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Elkem around the world: Limpio, Paraguay

Elkem around the world 30.09.2022

Osvaldo Almeida joined Elkem in January 2018. He previously worked as a plant manager at Dow, the worldwide leading silicones company and customer of Elkem. Almeida accepted the offer to work in Elkem as a challenge when a Canadian recruiting company approached him.

Almeida had to get to know a new culture, as he together with his family moved to Paraguay from Brazil. Another challenge was to start a company from scratch. While the physical construction of the Elkem Limpio plant already was in place, the company as a whole was not. By this Almeida means the company culture, financial and admin processes, procurement, departments, engineering, maintenance and production.

When asked about positive features of being a plant manager, Almeida said the following:

“The chance to lead a team, create a vision and guide the team to reach it”. Almeida also added that you need to lead by example and influence people to achieve the common targets. He likes to “walk the talk”.

“Being a leader in Limpio requires energy and diligence”

Being a leader is challenging. You need to lead by example and influence people to achieve common targets. Almeida says that a lot of energy is required at the Limpio plant. As a result of relatively low educational offering and level, Almeida mentions discipline as a challenge. “Being a leader in Limpio requires energy and diligence. You cannot just delegate, you also need to coach, support and follow up things very closely to ensure that things are done as per the expectations”.

Almeida also mentions managing the culture as another challenge. “If you don’t manage the culture, the culture manages you. Being a plant manager in Paraguay requires that you manage the local culture well, work with it and lead the team to work around the struggles you face”. Almeida adds that you have to be strategic with everything from managing contractors to sourcing spare parts.

Limpio is like a puzzle brought together

Elkem Limpio is situated in Limpio, 25 km from Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. The plant consists of 1 arc-furnace with 11.5 MW – 15MVA, where they produce ferrosilicon and foundry products. The plant was built as part of Elkem´s strategy for expansion in South America. The plant was initially a joint venture with an Argentinian group, but became 100% owned by Elkem in October 2017. Limpio delivers standard ferrosilicon to South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and North America, the US and Canada. The main product of the plant are foundry products, such as FSM and inoculants, that serve segments such as piping, engineering, the windmill industry, automotive- and earth moving segments.

When asked about Elkem Limpio’s main challenges, Almeida mentions discipline, especially regarding safety. As a result of this, and to keep safety as a priority, Almeida developed “Golden Safety Rules” with a zero tolerance for violations. Almeida explains that these rules are necessary as the safety standards in the local community are not at the same level that is expected inside of the plant. “We in the plant team are trying to drive not only employees, but also people outside the plant to go in a different direction. We do this by for example providing information and guidance to employees and encourage them to bring this information home and help their families in the same direction”.

Almeida describes the Limpio plant as small but very interesting, diverse, and a mix of cultures and equipment that they built together. “Nothing here was new, we brought equipment from Trondheim and China, like a puzzle that we brought together”.  The team is diverse with employees from different cultures and countries, such as Argentina, Cuba, Chile, Brazil and Paraguay. Elkem Limpio also has a good female share, with women in leadership positions, such as HR manager, Logistics manager and Quality manager. Almeida says that this is important for the diversity and brings good discussions and contributions.

Elkem Limpio contributes locally, as a part of the community

As a result of the country not being familiar with the industry and the Limpio plant receiving some complaints, the Elkem Limpio team had to establish a strong stakeholder engagement program in 2018, especially for the local community. They needed to establish a good relationship, and in order to change the local communities view of the plant, they had to interact more frequently with them. For Almeida, this meant going to church every Sunday, participating in gatherings, donate, help them to get a better understanding and explain how the Limpio plant would have positive effects on the community. After the pandemic, the initiatives have restarted, such as interaction with schools and churches with the goal to keep the reputation of good neighbours.

Elkem also has initiatives related to sustainability, such as being involved in the local network for the United Nations Global Compact Organization (UNGCO). They also deliver speeches related to environment and sustainability goals to UNGCO. Other initiatives are involvement with schools, teaching them waste management, and developing tree planting and vegetable growing programs. Elkem Limpio also donates to schools, local organizations and contribute to events. Almeida adds that it is not only important to support through donations, but also to be a part of the community. “Go there, interact with the community and make sure to have a good relationship with them”, he said.

Elkem Limpio is the only plant in Elkem that works with 100% charcoal, biocarbon. They manage the biocarbon value chain from growing the trees to producing charcoal, in a close partnership with the carbonization supplier. When asked about difficulties with the local community related to environment, health and safety, Almeida mentioned some smoke emissions when the plant first started, which was solved by replacing the old filter bags (still from Trondheim) by new ones. Other actions they have taken in order to reduce emissions was to establish interlock between the filter and furnace, which means that they cannot run the furnace without the filter. Waste management is another important thing. They work on circular economy, reuse their fines, sell cyclone dust to Europe (process product unit in Elkem) and also to end customers.

Values, plans and ambitions

Almeida says that Elkem is an attractive employer in the local area, especially because of their strategy and ESG principals. Commitment, respect and fairness are core values. Almeida also mentions freedom of speech and the space to share thoughts as key values, which are important and attractive for an employee. A vision for the business unit you are in, the plant itself and the business independently is key. The Elkem Limpio team creates the vision together and makes sure that employees understand the vision, in order to keep everyone motivated. “It starts with defining strategic goals, cascade them to all levels of the organization and communicate them well throughout the year in cycles. Everybody needs to have a true north and understand where they are heading. This is the strategy we use to make sure people are aligned”. Every key achievement also comes with a celebration to recognize the team.

Osvaldo Almeida is a visionary leader and has a strong willingness to grow. His plan and ambition for Elkem Limpio is to start a bigger furnace where they can produce more good quality products, under good control and deliver excellent results to the Elkem Group. As a pioneer in the biocarbon industry Almeida wants to support the cooperation within Elkem by sharing knowledge on how to run a furnace on biocarbon, collaborating with the corporate strategy of increasing the biomass in the smelting furnaces as well as to develop good biocarbon products in Paraguay that eventually can be exported to other plants in Elkem.