Ballance: Modern, flexible, efficient

The city has swallowed up Ballance Agri-Nutrients' fertiliser manufacturing plant on Tauranga harbour, making it one of the few "city slicker" fertiliser works in the country.
The superphosphate plant grew up in relative isolation across the harbour from the city from the 1950s, until the first harbour bridge linked it to CBD in 1988.
"Where once it was a good half-hour drive from the city centre, our fertiliser plant is now within five minutes of the mayor's office," says site manager Arthur Tsitsiras.
"We've had to go from being an old fert works to becoming one of the cleanest manufacturing operations serving the rural sector. Our manufacturing plant got a 20-year air resource consent in 2008 and our despatch site is more like a modern truck stop, with canteen, showers and truck wash for our customers."
The transformation has been continual, Arthur says, with Ballance committing significant capital expenditure to modernise all aspects of the site, lifting its environmental record significantly in the process.
"We have the air consent, which requires daily monitoring, and another big improvement is our water-treatment system before any discharge into the harbour. We have an automatic monitoring system that trips a device to stop out-of-spec water from entering the harbour.
"We have also noticed a major improvement in our health and safety record here as well, as new processes and procedures have gradually taken over from the 'good old days'."
Despatch operator Geoff Moss remembers what it used to be like, having worked at Ballance for 40 years. Geoff signed on as an 18-year-old painter just out from England and, within a few months, shifted into the despatch office.


"In those days, there was quite a hierarchy and demarcation of jobs," says Geoff. "I was a loader driver for 17 years without any job rotation."
Now, the despatch team members all know each other's jobs, and management runs a fortnightly change roster so everyone gets a turn loading, mixing, on the weighbridge, fork-lifting and traffic marshalling.
"The site also used to operate strict hours, with no despatch on weekends. Special mixes of fertiliser were dispatched only on certain days, with no flexibility to meet customer demand," Geoff says.
"These days we regularly open for 12 hours per day, sometimes up to 15 hours at the peak of the season with rolling lunch breaks so no trucks are left waiting during breaks.
"The service centre also runs a booking system in the morning for those trucks who want to be loaded first.
"We could only load about 85 tonne an hour, or 3000 tonne a day.
"Today, we have four weigh bridges capable of handling 200 tonne an hour, and regularly exceed 5000 tonnes a day using five load-out lines, taking just 15 minutes to load a 32-tonne truck, regardless of the product mix requested."
After 40 years of service, Geoff says the biggest changes have come through technology.
"Everything had been completely manual, now trucks are loaded using joysticks.
"Each load is handled as a batch specific to that truck, under the control of a computer. It's seamless and fast."
With the introduction of a new company-wide software system in 2008, the way Ballance conducts its business from ship to farm is set to become even more streamlined, with improved forecasting, planning and customer relationship management tools.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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