Albras Aluminio Brasileiro delivers prompt quality in every 22 Kg aluminum bar that is sold all over the world. Gisele Ribeiro reports on how this Brazilian company has provided a lighter and yet stronger structure in people’s lives since 1985.
Albras has gone through substantial improve-ments since its initial idea-conception in the late 1970s. It was then that Brazilian President Geisel’s National Development Plan started to shape the Amazon region, turning it into a productive and habitable area. “This politico-social project aimed for the reduction of economical differences among the five Brazilian regions. Several agricultural and cattle raising projects were tried and proven unsuccessful. It was then they decided to build a hydroelectric power station, demanding the creation of electro intensive companies as consumers,” explains Takeshi Maeda, vice president.
Tucuruí, one of the largest Brazilian hydroelectric power stations, located in Pará, needed big electric consumers. Aluminum, number 13 in the chemical atomic chart, seemed to be the perfect product to be manufactured in the region due to abundance of bauxite and its electro intensive production needs. It was a perfect combination. Tucuruí needed Albras and vice versa. Albras was officially constituted on paper in 1978, as a result of efforts made by the state company Vale do Rio Doce towards building a pioneer aluminum manufacturer in the north of Brazil. In order to accomplish the task, Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) sought help from abroad. Japanese companies happened to be deactivating some units due to the oil chock. They were eager to find new alternatives outside Japan and Albras was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Both Brazilian and Japanese governments were committed to joining forces to create a valuable source of development, exchanging vast natural resources and high-end technology. The original stock split remains the same as it is today. The Brazilian giant state company, CVRD, and the powerful Nippon Amazon Aluminium Co. Ltd., NAAC, hold respectively 51 and 49 percent of Albras’ capital. CVRD was privatized in 1997 and is now one of the most important holding groups worldwide. NAAC is a pool of Japanese companies and institutions, such as Japan Bank for International Cooperation, JBIC, which is its most influential participant.
Albras is number one in the national ranking, with the largest aluminum factory in Brazil, measuring 360,000 square meters, with four production lines generating close to 460 tons each year. The company occupies the 12th place among the top manufacturers in the world. It has been placed among the 10 best companies to work for in Brazil and it has been included in the five best regarding human resources management. “We truly believe that a happy employee produces more,” says Luis Jorge Nunes, industrial director.
The secret for the successful trajectory reached by Albras lies in reducing operational costs, applying international benchmark standards concerning safety, providing a rigorous environment-friendly approach, motivating personnel and social responsibility as part of the community. Albras complies with international quality certifications, such as ISO: 9001 (productive process), ISO: 14001 (environment management), OHSAS 1800 (occupational safety and health) and SA 8000 (social responsibility). The high-level of performance has brought to Albras important prizes, such as Quality and Productivity awarded by the National Industry Confederation (CNI) and the prize FINEP for technological innovation.
Investing in People
Benchmarking has helped Albras to improve its processes by absorbing and adapting what other companies in the segment have to offer. Albras has engaged in cooperative agreements with national and international institutions, which have made useful exchanges possible. But not only technology propels Albras ahead, the company is also committed to engaging its personnel in a complete integration, taking social responsibility seriously.
“I can guarantee that our company is unique in its approach to human resources management. No other company values people as much as we do. We really put social responsibility into practice through our programs,” affirms Paulo Ivan, external relations director. Total Quality Control has been part of the company’s management model since the early 1990s and every year its values, goals and vision are reevaluated. Albras also utilizes tools such as BSC (balance score card), which is based on employee participation. The company is setting strong goals for 2010 regarding cost, health, environmental conditions, client satisfaction and a better quality of life for all teams involved in the process.
“Our employees don’t go to our factory just to work,” says Nunes. Albras is located in a region surrounded by very poor communities and one of the company’s most important missions is to help provide a better standard of living to these communities. Healthy Life is one of the several programs developed by Albras, which offers a complete team of doctors, nutritionists, personal trainers and psychologists, along with a gym. CulturAlbras is a program in which employees and their families are exposed to art, music, dance and theater.
A local Community Development Center is among the services supported by Albras focused on people. It has helped to build a hospital, a school and leisure spaces. Albras also promotes volunteer work and other activities to generate income to the poorest, such as the Mechanized Familiar Agriculture program, and “Our Garbage has a Future” program. This last one consists of urban garbage recycling units, resulting in the production of fertilizers, toys and artifacts made out of reconditioned wood. Even shoe soles are made of reconditioned residue from rubber straps that transport bauxite. Safety is another big concern for Albras, which adopted tools such as zero risk and daily safety dialog. They have guaranteed significant reduction in accidents.
More Energy to Grow
From a technologically modest first line of production in the 1980s, Albras went through a big jump in the 90s when it introduced advanced processes, such as magnetic compensation in order to increase the efficiency of its ovens. Those changes led to a better energy utilization, resulting in a strong positive impact on production volume.
The production capacity has gradually increased since Albras started its operations. In 2001, with the help of its own specialized engineers and technician team, the company surpassed the barrier of 400 tons annually. From 458 tons of liquid metal produced today, 10,000 are high-grade metal. U.S $1.6 billion has been invested in the expansion. The restless effort to improve has guaranteed Albras a high level of operational consistency. Between 2001 and 2006, it developed the Creep program, which, as its name implies, has allowed the company to slowly experience an expansion in production without large investments, just by better utilizing the company’s assets.
There is now a new project in the works: the Side Riser, which will continue to be tested in 10 ovens until 2008. The goal is to provide optimal efficiency of electric current exchange, counting on a new design for its sliding bars system. Instead of developing new technology, Albras’ strategy has been to integrate acquired technology to its existing processes. Albras has improved technology applied to its production plants by utilizing tools such as Six Sigma, PDCA, CCQ and a well-structured system for problem solving.
Quality is top priority at Albras, where production is monitored by sophisticated systems and counts on the follow-up of a laboratory that analyses samples throughout the whole process, from the raw material to the final product.
Analysts estimate that Albras will continue increasing production volume, which will depend on the availability of energy supply at competitive prices. “Barcarena region has all that is needed for building a fifth line, adding 250,000 tons to the existent production capacity. There is abundant alumna and qualified personnel.”