Sharing the lunch box

Fine Chemicals, Nigeria

This is the story of Rajeev Samant, Production Manager at Fine Chemicals, and Marco Lemmenmeier of Bühler, who became friends – and how they managed to turn the company into the Nigerian market leader in the field of liquid printing inks.

 

The convoy of cars lumbers across the gravel road. Rain has fallen in the night and the puddles slow down their advance. This does not appear to bother the drivers of the overfilled yellow taxis that are so typical of the streets of Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria and Africa: They simply continue to squeeze past on the left and right. The sellers posted along the road take advantage of the hour. The slow advance of the convoy gives them ample time to force their way between the vehicles and to peddle the wares that they are balancing on their heads – ranging from loaves of bread and windshield wipers to selfburned CDs.

Nigeria – this is Africa’s largest econ-omy with annual growth rates of 6% and a gross domestic product of about 500 billion US dollars, on a par with Belgium. But 11 million people live in Belgium, and more than 180 million in Nigeria. For its prosperity, the country is dependent upon crude oil and its price. Yet despite the current recession, Nigeria remains one of the hopes of the continent, with a growing middle class. And this also implies increasing consumer demands.

On and on the convoy moves, past goat slaughterhouses and bustling markets, until the driver suddenly turns off the road after well over an hour and the cars stop in front of a gate. A sign with white letters painted on a 

black background says "AVON." This is the name of one of the partner companies of Bühler customer Fine Chemicals Nigeria Ltd., which Marco Lemmenmeier, Technical Project Manager at Bühler, is visiting today. Today – April 29, 2014.

Out of another world
Lemmenmeier is on an exploration trip and eager to know what is awaiting him. Just a few months ago, Fine Chemicals Production Manager Rajeev Samant went on an intelligence-gathering journey to the ChinaCoat trade show in China. Samant wanted to find out whether Bühler would be prepared to share his vision of turning Fine Chemicals into the Nigerian market and quality leader in printing inks. At that time, the boom in the country encouraged him to set off on his trip. At that time, highgrade products still had to be imported. Until then, no domestic producer was able to meet the demand for quality inks, in particular for the more sophisticated processes. Fine Chemicals was one of the many ink producers that you could not tell apart from their competitors, producing just a few tonnes of inks a day. Samant felt his moment had come and sought a technical counterpart. "If we plan to produce prime products, we need prime equipment," says Samant.

 

«Together with Bühler, we have transformed our vision into a reality and are now
the market leaders in Nigeria.»

— Rajeev Samant, Production Manager Fine Chemicals

He has been waiting impatiently for Lemmenmeier at the factory gate. The two men understand each other immediately. Both of them want to move something. Both share the same vision; both are pragmatic; both are savvy engineers; both are receptive to innovations. And both have ties with India: one as an Indian expat in Nigeria, the other as a Swiss national who has lived and worked in India. This puts them at the same level right from the start.

After an initial tour of the factory, three things become absolutely clear to Lemmenmeier. First: This is a place where pioneering work must be done. The company’s process technologies and equipment are completely out of date, and everything is piecemeal. Almost 10% of the raw material evaporates from open tanks and barrels in the trop-ical climate of Nigeria. For the company, this is a significant financial loss, and it is an enormous burden on the workers’ health and the environment. Process control here still means that someone pours solvents or pigments out of open buckets into the ink mix if the color intensity or viscosity are not correct. Second, it does not take the Bühler man long to realize that pros are at work here after all. "Samant has a knack for inks, for engineering matters – he knows the fundamentals down to the very last detail," says Lemmenmeier. "After all, this is not the first production system that he has built." And third, he is relieved to find that the

existing building structure is sufficient to accommodate the new production line. That makes the whole project much easier to plan and implement.

Full commitment
Marco Lemmenmeier’s exploration trip ends as a full success – the go-ahead has been given. A quotation must be established. A pioneering project emerges for the country, which translates into a contract worth three million Swiss francs for Bühler. A new production system emerges under high pres- sure in the form of a 3D digital plant model. The Bühler engineers design a semi-automatic production line tailored to the conditions prevailing in Nigeria and the company’s operating crews: "A fully automatic process control system would overtax us," says Samant.

Bühler designs and organizes a single-source wet-grinding line for its cus- tomer, with a bead mill at its heart. The complexity involved is vexing. The components are imported from Europe, China, and India. "Planning every- thing so that all the individual components will arrive on site when they are need-ed is no trivial matter," says Lemmenmeier. But everyone is fully committed and pulling in the same direction. "A lot of passion has gone into this project," agree Samant and Lemmenmeier.

With Bühler equipment, Fine Chemicals now plans to export its high-quality goods.

Drinking tea together
It takes one year and a half to complete the rebuild. One year and a half during which the partners get to know each other more closely. This starts with the customer’s courtesy of always meeting the Bühler people at the airport and accompanying them. "Whenever we were in the country over the weekend, we were invited to the homes of our colleagues," remembers Lemmenmeier. During the installation phase, the smooth relationship be- tween Lemmenmeier and Samant develops into true friendship. During breaks, the project partners drink chai and also lunch together. Lemmen- meier’s favorite dish: curry with roti – hard-boiled eggs in a hot sauce refined with Indian spices that is scooped with flat bread. Samant even shares the lunch box that he takes from his home with Lemmenmeier. "This is truly great hospitality on the part of the customer," says Lemmenmeier.

But then, just before project completion, a low point: Things have stopped moving on the construction site. Installation work had been advancing sluggishly for weeks. "Fine Chemicals wanted to start production as soon as possible, but was behind schedule with various jobs," remembers Lemmenmeier. He pulls the emergency brake, withdraws the start-up team, and sets up an action list featuring all the unsettled items that must be finalized before start-up. Bühler withdraws for 30 days. "Even if it was a tough thing to do, it was in hindsight the right decision that opened everyone’s eyes," says Lemmenmeier today. The partners agree upon the next steps, especially that the new white inks production line is to be started up first.

Samant is glad to be assisted by the realistic Swiss. He and his team make every effort, processing the task list one item at a time. This allows the plant to go on stream within the time agreed. On February 17, 2016, the first six tonnes of white high-quality printing ink flow into the barrels that the custo- mers of Fine Chemicals are already waiting for.

Thus, a new era of printing ink manufacture is ushered in not only at Fine Chemicals, but also in the country as a whole and even the continent, for this is Africa’s very first semi-automatic printing ink production line of its kind. And it delivers right from the start what Bühler has promised. The output of Fine Chemicals has increased about twofold to some 10 tonnes, and the quality of the ink is outstanding and meets international standards – and also the evaporation of the hard-to-import solvents is a thing of the past.

"Together with Bühler, we have transformed our vision into reality and are now the market leaders in Nigeria," says Samant – and is already getting ready for the next big leap. Thanks to its enhanced process expertise, Fine Chemicals is now expanding its range of action, for instance by launching new formula- tions for cardboard printing applications. "Together with Bühler, we can further develop our business," says Samant. And this is true not only in terms of the product portfolio, but also geographically speaking. Fine Chemicals now plans to enter the international market by exporting its high-quality goods, with neighboring countries such as Ghana and Togo right at the top of the list.

 

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