Sri Lanka’s changing landscape and the towering skyscrapers slowly punctuating Colombo’s cityscape probably generates a curiosity about the bludgeoning construction industry and by default, associated segments like the cement industry. Cement by its very nature, is ubiquitous and whether you are constructing a house or you have a passing curiosity about Sri Lanka’s infrastructure development, [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Understanding Sri Lanka’s cement industry from a customer’s perspective


Sri Lanka’s changing landscape and the towering skyscrapers slowly punctuating Colombo’s cityscape probably generates a curiosity about the bludgeoning construction industry and by default, associated segments like the cement industry. Cement by its very nature, is ubiquitous and whether you are constructing a house or you have a passing curiosity about Sri Lanka’s infrastructure development, equipping yourself with a basic knowledge is useful as beyond a rudimentary understanding, very little is known of cement’s technical nuances most of the time.

For instance, although the terms cement and concrete are frequently used interchangeably, they aren’t the same. Cement is a vital raw material used when making concrete and plays an important role, not only as a binding ingredient, but also in maintaining durability and strength with least maintenance. Simultaneously, while cement is the key ingredient, concrete’s quality depends equally upon other ingredients like aggregates (granular materials such as sand and crushed stone), water, construction chemicals and factors such as workmanship, proportioning and environment.

Cement industry

Sri Lanka is estimated to be consuming about 5.8 million tons of cement per annum (Source: Economic and Social Statistics of Sri Lanka, Central Bank Annual Report 2013). Sri Lanka’s situation is quite different from the global cement industry as world trade in cement (where cement moves from one country to other) is hardly 4 per cent whereas Sri Lanka imports 66 per cent of its requirement either in the form of cement or clinker. It is important to note that this figure could go up to 75 per cent, considering clinker is being imported for grinding units.
Sri Lanka imports cement from various plants in neighbouring countries like India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. This dependability of imports has its flip side, as it sometimes limits the choice and type of cement and can diminish the assurance of consistent quality if there is no proper quality mechanism in process.

This emphasis of consistency in quality is imperative as it is important to have cement sourced from a single plant – having cement from multiple sources may sometimes compromise the quality of the overall construction. When importing cement, the mode of imports also makes a considerable difference to the quality of the final product. For instance, directly importing bags of cement is an easy but opportunistic trading option which lacks long term commitment. The lifespan of a bag of cement is generally three months – as generally declared on cement bags in Sri Lanka. Its strength level declines over time and its handling involves an entirely manual operation (from receiving it at the ports and loading it into the trucks)and could result in cement absorbing moisture and being exposed to various elements while being prone to wastage and pollution.

On the other hand, importing cement in its bulk form and storing it within the country for packaging, provides a local value addition and offers a long-term assurance of quality as it requires dedicated resources like specialized vessels, bulk cement carriers, specially built huge storage silos, a laboratory for quality assurance, state of the art packers and experienced technical manpower. Even if cement or clinker comes from a single source, it is advisable for customers to insist on superior quality and ensure that the supplier has a stringent quality assurance mechanism. A commitment towards society and the environment and adhering to ethical business practices as well as possessing the appropriate credentials is a must.

It is commendable that the Sri Lanka Standard Institute (SLSI) has a stringent system in place to monitor this. The importing of cement has to comply with the Sri Lanka Standard of Cement and the Conformity Assessment through Import Inspection Schemes. Cement companies have to declare the sources of the cement while the import factories have to be registered with the SLSI, comply with environmental regulations and adhere to strict quality checks. An important factor when ascertaining the quality of imported cement is to assess its level of compressive strength at 28 days. If the cement fails to reach the required level of compressive strength, it will be rejected and the higher the strength at 28 days within specified limits, the better the cement is in the long run.

Achieving economy, strength and permanence

Concrete has good compressive strength but poor tensile strength (reinforcement i.e. iron rods are used to overcome this drawback) and is extremely sensitive to its surrounding environment not only during its making but throughout its entire lifespan. Increasingly needing maintenance and constant repairs on structures are usually cautionary tales of the extreme importance of paying attention to the variables that affect concrete. Lack of attention to these variables and cost-cutting measures to vault over high building costs can only prove to be penny-wise, pound-foolish in the long run.

However, if used with proper technical know-how, good quality cement can help achieve economy in construction without compromising on the quality of the construction. Cement with higher compressive strength in the long term, will be required in less quantity to achieve high concrete strength, thus reducing cement consumption. If the quality of cement is also taken into consideration from the design stage, you can save on sizes of the compression members (eg: columns) and overall costs of concrete.

Constructing a structure which remains in good condition for a longer time period, with the least maintenance expenses is the ultimate attainment in construction. Deterioration is inevitable over time, but if concrete is not designed, prepared, cured and maintained properly, deterioration can be expedited. Moisture and other harmful substances such as sulphates, chlorides and carbon dioxide entering and weakening the concrete or corroding the reinforcement leads to more maintenance expenses and reduces the life of the structure.

Customer’s Dilemma

Often, a customer’s connection with construction activities is not a regular affair as the construction of a house is taken up once in a life time or at the most, perhaps a few times for a minority. A paucity of appropriate information and knowledge of the subject makes the customer dependent on multiple opinion sources such as architects, engineers, peer home builders, contractors and masons. When constructing, obtaining key materials from reputed and trustworthy sources would give the customer an assurance of quality. Good cement companies do take a pro-active stand to disseminate correct and appropriate technical information and good construction practices to customers as well as all concerned in the field like engineers, masons and contractors.


While the cement consumption of the country is expected to be on an upward growth trajectory, the changing landscape of Sri Lanka’s construction industry by default requires a better understanding of the country’s cement industry. The ongoing pattern of infrastructure development and vertical growth of major cities like Colombo also indicates more mechanized construction in line with the experience of developed countries. Another welcoming change being observed is the increasing demand for blended cements like Portland Pozzolana Cement, which are environmental friendly products and help in achieving better durability when undertaking coastal construction in Sri Lanka.

Colombo’s metamorphosing skyline around areas like Galle road or Beira Lake on one side mirror the growing opportunities and optimism in the economy while on the other side demands superior quality of construction and good construction practices in order to assure sustainable growth – hence the importance of sourcing cement from trusted companies of impeccable reputation and commitment.

The cement industry in Sri Lanka is already at a surplus in terms of the capacity installed at present and meeting the growing demand of cement would not be a source of concern at this point of time. Key concerns at this stage would be awareness of industry information, dissemination of technical know-how among all stakeholders and an appreciation for consistent quality especially in the trade segment. A deficit of technical manpower, the increasing dependence of individual house builders on small contractors and masons further reinforce the fact that awareness about key construction material like cement and overall good construction practices is essential.


Cement, both from the range of product and services, available in Sri Lanka is well equipped for strengthening the foundation of a nation which is slowly taking strides towards infrastructure development and it is up to the customers and construction industry to derive the most from its potential. Having appropriate information about it, is surely the first step in the right direction to unlock its potential for superior quality and economical construction.

(The author is a cement and construction industry professional from India with extensive cross functional industrial experience of nearly 20 years in different capacities of Project and Process Management, Quality Control and Assurance, Strategic Management and Techno-commercial Operations)

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.