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.