International Cement Review
Onur ATAKAY, Sintek Group/Founder Partner
Over a short period of time, the Sintek Group has built up a strong reputation for turnkey engineering in the Turkish cement sector and has been extending its reach to execute a number of projects around the world. Speaking to International Cement Review, Onur Atakay, founder-partner of the Sintek Group, outlines some of the company’s flagship industry references and indicates attractive areas of interest for future growth.
I CR: How was the Sintek Group established in Ankara, Turkey, and what gave rise to its formation?
Onur Atakay (OA): Sintek was established in 2005 as an engineering firm in Ankara. The main subsidiary area was determined to establish industrial facilities, but the main target sector was the cement industry based on the background and past experiences of the company partners.
In the early 2000s, Turkey had a significant economic growth rate among developing countries and significant investments had begun in the country. For this reason, there were sizeable investments in heavy industry, especially the cement sector. Starting out as an engineering company, Sintek had a say in new investments and in 2011, it signed the contract for its first turnkey cement factory with a capacity of 4000tpd.
ICR: What is the main structure of the company in terms of operating groups?
OA: Having proved its age in the cement sector, Sintek established Sintek Heavy Industry to prove itself in other heavy industry sectors and started to operate in the energy, iron and steel sectors.
Sintek manages planning and logistics works – an important part of completing turnkey projects on time – through the foundation of Sintek Logistics. At the point it has reached today, it has become an institution that not only serves its own logistics but also the sector’s.
In today’s world, our priorities are changing day by day. Our main priority has been, and always will be, to leave a livable and green world for future generations. Therefore, Sintek established an R&D company under the name of Minerva Engineering to develop projects that will reduce the carbon footprint of heavy industry. Minerva Engineering is working on grinding efficiency and calcined clay production technologies, with a focus on reduced energy consumption.
One of the things that gives Sintek an operational advantage is that it is localised in terms of the countries that it serves and that it can produce on-site solutions. In this sense, there are companies belonging to Sintek in The Netherlands, USA, UAE and Côte d’Ivoire.
ICR: What share of the Sintek business is dedicated to cement and how does it cut across the heavy industries, machinery, logistics and the Minerva Engineering divisions?
OA: Sintek’s main subsidiary activity is to establish an industrial plant. While in the past cement factories have accounted for 80 per cent of our work, today it is 50 per cent. The remaining 50 per cent is approximately equally distributed between the energy sector, and iron and steel sector, with those contracts managed by Sintek Heavy Industry.
The Sintek Logistics, Sintek Makina and Minerva Engineering subsidiaries are individual companies and account for approximately 20 per cent of Sintek Group turnover.
Sintek and the cement sector
ICR: What has been the group’s flagship project in the cement sector?
OA: It would not be correct for me to describe only one project as a flagship. Because, when we look at the last 17 years, we see that we have accomplished many successful projects. With our growing team and developing infrastructure over the years, we have built many industrial facilities in Turkey and in the world. When we look at the past, in Turkey we have undertaken turnkey commitments for the Aşkale Gümüşhane cement plant, the Limak Ankara Güvercinlik cement plant and Votorantim’s Sivas cement plant, which are some of our many successful references.
In addition, we are undertaking the construction of a new integrated line for Medcem Çimento at its 11,500tpd plant, which we originally constructed in 2013. As the Sintek Group, within the scope of the investment announced by Medcem Cement (to be realised with an investment value of approximately US$230m), we are building a new line with a clinker capacity of 9000tpd. Within the scope of the work we will undertake the US$128m portion of the line. We will carry out construction works, mechanical equipment manufacturing, supply and assembly, technological manufacturing and assembly, structural steel manufacturing and assembly, auxiliary equipment supply and commissioning services.
In addition, in the field of energy, last year we undertook the construction of four complex units at the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Turkey and signed the contract for the construction of a petcoke crushing and screening facility at an iron and steel plant, which is very important for our country.
Recently, we signed an agreement with Muğla Çimento, Turkey, a subsidiary of the Kent Group of Companies, for a new integrated cement factory. According to our cooperation agreement the factory, which will be built as a net-zero facility in the Yatağan district of Muğla, will have a clinker capacity of 4500tpd. Within the framework of the project, the Sintek Group, will undertake construction and mechanical works and the supply of auxiliary equipment and project management.
Apart from these projects, it is our references in the African continent that make us a front-runner among Turkish companies. As previously-mentioned, we have an office in Côte d’Ivoire. Since 2013 we have established turnkey grinding facilities of different capacities in Sudan, Cameroon, Guinea, Mozambique and Côte d’Ivoire.
ICR: The company has built up a strong reputation for turnkey engineering in Turkey’s cement sector. What is the outlook for domestic turnkey projects and to what extent are you expecting a quieter period for plant expansions and greenfield plants in the country?
OA: When we examine recent data, we see that Turkey ranks sixth among the top 10 countries in terms of global cement production and second in terms of cement exports. The factors behind this development include dynamics such as economic growth, inflation, unemployment and foreign trade, which we define as macroeconomic variables. Specific to these variables, Turkey has problems that started with the pandemic and continue today. Therefore, these variables will also shed light on the future of the cement industry. However, I think that the process will progress in a positive direction when we consider both the variables we have mentioned in terms of the expansion of factories in Turkey. As is commonly known, Turkey has recently signed the Paris Agreement, so all working heavy industry facilities are planning new investments to fulfil the emissions requirements of the Paris Agreement. For this reason, I think that in the coming years, investments will be made in the context of reducing the carbon footprint of operations rather than new cement factory investments.
ICR: Sintek provided turnkey engineering for the 100tph Limak grinding plant in Côte d’Ivoire. Is Africa likely to become a key market for the group and which countries seem particularly attractive?
OA: Considering trends provided by global data sources, Africa is home to most of the 10 fastest-growing countries in the world. In addition, the IMF has said that by 2030, economic growth in Africa will be more than predicted. Meanwhile, the World Bank has stated that most African nations will be middle-income countries by 2025 if current growth rates continue. In addition, about half of the workforce in Africa is expected to have an intermediate level of education by 2025.
When planning which parts of the world to target for exports, the African continent was always at the bottom of the list. However, the transforming world and changing dynamics have made African countries also important target countries. Until recently and still, there is a negative perception about the continent, especially because of the images of war and hunger. However, the African market offers significant advantages for companies like ours who want to accelerate their growth.
Of specific interest to Sintek in the African market are countries located in sub-Saharan Africa which belong to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) system.
We have been conducting our operations in Europe for a while under the name of our Amsterdam-based organisation Sintek BV. We provide services to our potential customers in the European market in the fields of project development, engineering and consultancy, as well as turnkey projects, pitted against Chinese and European competitors.
ICR: Do you see the potential for many more overseas projects and where in the world do you see growth for Sintek in particular?
OA: While our primary market is Europe, the USA is an important market for us. It is among our future plans to take steps regarding the opportunities there.
ICR: A part of the Sintek business is waste heat recovery systems – what reference project(s) do you have in the cement sector?
OA: WHR or organic Rankine cycle (ORC) investments are becoming more and more popular and are sometimes mandatory for plants operating relatively old technology. These investments bring advantages for two reasons:
1. reduced electricity consumption to produce 1t of clinker/cement
2. reduced carbon footprint of the plant.
Sintek is happy to participate in all carbon capture projects in the cement industry and WHR systems play a key part. In 2014 the company completed a 7.5MW WHR project in Turkey on an EPC basis and is following up several project opportunities.
Challenges in 2020-21
ICR: How has the group managed the COVID-19 situation with projects and in its offices?
OA: We are faced with a non-localised, global problem for the whole world and economies. The process has affected many areas of business and private life as well as individuals. We quickly implemented the decisions taken by our Board of Directors and Human Resources department. Our priority was the health of our employees and their families.
In this context, we have successfully managed and continue to manage the process, which both protects the health of our employees and ensures the continuation of work in our offices and construction sites, by taking into account all local and global practices and by implementing these practices with determination.
ICR: How might turnkey engineering be changing with the introduction of Industry 4.0 and digitalisation?
OA: Digitalisation, which has especially accelerated in the last five years, is transforming business life deeply. Today, digitalisation is more than a necessity for all companies and sectors. Artificial intelligence (AI), of which we will increasingly feel the influence in the near future, will fundamentally transform business life and our industry.
In this sense, communication networks where physical objects are connected with each other or with larger systems, such as the Internet of Things, Big Data, mechanical systems and their associated control and detection systems, and machines that act intelligently depending on computer algorithms, physical mechanisms controlled by computerbased algorithms or monitored systems, will take part in the future of our industry.
As the Sintek Group, we include all these and similar dynamics that will take place in the future of the industry into our business processes. We will continue to include these along with the digital transformation.
ICR: What ongoing projects does the group have in 2022 and beyond?
OA: We will continue to work on the Medcem Çimento and Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant projects previously mentioned. There is also the agreement with Muğla Çimento for its new integrated cement factory. Beside these, we are very close to signing two cement projects: one in Europe and the other in the USA.
ICR: Why did the company launch a new branch in The Netherlands to head up its European operations?
OA: With the effective implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, very important opportunities emerged in the European continent. Our primary goal is to seize these opportunities with Sintek BV. In addition, with the US$2.3trn infrastructure modernisation package planned by the US government, the construction industry and, therefore cement manufacturers (which are our main customers), have started to make investment decisions.
Opportunities are increasing day by day in the shining star of Africa. Here, too, we follow up the investments in the production of cement alternatives (ie, calcined clay, etc). While our primary market is Europe, we will also provide services from our office in The Netherlands to locations in the USA and Africa.