A series of problems including a defective conveyor system has plagued GuySuCo’s Enmore packaging plant raising questions about its ability to operate at full capacity but a top official has said that the facility is functioning well.
Stabroek News has obtained photographs of critical aspects of the plant as well as the nearby sugar factory, which sources say, have not been functioning to their full capacity. A Guyana Agricul-tural and General Workers Union (GAWU) official said last week that as far as he knew, since January this year the factory has been experiencing mechanical problems. No packaging was done at the plant over the past several weeks, he added.
However, when contacted, deputy chief executive officer (CEO) of GuySuCo, Rajaindra Singh told Stabroek News that the photographs were taken during the out of crop season. He declared that the packaging plant and the factory are functioning at their full capacity. The US$12.5 million packaging plant was built by the Indian firm, Surendra Engineering Corporation and was trumpeted by government as a lifeline for the industry.
Stabroek News was told that the conveyor system belt which carries sugar from the factory to the packaging plant often bursts and sugar spills from the unit during transport. In addition, the “screw worm”-located at the end of the system – crushes the sugar resulting in the crystals having to be collected from the floor of the plant. The sugar is then transported to the factory via forklifts as well as manually, resulting in longer production time as well as increased costs.
There are also reports that the bearings on the shaker or sifter which separates the sugar crystals during processing often break resulting in the process grinding to a halt. Workers at the packaging plant briefly protested the situation one night last month after the bearings broke for the fourth time. The sifter separates the ‘fine’ sugar crystals from the bigger ones that are packaged as Demerara Gold. The workers were upset at the problem since it results in raw sugar having to be stored until the equipment is fixed. The workers ended their brief protest after they were assured that the broken bearings would be replaced.
When contacted by Stabroek News on the reported problems, GuySuCo refuted claims that the “inefficiencies and deficiencies” as alleged on Saturday by the AFC result in low production at the packaging plant. In a statement, the corporation said that sugar produced is not stored for lengthy periods and containers are loaded on a daily basis. In the second crop of 2011, it said, Enmore produced 7942.65 tonnes of bagged sugar while for the first crop of 2012, production stands at 3684.9 tonnes with production in progress.
The corporation also pointed out that the defects and liability period for the packaging plant is still in effect. It said that the contractor completed a number of adjustments/ modifications since the pictures provided to this newspaper were taken.
In addition, the company said that the photographs highlighting the issues at the conveyor system at the packaging plant occurred during the early stages of operation of the sugar drying house. “Plant modifications and processing equipment installations of this nature do not function 100% the very first time it is switched on and record zero issues,” the corporation stated. It said that the equipment requires adjustment, modifications, monitoring and re-adjustments among other aspects to ensure it functions to capacity. The contractor is fully involved in this aspect of the system with representatives of Surendra Engineering on site to observe the problems and provide solutions, the company said. “All sugar spilled were recovered,” GuySuCo added.
The statement said that in an effort to continue value-added production during brief periods when modifications/ adjustments to equipment in the drying house are being carried out, bagging operations are done from the factory end to meet customer demands. “In some cases, customer demand is for un-dried sugar, hence bagging from the factory end. Enmore has been allocated export markets and the demands are very high,” GuySuCo said.
With regards to the shaker/sifter, the corporation conceded that there were bearing failures on the sugar sieve. Surendra Engineering has been fully engaged on the issue and the problem was carefully analyzed and a solution was found. “The sieve continues to operate trouble free” and GuySuCo reiterated that the defects and liability period is still in effect.
In 2011, following the death of an employee at the Enmore plant, a commission of inquiry was launched.
Negligence by GuySuCo and its agent Surendra Engineering Corporation Ltd were found to have contributed to the accident which resulted in the death of dryer operator Jainarine Singh, the Commission of Inquiry had found.
“The COI found that there was adequate evidence to support that GuySuCo and its agent SECL (Surendra Engi-neering Corporation Ltd) were negligent and contributed to the accident,” said the Commission’s report, which also noted defects in the sugar drying station that exploded and fatally injured Singh on May 15, 2011.
Meanwhile, Stabroek News understands that there are also concerns about the safety at the Enmore estate factory which is located in the same compound as the packaging plant. The safety valve at the Number 2 boiler broke weeks ago and the equipment had been functioning without the valve ever since, this newspaper was told.
However, GuySuCo refuted this, stating that each boiler is equipped with a number of safety valves while other safety valves are in position and are functioning effectively. “Boiler operations and safety is governed by a series of strict regulations which GuySuCo is in conformity with,” the corporation said. It added that during the early stages of the first crop of this year, there was a failure on one of the valves. However, it was taken out, and repairs are in progress.
GuySuCo also denied that the number four mill at the factory is plagued with problems. Stabroek News was told that the bearing often overheats and the mill is frequently shut down to allow the facility to cool. Water is used to further cool the equipment. GuySuCo said that mill bearings are designed to be cooled with water and higher mill bearing temperatures usually occur after a major maintenance period since bearings and mill roller journals would require a “bed- in” period. After this period, it was noted that temperatures would return to normal. “The entire period is monitored to ensure temperatures do not exceed a particular limit,” the statement said. According to GuySuCo, the Number Four mill is the final mill which operates at the highest hydraulic pressure to ensure that bagasse moisture is at the required level for effective combustion in boilers.
Stabroek News was told about a defective trash plate which hampers the operation of the number four mill and often results in sugar spilling around the floor at the mill but GuySuCo said that this is not a strange occurrence for sugar factories. The corporation said that increased “droppings” of bagasse in the mill bed cannot be attributed solely to a defective trash plate since operator error can also contribute to chokes.
With regards to bagasse – a by-product of the sugar production process – this newspaper was told that it is often wasted while the plant and factory are in operation and this results in the product being exposed to the elements. According to one source, this is done despite the corporation’s purchase of expensive tarpaulins to cover the product. However, GuySuCo said that each factory is equipped with a bagasse storage shed and in instances where cane fibre increases, there is a simultaneous increase in bagasse mass. “The obvious first option is to utilize the designated storage shed to its capacity. Whenever the shed is totally packed, the excess is stored outside the shed,” the corporation said. It was noted that in the second crop of 2011, the company “explored the idea of covering bagasse stored outside with tarps and was able to recover bagasse for use even for the start of 1st crop 2012.”
The Enmore packaging plant is seen as a major boost for the local sugar industry, which has been struggling with production and finances in the past few years. The focus of the plant is packaged sugar and initially, it was said that it has the ability to package some 40 000 tonnes for the local market, as well as markets in the region and further afield.
When the plant was opened last May, CEO Paul Bhim hailed it as a significant achievement in the push to modernise the industry and, according to him, GuySuCo stands to earn some 35 per cent more on each sale of packaged sugar in comparison to the bulk sugar, which is exported.
The sugar industry has been plagued by problems in recent years and the government has expended major sums to improve production. However, industrial action, poor worker turnout as well as a low output of canes has created headaches for the management of the corporation.
Last week, GuySuCo announced that the US$200M Skeldon Sugar factory is set to undergo major rehabilitation works in the coming months in order to have the facility fully operational. These include the redesigning and re-engineering of several aspects of the troubled facility. GuySuCo is working with a South African firm, Bosch Group of companies to remedy the major bottlenecks at the facility which have been identified and which will be attended to during the out of crop season.