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How is Cement Made?

How Portland Cement is Made

Bricklayer Joseph Aspdin of Leeds, England first made portland cement early in the 19th century by burning powdered limestone and clay in his kitchen stove. By this crude method he laid the foundation for an industry which annually processes literally mountains of limestone, clay, cement rock, and other materials into a powder so fine it will pass through a sieve capable of holding water. Cement is so  fine that one pound of cement contains 150 billion  grains.

Portland cement, the basic ingredient of concrete, is a  closely controlled chemical combination of calcium, silicon,  aluminum, iron and small amounts of other ingredients to  which gypsum is added in the final grinding process to  regulate the setting time of the concrete. Lime and silica make up about 85% of the mass. Common among the materials used in its manufacture are limestone, shells, and chalk or marl combined with shale, clay, slate or blast furnace slag, silica sand, and iron ore.

Each step in manufacture of portland cement is checked by frequent chemical and physical tests in plant laboratories. The finished product is also analyzed and tested to ensure that it complies with all specifications.

Two Manufacturing Processes

Two different processes, "dry" and "wet," are used in   the manufacture of portland cement.

When rock is the principal raw material, the first step     after quarrying in   both processes is the primary   crushing. Mountains of rock are fed   through crushers   capable of handling pieces as large as an oil drum. The   first crushing reduces the rock to a maximum size of about 6 inches.   The rock then goes to secondary crushers or hammer mills for    reduction to about 3 inches or smaller.

In the wet process, the raw materials, properly proportioned, are then ground with water, thoroughly mixed and fed into the kiln in the form of a "slurry" (containing enough water to make it fluid). In the dry process, raw materials are ground, mixed, and fed to the kiln in a dry state. In other respects, the two processes are essentially alike.

The raw material is heated to about 2,700 degrees F in huge cylindrical steel rotary kilns lined with special firebrick. Kilns are frequently as much as 12 feet in diameter ­ large enough to accommodate an automobile and longer in many instances than the height of a 40-story building. Kilns are mounted with the axis inclined slightly from the horizontal. The finely ground raw material or the slurry is fed into the higher end. At the lower end is a roaring blast of flame, produced by precisely controlled burning of powdered coal, oil or gas under forced draft.

As the material moves through the kiln, certain elements are driven  off in the form of gases. The remaining elements unite to form a new  substance with new physical and chemical characteristics. The new  substance, called clinker, is formed in pieces about the size of marbles.

Clinker is discharged red-hot from the lower end of the kiln and generally is brought down to handling temperature in various types of coolers. The heated air from the coolers is returned to the kilns, a process that saves fuel and increases burning efficiency.