Potato-starch campaign – hectic timetables and meticulous planning

2015_kayntikausi_1200Finnamyl Oy and Lapuan Peruna Oy produce potato starch for Chemigate Oy from potatoes grown by their own contract farmers. The starch is delivered to the paper industry for further processing, used as a raw material for the food industry, or packaged for consumer use. In this process, the campaign, which extends from the latter part of August to November, is critical. This creates additional pressure for the company’s entire staff.

In fact, the starch-campaign is the most hectic time of the year for Chemigate. In recent years, however, several changes have improved the flow of the production process.

  • “Three decades ago, all the starch produced by Lapuan Peruna was routinely subjected to chemical processing and dried to produce various modified products. These products were then stored. Back then, the campaign was even for more hectic for Chemigate than now, since all the starch coming in was chemically modified. Over the last few years, we have switched to a procedure in which around half of the starch is dried without a modification. These products are called native starches,” explains Chemigate’s production manager, Harri Heikkinen.

According to Heikkinen, the storage of starch during the campaign requires meticulous planning:

  • “The final product is packed into sacks and stored. Both native and chemically processed starch need to be stored in large quantities during the campaign, because they are produced more rapidly than they can reach the market.”

Chemigate’s factory area has enough silo space to accommodate 4,000 tons of starch. The total amount of final product produced this year is expected to be around 15,000 tons, of which 10,000 tons will be stored in other storage facilities in the region.

Additional pairs of hands are required 2015_kayntikausi_2_1200

Lasting only a couple of months, the campaign is short. Chemigate switches to uninterrupted three-shift work for this part of the year. Heikkinen explains that the Finnish climate poses challenges of its own.

He says, “We need to hire additional labor to assist in packing the product in sacks. We’re talking about 10 additional employees, which, for us, is a considerable number. This additional investment, the rapid pace of the work, and a seamless workflow are necessary because the potato crop has to be harvested over a relatively short span of time, from September to October. And if the harvested potatoes are stored outdoors for a long time beside the fields, they soon suffer in the cold fall weather.”

The campaign time is extremely busy for Chemigate’s entire staff. With the factory all set to go, the goal is to have it operating at full capacity, to ensure that all goes well during this hectic period.

  • “Since another company’s interests too are at stake, it is for everyone’s sake that we want to succeed in every stage of the process. The increase in the number of personnel and the considerable growth in transportation requirements complicate matters further. The whole organization comes under huge pressure for a little while,” Heikkinen reports.

“Products must move through storage”2015_kayntikausi_3_1200

The campaign is one of the year’s main events for Lapuan Peruna too. However, careful planning and many years of experience grease the wheels for the process.

“For potato-growers, the deliveries are arranged such that half of the deliveries take place in September and the rest in October–November. This way, the delivery times are evenly distributed. It is, of course, essential that everyone stick to the schedule, and usually there are no problems,” explains Lapuan Peruna’s Cultivation Manager Arto Sillanpää.

According to Sillanpää, each phase of the process for the campaign and all the potato-delivery arrangements are meticulously planned in advance. About 90% of the factory’s capacity is allocated a week in advance, while the remaining 10% allows some leeway.

  • Sillanpää says, “Getting the potato quantities right throughout the campaign is something of a balancing act. The potato material must be kept moving through the storage facilities. Otherwise, it will start to go off. But we must still be sure we have an adequate supply at all times. This is also affected by the weather, which can be unpredictable. The process is reviewed daily to ensure that we receive enough potatoes from the growers.”

“Customers are understanding”

The campaign also requires careful planning and foresight on the part of the sales staff. The goal is to minimize any inconvenience to customers.

“In our sales work, we aim to ensure that our customers’ operations are not affected by the campaign. We plan ahead, and we have some of the products stored in advance,” explains Chemigate’s Sales Manager Kalle Kainu.

According to Kainu, preparations for the campaign are already underway in spring.

  • “For the sales department, the campaign necessitates additional planning work not only before but also during the season. We consider which products to shave stored in advance, preparing for the season that way,” he says.

By and large, customers show great understanding with regard to the campaign and its possible effects.

  • “If we can’t keep the customers from being affected in some way, we aim to discuss the effects with them early on. In most cases, customers adopt a very positive attitude. Production facilities are among our main customers, and they understand the challenges we face at this time. But there’s no denying that this period arouses interest among our customers,” says Kainu.