substation at the site serves Giant and Gutierrez, who has been the plant manager for nearly three years and is a 25-year cement industry veteran, said he is impressed with how Santee Cooper maintains the “sub,” the plant’s electrical lifeline.

“Santee Cooper has been faithful in maintaining the substation, to keep it functioning properly,” he said. “This plant has not stopped one single time because of the main substation here.”

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Computer software applications for cement production is critical for this modern manufacturing facility.

Good relations with industrial customers just don’t happen. Santee Cooper makes a concerted effort to develop those relationships. It starts with Michael Brown, vice president of whole-sale and industrial services. David O’Dell is the director of industrial and municipal services. Reporting to O’Dell are Senior Engineer Chad Hutson and Engineer II James Stewart. It is Stewart who is assigned to Giant Cement Co., providing critical one-on-one interface with key
plant personnel.

But providing power is by no means the only part of the Giant Cement and Santee Cooper story. When Santee Cooper retired its Jefferies and Grainger generating stations nearly four years ago, it presented an environmental challenge facing many other electric utilities that operate coal-fired plants: the proper and safe disposal of coal ash from decades of service.

This story has a happy ending. Since Jefferies and Grainger stations ceased making mega-watts at the end of 2012, the remaining coal ash is being put to good use. Santee Cooper is reclaiming the coal ash from permitted wastewater ponds at those stations. The ash is then screened and transported to cement companies, including Giant. The use of coal ash in concrete improves the strength and durability of materials. This beneficial use of coal ash reduces greenhouse gas emissions, conserves natural resources and decreases land disposal of ash.

Coal ash is also making its way to Giant from Santee Cooper’s Winyah Generating Station near Georgetown. In an arrangement with Santee Cooper, The SEFA Group has been transporting coal ash that has been processed at The SEFA Group Inc.’s facility at Winyah Station. The $40 million plant entered commercial operation in April 2015.

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Meet Edmo Gutierrez, plant manager at Giant Cement in Harleyville. Whether polished and singing Giant's praises or working onsite with crew members throughout the plant, he knows Giant Cement from top to bottom.

The process recycles high-carbon fly ash and is projected to produce about 300,000 tons a year, primarily for the concrete industry. It’s a proprietary technology called STAR, which stands for Staged Turbulent Air Reactor. Coal ash from Cross Generating Station is also being transported to Winyah for use at the STAR facility.

Giant’s coal ash sourcing from Santee Cooper is not insignificant. Right now, approximately 130,000 tons of coal ash from Grainger and Jefferies stations are going to Giant Cement in Harleyville annually.

Santee Cooper’s decision on coal ash not only helps Giant Cement in their business model, it ameliorates environmental concern. Environmental groups have praised Santee Cooper for putting their coal ash to good use.

What is now termed the “Great Recession” hit the cement industry particularly hard. But with the Lowcountry gaining population and, for example, the big announcement of Volvo locating a car plant in the neighborhood, the demand for cement is on the upswing in this part of the world.

Only about 10 percent of the cement used in the U.S. is imported. The world’s top cement-producing nations are China, India, the United States, Iran and Turkey. China is starting up about 20 new cement plants each year. In this country, there are just over 100 cement plants in 36 states, with U.S. annual production now at 83.3 million tons. Worldwide production in 2014 was 4,180 million tons, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Clockwise from left: Testing is being conducted in the robo lab as Quality Control Manager Margaret Myers and Quality Expeditor Benjamin Snell go about their precise work. To assure the highest quality cement, the plant has a state-of-the-art robo lab where up to 10,000 tests on sample materials are performed monthly. This concrete tube is used to test the cement strength at different ages (1, 3, 7 and 28 days).

“Last year,” Gutierrez said, “we made 850,000 tons and this year, we project we will make 900,000 tons. It is up 35 percent in the first quarter of this year as compared to last year. In 2017, we are projecting 1.1 million tons and that is the capacity of the plant.”

To produce 1 million tons of cement, Gutierrez notes that 10 million tons of material must be processed. That’s a lot of material and besides worker safety, being good stewards of the environment is also of paramount importance. About 99 percent of the dust that is created as a result of Giant’s manufacturing process is collected, and approximately 30 percent of the cost of a typical cement plant, between $450 and $500 million, goes into environmental protection equipment.

Gutierrez is confident that his workforce is up to the task of maxing out production. If the market conditions for cement continue on the projected trajectory, expanding the Harleyville plant is something that is definitely on the horizon. There are proven limestone reserves for at least the next 50 years, and no reason to doubt that three shifts per day will continue to hum along on schedule.

“We benchmark our cement,” is how Gutierrez describes comparing Giant’s product to competitors. “Our cement is tops.”

With proven performance approaching 70 years of operation, a solid record of being a good corporate citizen and increasing demand for their high-quality product, Giant’s future in Dorchester County is very bright.

“This plant is going to grow,” Gutierrez said.

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Clockwise from top left. The vertical raw with a capacity of 270 tons per hour grinds raw material and sends it to the blending silos. The horizontal cement mill features a 6,000 h.p. motor with a capability of producing 120 tons per hour. These small hard rocks are known as clinker which can be ground to a fine powder and used as a binder in many cement products. Maintenance Manager Mike Phifer (left) and Production Manager Josh Fredlake make a visual inspection.