Threads without knots

Grodno’s cotton mill was set up almost fifty years ago and came to house a powerful fertiliser facility

Grodno’s cotton mill was set up almost fifty years ago and came to house a powerful fertiliser facility
Grodno’s cotton mill was set up almost fifty years ago and came to house a powerful fertiliser facility (now known as Grodno-Azot). While men were busy constructing a domestic chemical industry giant, women worked at the new plant — producing threads and yarn. The company grew, gaining momentum, coming to supply a quarter of the USSR’s thread. The decay of the 1990s might have tolled death for the factory but, happily, modernisation has made it possible to preserve production and jobs, while taking manufacturing to a whole new level.

Gronitex JSC is one of the leading enterprises of Belarus’ textile sector

Two decades ago, the situation looked hopeless. The Central Asian republics — which seceded the Soviet Union — ceased to supply raw materials, establishing their own spinning plants. Moreover, our state and the factory lacked funds to import cotton. Hard times began: the factory closed its workshops, cutting working hours for personnel, losing employees and accumulating losses. To fill financial gaps, it began producing socks and tights. However, the move did not solve the problem, and workers were obliged to accept hosiery in lieu of wages.

Alla Minaeva, who heads the factory’s museum, recollects, “People received their ‘salary’ and then went to neighbours, friends and markets to ‘sell’ it — including in Poland. Shuttle traders were common, simply to survive. Some left their jobs and others remained on the staff; owing to reduced working hours, people had enough time to trade independently.”

By 2000, the problem was acute and a decision was needed on whether to close the factory or find an efficient solution. It was decided to seek an alternative to imported raw materials and, with this in mind, equipment was purchased to process local flax. Sadly, the quality of the resulting yarn proved unsatisfactory and the factory lacked the ability to take out loans for further investment. It was obliged to give the bank its recreation centre and pioneer camp on the bank of a lake to repay its first loan and, by 2004, the plant was in serious debt, and lacked modern machinery. It was obliged to lay off 5,000 staff members, as it was making a loss of 14 percent annually.

Under the new name of Gronitex, it gained support via a Presidential decree, with over Br17bn allocated to enable technical re-equipment of the thread section (the sewing and knitwear facilities having already been most recently modernised). It was necessary to do everything possible to satisfy customers used to the quality of imported goods.

The Grodno factory began to turn a profit once its quality improved; ‘old’ customers returned and new clients were attracted.

The President’s second decree — ‘On Support of Light Industry’ — enabled the company to modernise its yarn and thread production. The Director of Gronitex JSC, Valentina Lavtsel, recollects those times with pride, saying, “We purchased the most modern and high quality machinery, from Germany, Switzerland and Italy. We aimed to ensure our technological processes could rival western analogues in speed and quality.”

Since 2008, profitability has remained positive, with all state loans and bank credits repaid. Employees enjoy a gym, free dental treatment and consultation with a therapist. Using its own funds, the company has repaired its buildings and developed its grounds, welcoming suppliers and clients with pride.

Of course, global conditions remain competitive, obliging the enterprise to remain on its toes. Some customers fail to pay for their goods, for instance. Nevertheless, using its own funds and banking loans, the company is investing 1.7m Euros in installing two imported spinning machines — to replace six obsolete models. One was launched recently for a test run, at the hands of Lilia Chesnulevich. She admits, “I work with pleasure now. In the past, I had to knot flying threads by hand, tying hundreds during a working shift. The new machine copes with these breaks independently — importantly, without making knots. I simply observe.”

The current stage of modernisation is soon to be finished, enabling Grodno threads to reduce in cost by 15 percent, while being of better quality. This will enhance the competitiveness of the company and of related light industry.

By Katerina Charovskaya
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