Mill sur­vives many chal­lenges


Change has been the ‘‘make or break’’ chal­lenge for the Kin­leith Mill since its estab­lish­ment in 1953.

But thank­fully for the South Waikato, it ap­pears to have made it.

The Toko­roa-based mill has been through sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal changes, a re­struc­ture and the more re­cent change of own­er­ship.

For cur­rent mill manager Ian Whyte it has all been a chal­lenge.

‘‘Change is chal­leng­ing for any or­gan­i­sa­tion.’’

Man­age­ment and staff at the mill have proven they can get through it all, he said.

Start­ing in the late 80s, tech­nol­ogy slowly made its way to the mill.

Orig­i­nally ev­ery­thing was done man­u­ally but it slowly tran­si­tioned to the fully com­puter op­er­ated plant it is to­day.

The ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant step’’ re­sulted in a sub­stan­tial change for staff. Tech­nol­ogy was in­tro­duced in an ‘‘in­cre­men­tal’’ way, one plant at a time, he said.

‘‘You can’t just change your work­force to suit it . . . it’s tak­ing all of those peo­ple and train­ing them to learn and adopt the new way of op­er­a­tion.

For ex­am­ple manay of the process streams were low tem­per­a­ture and were mon­i­tored vis­ually by the operatiors. To­day the pro­cesses op­er­ate at tem­per­a­tures close to boil­ing point and are in­ac­ces­si­ble to the op­er­a­tors.

Tech­nol­ogy has also al­lowed the ‘‘en­gi­neers play­ground’’ to run only one pa­per ma­chine, com­pared to six, with the abil­ity to pro­duce in ex­cess of 1000 tonnes of pa­per prod­uct daily.

But one of the most chal­leng­ing pe­ri­ods was the 2003 re­struc­ture, he said.

At that time, the New Zealand/ US dollar ex­change rate was at a low of just over 40 cents.

He was not manager at the time, but Whyte said while it was a ‘‘painful’’ time, it needed to be done. ‘‘In my view, then and now, it was nec­es­sary.’’

With­out a re­struc­ture, the mill would have been mak­ing neg­a­tive prof­its, he said.

And a clo­sure could have been on the cards.

Now al­most 11 years down the track it is still stand­ing with about 600 em­ploy­ees.

There is no way to tell how long the mill will stay open.

And there is no point of even think­ing about it, he said.

‘‘There is no case for it not to run for a long time... All we can say is this, the mill has the abil­ity to run ef­fi­ciently and there is sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket de­mand for our prod­ucts.’’

With new own­ers, Ja­panese pa­per man­u­fac­turer Oji Hold­ings and In­vest­ment com­pany INCJ, comes ad­di­tional as­sis­tance for the mill in the form of tech­nol­ogy sup­port and po­ten­tially in­vest­ment in the fu­ture, Whyte said.

The $1.037 bil­lion sale was cleared late last year through the Over­seas In­vest­ment Of­fice.

Chal­lenges may come but for Whyte the fu­ture is pos­i­tive.

Go­ing strong: Kin­leith Mill manager Ian Whyte has seen more than three decades of changes at the Toko­roa plant.

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