Whakatane Mill rebuild nears completion

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The Whakatane Mill Ltd (WML) is poised to restart expanded operations in August after surviving a closure scare in 2021, said executive chairman Ian Halliday.

Full production was expected to be achieved by November 2023. The mill secured a substantial private investment of over NZ$70 million from its shareholders, Halliday told Bay of Plenty Business News.

Ian Halliday

“It’s been great news for the company and for the local community,” said Halliday, who is one of the shareholders. “A large part of the work at the moment is going into local companies, the majority of them New Zealand-based and including East Bay contracting companies. There is a lot of money going back into the community here.”

This marked the most significant capital expenditure for WML since 2004 and is facilitating a major upgrade, elevating the mill to industry-leading standards.

Halliday said the timing had worked out well and when they did the deal the market was slow. The group of private investors acquired the mill in 2001 when it was facing closure. That gave them plenty of time to organise the rebuild.

“The first year prompted us to look at the operation and we felt there was enough capacity in the market for us to look at our output,” said Halliday. “The decision was taken in November 2021. We started the engineering process in February 2022 and most of the equipment was on long delivery times.”

That gave the mill plenty of time to manage the rebuild starting in late June, which was now well underway and was scheduled to open for normal operations in August this year.

The upgrade will deliver an additional 50,000 tonnes of premium folding box boards, increasing WML’s production from 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes. In a statement, the mill said customers would enjoy the advantages of higher quality board, while the production process will be more environmentally friendly, utilising less raw materials and operating with improved energy efficiency.

The upgrade is paving the way for WML to potentially produce up to 300,000 tonnes of premium folding box board in the future, the company said.

Halliday noted that all staff were still working on the site as there had been a tremendous amount of other work to do in the course of the upgrades. That included a lot of training on the new equipment and some workers had also been working side by side with the construction staff.

Per tonne of board, the energy efficiency will be approximately 30 percent better, gas consumption will be reduced by more than 30 percent and WML’s water consumption from the local river will also see a significant decrease.

Additionally, WML will eliminate plastic consumption by transitioning from plastic to paper wrap for packaging of its finished products. The heat recovery system will contribute significantly to WML’s ESG profile.

As the sole folding box board producer in Australasia, the mill’s improvements offer main brand owners the chance to reduce their carbon footprint and avoid importing packaging from countries like Finland, Korea, China, and Chile. This move towards sustainability presented a positive environmental impact, the company said.

Related: Whakatane Mill saved, but caution expressed

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