Nigeria: Yusuff - Mortar Isn't Just About Aesthetics, It Aids Building's Durability

21 February 2023

Femi Yusuff is the Head of Mortar, Innovation & New Products Development for Lafarge Africa Plc., where he focuses on the use of Cement, Concrete, and Mortar materials in roads, buildings, and civil engineering structures. He discussed these processes with Bennett Oghifo

Works at Lafarge

Femi is currently focused on the use of Cement, Concrete, and Mortar materials in roads, buildings, and Civil engineering structures. Adapting the use of developing a mini scale model or sample product for testing and collecting data. This stage is preceded by desk study and research about the challenge and potential solutions, which includes the development and implementation of strategy in the Mortar business line.

Femi's areas of expertise are as follows:

* Rigid pavement solutions development

* Project Manager & 3D Printing Expert

* Structural Engineering (Reinforced Concrete)

* Cement Soil stabilisation solutions

* Product Development

* Construction materials research

* Business Development

* Deep and challenging foundation design solutions

Project - 3D Printing Housing Project

He coordinated a cross-functional team of 10 designers, Architects, Quantity Surveyors, and Structural Engineers toward the design, technical development, and building of 3D Printed residential houses. The technological development was completed two months ahead of schedule. He developed and designed the business model for the 3D-printed residential houses with an initial sales forecast of One Hundred and Fifty Million Naira (#150,000,000) for the printed walls of 100 homes by Q4 December 2023. He devised a means to develop the 3D ink required for the project locally, saving an estimated 20% on the overall cost.

Explain to us what mortar really is and what it can do for someone who wants to build a house, working on a budget of say N12 million or less

Mortar is a premixed product that is used to complete the finishing of a house. So traditionally, you will have to do everything yourself on site but as we continue to advance in construction we realised that building houses was too laborious and we had to find creative ways to make sure that quality is guaranteed, reducing stress on people working, especially the artisans. Also, our taste for aesthetic quality finishes continues to grow with different sophisticated designs and that's what brought the need for mortar. In addition to this, the industry evolved to finishing buildings with other materials apart from paint, we started

finishing buildings with wall tiles as well. Wall tiles should be placed on walls with a perfect wall screed. For an individual with a very tight budget of N12 million, our analysis last year, showed that he will likely achieve an estimated savings of N300,000 when he uses our product. However it doesn't stop there, he will also add extra value to his house and add extended durability compared to the use of materials he finds around because of his tight budget. Most of these materials will vary in quality and this affects the durability of his project.

Beyond placing tiles on mortar, how can the paint stick and remain for a long time, is it possible?

Yes for the wall finish, wall screed we have two variants the waterproof wall screed and the normal wall screed because houses are built in different locations. You will achieve a superior finish with our product and are free to paint after product application. What we found is that the type of sand that is necessary to achieve a good wall finish varies in quality from location to location and so most times when a traditional method is used for wall finish projects, the artisans will have to come back to do some sandpapering, some filling and other wall preparation techniques to get the wall ready for painting but with our products, once you apply the wall screed, you can paint straight away.

Give us the size of the mortar business in Nigeria and what is driving it

A recent market survey shows that the mortar business is at least N100 billion. What is driving the segment is economic growth. This year the Nigeria Economy Summit Group and the World Bank have estimated a 3 percent economic growth for Nigeria, which is usually translated to housing construction growth. We currently have a housing deficit but when you look at our projected economic growth, you will observe that people can improve their lives when there's an expanded economy. One of the first areas that attracts positive growth is housing, as the economy improves. The other factor is the high cost of materials. A lot of mortar used to be imported in the past but we are having more and more manufacturers in the country and Lafarge is one of the major Players in the sector. So, it's cheaper to use a locally manufactured mortar product of international quality than importing from overseas.

Now you have this good product but how well have you done regarding education?

As you all know, a new produc has a life cycle which starts from being developed till you launch. After product launch it is at the early stages of being accepted, and then it grows to command a market share before you can now scale. So it is important to support the product in those infancy stages to grow. What we've done and what we are continuing to do is to work with key influencers such as artisans and major distributors to communicate the importance of using our quality products. In addition to that, we are planning various activities across the country this year to demonstrate the effectiveness of using good quality mortar products on their project and then we also support the various associations for their developmental activities. We would like our products to be the preferred products that customers would select to complete their building project. We hope this will translate to healthy communication, and an increased use of our Mortar products.

From what you have said so far, mortar isn't just about the aesthetics of a building, gives us a core benefit.

The core benefit of using mortar is the durability of your building, mortar is the first line of defense for your building when natural environmental factors impact your building. I am referring to factors such as extreme heat, heavy rainfall and wind as we have in Nigeria. When you have a high-quality mortar finish, your building will last longer and you will have value for money, so that's the main benefit of using mortar.

Is the use of your Floor Screed expensive and do you import more mortar than you source from Nigeria?

Okay you have two questions in one, the first was on screeding and the second was on the local content of our Mortar Products. Using our mortar is cheaper than correcting the floor screed on site. What happens on most projects sites is that the transfer of floor levels to the ground-bearing slab is not accurate, so by the time they are ready to start placing floor tiles using the tile gum, they observe that the floor is undulating in certain areas and there is need for floor level correction. This requires the production of another mix, which is usually a small concrete mix on site which is expensive but our floor screed material is almost 50% cheaper than mixing another concrete mix on site. Some suspended floor slabs also need correction of floor levels before Tiles can be placed and our floor screed product can be used for this purpose as well. Our floor screed product will allow you to achieve the perfect floor level and you can continue your construction by using our Supafix Tile adhesive to place your tiles. This answers your first question. The answer to the second question, is more robust because we source all our materials locally, we don't import any material for our mortar products, and we also have a system, where we can recycle our products. If for any reason our products have passed their life cycle, rather than throwing them into the environment, we can bring them back and recycle them within the production system. We have started the eco analysis and eco-rating for our mortar products and I think results will be out soon, we are confident that the rating will be high. I hope this gives you an overview of how we produce our products and how environmentally sustainable the products are.

Tell us about the link between Lafarge Africa and your international laboratories and workshops

The beauty of being part of a global group is that you will be in touch with global trends and new techniques that can easily be learned and transferred. Also, it allows you to solve both technical and engineering problems because most likely the solution exists within the group and once you reach out they are able to tell you how to resolve the challenge

Tell us about your company's other innovations

We have a number of projects that we are working on, we are working on the digitalisation of construction, we are looking at being able to 3D-print a building. In fact, you would be pleased to know we've achieved substantial capability. We hope to continue to improve to the point where we can launch 3D Printing of buildings at a commercial scale, we also have high-strength concrete that can be used to ensure that your building is very durable and can reduce the quantity of reinforcement you use in design because the quality of concrete has a

direct relationship to the area of reinforcement if the building is properly designed. In the mortar Business we just recently launched two types of wall screed. The first one is the normal wall screed, which you can use to complete your internal and external wall finish before painting or placing wall tiles. The water-Proof wall screed has an added advantage of protecting the building against water in areas with high water table. We are working on tyrolean product. With the tyrolean product, you can spray it on the wall and add a paint colour to it, you don't need to paint. These are some of the innovative products that we're working on at the moment. We are part of a diverse, very advanced diverse material construction group across the world, we are passionate about sustainability and also passionate about eco products. At the end of this quarter or early next quarter, we're looking at launching our first set of green products which will be the first in the country and soon we're going to have a range of green products that cut across our three Business lines. What this means is that architects and designers that are interested in having a building that can be rated as sustainable and eco-friendly, can come to us for solutions. In addition to that, we work closely with our contractors, engineers, and partners from cradle to finish such that they can achieve very high-quality finish and buildings, we don't just sell products, we are business partners and we provide the necessary technical support. We look forward to supporting various projects across the country to achieve high-quality buildings and roads.

What role do you think concrete can play in reducing building collapse?

Concrete has a key role to play because the strength of concrete has a direct relationship to the area of reinforcement that you will have to provide for your various structural elements. Now the scenario we have is that after the structural engineer has specified the concrete grade and specified the area of reinforcement. The poor site mix doesn't allow a substantial number of projects to achieve the specified concrete grade. In effect, the reinforcement that is provided for the structural elements are lower than required and you have elements that are under-reinforced and that means that a lot of projects are at risk. For some projects, the lifespan is not guaranteed, but with well mixed or high-grade concrete, you are comforted that you will achieve the reinforcement area provided by the structural engineer. This will reduce structural collapse and enhance the durability of the buildings.

Is there any research going on, or has anyone been done to ensure that the use of concrete can reduce the costs of construction?

Yes, there is ongoing work, but already we have one or two solutions that can be adopted on projects. For example, I mentioned high-strength concrete a few minutes ago. If concrete is properly mixed, what you find is that you can achieve the reinforcement that is required and then there's less waste and less long-term cost of maintenance. In addition to this , a structural engineer, may decide to specify a 30 grade concrete and by doing so he may achieve a small percentage reduction in reinforcement compared to the traditional grade 20 concrete or 25 that is specified in a lot of cases. So that's one way. The other one is the use of precast elements. Precast elements will help to reduce time and also help to reduce cost because you now have elements that come in specific sizes and you can place them effectively to achieve the floor, beam or column resistance that is required. Concrete has a big role to play in reducing the cost of construction and there's a lot of work going on in that space to see what can be done. 3D printing is another potential technology that can assist

with construction costs. Although 3D printing concrete cannot be classified as reinforced concrete, it can be used as a load bearing and transfer element and by the time it becomes commercialised it may play a role in reducing construction costs. The use of Mortar Pre-mix products will also reduce cost, increase efficiency and durability of building projects.

How can cement aid soil stabilization, particularly in road construction?

There is high variability in the quality of soil that is available across the country. If you use the traditional method of excavating soil, placing and then trying to compact it, what you find out is that it is difficult to achieve uniform quality. After testing the soil, you know the soil type and you know its classification. In most cases, you find out that the soil needs help to achieve the kind of bearing or plasticity you want for the Road project. To solve this challenge we have developed a soil stabilisation product called RoadCem that helps to improve the characteristics of soils before they are used for the base, sub-base or sub-grade construction. The product has proven to be very effective on a number of projects, so you're right, it has a direct correlation because when the quality of Sub-base/Base is improved, long-term durability is achieved, the breakdown of the road is less and then the government has more money to spend on other important infrastructure needs for the populace.

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