Unsung heroes of Limbe Leaf factory operations
Inside the Limbe Leaf processing factory is a harmony of clanking machinery, the wailing of grinders and breathing of heavy equipment, 24 hours a day.
The huge machines would inspire awe to a stranger who would be wondering how they operate and who it is that has the skill to make them run and run smoothly.
Yet behind it all are hands that would be easily ignored, hands small but still huge enough to make the towering machines run in obedience.
These unsung heroes are found in critical sections of the giant tobacco company. They are playing a huge role in making such a big player in the tobacco industry in Malawi.
Motor rewinding shop
The department is responsible for rewinding motors. In here, they can rewind motors as big as 150 horse power reducing all the way down to a fraction of a horse power.
Interestingly, the in-charge of this department is a woman.
Esther Chikusa, the Instrumentation and Motor Rewinding Supervisor, does not subscribe to the school of thought that such work is a man’s territory.
She joined Limbe Leaf in 2003 and started on the work floor just like anybody else but management noticed her abilities and skills and three years later she was handed the motor rewinding supervisory role.
“We receive motors from the factory that are faulty and some may need rewinding while others may just need service like replacing bearings. This is what I and my team here do and we make sure that we do it to the best of our abilities,” explains Chikusa.
“On average we rewind between five and 10 motors per day but that depends on the sizes of the motors. When they are big like these ones (150 horse power), it may take some days, sometimes even two weeks as it needs to be stripped and cleaned. But for most of motors, we do them in a day,” says Chikusa.
Chikusa hails her team for the support they give her as a supervisor.
“We work as a team of professionals. They respect me not because I am a woman but because I am a professional. I know my job and I have worked hard to attain this position,” explains Chikusa.
Motor rewinding is cost efficient as it saves the company huge sums of money. The company used to outsource this service but with the skills acquired over the years, rewinding is now done internally.
This is another area which serves not only the plant but other areas of the factory including staff houses.
As Fred Kaliati, Fabrication Supervisor explains, they produce all sorts of materials which include bends for air ducts, metal chairs for pickers, ducts to suck and transport dust from the processing plant and many other items.
“We regard safety as a priority when we are working because our work can be risky. We use scrap metal to fabricate most of the items such as bends for air ducts,” says Kaliati who joined Limbe Leaf in 1997 and looks after 10 fabricators.
“We do fabrication works for the whole company but our main focus is that the plant should be running all the time,” explains Kaliati.
This is another important department as it is responsible for making most of the parts for the machines in the factory.
Clement Nkosi is supervisor of the machine shop and he joined Limbe Leaf in 1998.
He says although there are only three people in their department, they work hard to meet and surpass their targets. To guarantee smooth running of the plant, they ensure that there is always stock of frequently required parts
Some of the parts that are made and fixed in the machine shop include eccentric shafts, velcro rollers, trunions, rollers for conveyors, shafts for durab machine, shafts for quality control, shafts for Godioli machine, bushes for Godioli machine, pulleys and sprockets, just to mention but a few.
The carpentry workshop is one of the departments that maintains infrastructure at the factory premises as well as company houses. They make sure that doors, frames and all wooden structures are maintained and are in good order.
They cut timber of any size and provide planks, frames and doors for the factory and staff houses.
There are five people in this department under the supervision of Shepert Longwe and assisted by Eliam Mhone.
Longwe says they are a happy team and always feel appreciated when their work is commended.
“We feel very good and happy because we are assessed on performance and we need to meet required standards. If there is no query on the work that we do, we are happy because we know we are delivering,” explains Longwe.
Longwe joined Limbe Leaf on 1st December 1995 while Mhone joined in January 1998.
This is the engine room of the plant. It generates steam from coal and supply to the plant for mainly two reasons: to soften tobacco leaves before entering the machines and to dry the tobacco leaves after leaving the machines. Tobacco leaf has to be at various required moisture levels during processing.
George Phakaphaka, Supervisor of the Boiler House, explains that they have to be on top of the game all the time to supply steam which runs the machines.
“We have three boilers and they are all running at the same time because we have three processing lines in the factory. All boilers feed into the steam header and goes to the factory in one line. We use coal to run the boilers,” explains Phakaphaka.
He says they supply steam to the factory depending on how much the factory is demanding but said the normal production capacity is 960kpa.
“If all is well in the factory we feel good because if we have a problem here it will affect the factory and it is our wish that we should have steam all the time for people to work in the factory.
“This is the engine of the factory, if there is no steam, there will be no production and that is why we have to be on top of our game all the time,” adds Phakaphaka who supervises five boiler stalkers and one operator per two 12 hour shifts.
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