An Ounce of Prevention

“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” is a common idiom that urges people to stop bad things from happening rather than to deal with those things after they have happened.  Basically, it’s the element of being proactive and recognizing the potential issues of a situation and understanding the solution before it even takes place.  It’s a great metaphor for life and in business – “be prepared.”  In the case of Minera De Santa Marta (MSM), preparation and expertise has made them who they are today.

Since 1989, MSM has been a leader in the production and commercial sale of natural sodium sulfate and sodium sulfate products that are sold all over the world.  These free-flowing products are found in a variety of our everyday items that range from textiles and paper, to animal feed and laundry detergents.  With such a large scope of items and product reach, it is easy to see why MSM would want to ensure everything associated with their production of sodium sulfate is as seamless as possible and down time is limited.  The sodium sulfate product is valuable to their products and to their customers, but producing sodium sulfate and its products isn’t easy.  There are safety and environmental issues that have to be addressed and any down time or loss of product costs MSM significant amounts of time and revenue.  Trucks and ships are loaded five days a week with product, so its production has to flow freely and be consistent in order to service all of their customers.  Any machinery malfunction or breakdown will have a substantial effect on revenue.  MSM understands this and believes in the adage of prevention. 

MSM faces many challenges in their operation.  There are two main processes that take place at MSM – the mining phase and the chemical processing phase.  In each of these phases, MSM needed a partner who could ensure the product moved from one point to another.  In phase #1, the sodium sulfate moves from the mine on a conveyer to a storage dome.  From there, the product needs to be transported from the dome to a process silo.  Phase #2 is the chemical process.  The product goes through a dryer and then transported into a 20,000 ton storage dome via bucket elevators and conveyors.  From the dome, the product is transported onto another conveyor into a reclaim system where the end product (a white microscopic powder) is unloaded - 26 metric tons - onto empty trucks for transport. 

In both phases, MSM is wrought with challenges.  The plant is continuously running – 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – producing and moving sodium sulfate.  There are challenges with product humidity, minimizing and controlling the dusting from an environmental standpoint, and most importantly, getting the product out of the silos and onto the trucks without bridging and reclaiming the materials in a first-in-first-out (FIFO) manner, which is very important to them.  MSM also wanted to incorporate a system that was totally automated, that would ensure the FIFO process, and to also eliminate the need for additional labor.  MSM knew that in order to be in the best position to reduce any potential down time, they needed a partner that was experienced, dedicated and guaranteed their work and equipment.  MSM partnered with Laidig Systems, Incorporated.

MSM was familiar with the Laidig name, the brand and familiar with their reclaim systems.  MSM knew of Laidig’s global reputation and wanted a partner who understood their concerns and who could provide solutions that fit their needs.  According to Antonio Quintilla, MSM Factory Director, having effective systems in place was crucial to their operations.  “It is important to have an effective system in place.  If we are down, we lose the silo and that is 20,000 tons of product lost.  Then we have to move things manually, which adds labor, costs and time.  We can’t afford to be flexible in these type of situations.  There are a lot of solutions out there, but Laidig is the one that works.”

Laidig provided MSM with two different reclaim systems to address the two different phases of their production operation.  A Laidig Planetaire™ Model 433 has been used since 2010 for the mining process of production.  After the sodium sulfate comes out of the mine and into the storage dome, MSM utilizes a Laidig Planetaire™ Model 433 Reclaimer to reclaim the product from the dome and transport it onto a conveyor belt and into the process silo.  A second Planetaire™ system – Model 833 – is used in the chemical process phase of production, whereby the product is moved from the drier into another storage dome, conveyed and then unloaded into trucks.  Trucks come into the plant 5 days a week, 1 to 2 trucks per hour, over a 16-hour period each day, and each truck is filled with 26 metric tons of sodium sulfate. 

Nobody wants to have production stoppage, but issues do arise that will cause the system to cease working.  This is where MSM’s ability to plan ahead and partner with a company like Laidig can remedy the situation and reduce down time.  Laidig’s expert field service technicians are available to MSM to resolve the situation quickly.  Added Mr. Quintilla, “When we have had problems, they are always solved quickly and properly through Laidig Technical Assistance.  It is very important to us to have a good post-sales service team and they are great.  We are not experts in operating this kind of machinery, so Laidig helps us in maintaining the machines.  If we didn’t have a solid service team for these machines, we wouldn’t survive.”

MSM has been pleased with their partnership with Laidig.  According to Mr. Quintilla, the two Planetaire™ Reclaim Systems they have in place have met and exceeded their expectations and have been a perfect fit for their goal of total automation operations.  “These reclaim systems work very well for us.  They are robust and we have had minimal issues that have been fixed quickly.  They are strong machines and the Laidig team has been very helpful to us.  Laidig has the right product for MSM and our type of business.”

Planning ahead and preparing for potential issues has allowed MSM to continue to operate at levels that are crucial to their business.  MSM understands that if problems arise, they are prepared to reduce their down time by having the most effective systems in place and a dedicated partner to support them.