Zestafoni Ferroalloys Plant, which employs a total of 1,800 people and has a number of subcontractors, is one of the production sites that has continued to work non-stop during the covid-19 pandemics. According to ZFP Director Vasil Gvelesiani, in terms of strengthening the economy, heavy industry has become one of the leaders in this difficult period. Despite the state of emergency, the industry, which is the main source of foreign currency influx into the country, has not interrupted its activities at all.
“We have managed to unite the interests of continuous production, as well as the interests of state and our employees,” says Vasil Gvelesiani.
How does one of the largest exporters in the country continue to operatet? How did the ZFP increase production during pandemics and when does it plan to remove the restrictions imposed by the state? ZFP Director Vasily Gvelesiani spoke with us on these topics.
- Despite the global situation, the Zestafon Ferroalloy Plant continued to operate at its full capacity non-stop. How difficult was the situation for the company and how did you deal with the difficulties?
“The company correctly assessed the situation and made the right conclusions, which gave way to continuous production. Today we can safely say that this was the only right decision and the facts confirm this. We have gone through a difficult period and I mean not only the difficulties from an economic point of view. Suddenly, we faced a pandemic and began to fight an invisible enemy. It was psychologically difficult to rebuild all this, but we managed to do so.”
- According to the Georgian Government decrees, those companies that did not cease operations during the pandemic had to adhere to strict safety standards. ZFP was among them. What is the current situation, how relaxed are the safety requirements, and how long do you plan to follow the imposed standards?
“We were one of the first companies to meet the stringent requirements imposed by the government in a timely manner. We have complied with all the recommendations, including keeping distance, the use of face masks and respirators on vehicles and in all production facilities, daily disinfection of vehicles, cleaning industrial facilities with special disinfectant solution, washing new equipment, so called disinfectant barriers, and information banners. In addition, the most important security issue was the temporary closure of ZFP canteens and providing employees with dry meals. Thanks to following these standards, we managed to avoid infection. Today we are still acting in accordance with the recommendations and will continue to comply with the standards until the end of this month. Then we will remove the restrictions if the situation in the country allows.”
- Let's talk about the experience of other countries: Did you follow the process of heavy industry in other countries during the pandemic? How do you think the plant reacted correctly to the current situation?
“Of course, we follow the experience of other countries and it is worth mentioning that many large enterprises have ceased to work, including metallurgical companies, which are the main consumers of our ferroalloys. There are some changes in our planned annual sales. Speaking about the example of foreign countries, I think that we are not lagging. Moreover, we have come forward in this situation. We have combined the interests of our continuous production, as well as the interests of the state and our workers.”
- ZFP is one of the largest employers in the country. How many workers in total are employed at the plant and what are your main export destinations?
“A total of 1,800 people work at the Zestafoni Ferroalloy Plant, but at the same time, we have subcontractors with dozens of employees. Among them are logistics and transportation companies, construction and installation workers, catering and trade facilities. As for export markets, we have strong positions in the US, Russia, and Europe. I would like to tell you that the high quality of our products guarantees our long-term business in these markets. I can proudly say that we didn’t have to advertise 200,000 tons of products that have been shipped from the beginning of this year. If someone is thinking about reducing production and limiting the use of ferroalloys, they must first get rid of unscrupulous suppliers. This problem will end soon, because the products manufactured by ZFP are of good quality and competitive in the international markets.”
- When dozens of enterprises were closed and many jobs were lost, the ZFP increased its production cycle and put into operation a 22.5 MW fully repaired furnace. How important was the inclusion of this furnace in the production process in such a difficult period, and what are the benefits for the company?
“Commissioning of a new furnace demonstrates the accuracy of our calculations and a loyal approach to our employees. Of course, there were risks, but the management of Georgian Manganese, based on a study of sales and demand markets, nevertheless decided to put a 22.5 megawatt furnace into operation. The furnace was fully refurbished and the company management decided to launch it in March.
In total, we invested $3 million, but the main thing is the work done by our employees - the continuous joint work of professionals in the field of design, technology, construction, mechanics, energy, automation and security that lasted for several months. The launch of a new furnace means producing additional 2,000 tons of ferroalloys per month. I believe that this decision has become more important for the employees, since launching the furnace in a pandemic was another guarantee that they would keep their work.”
- In general, how much did the pandemic affect heavy industry? How do you assess the current situation in Georgia?
“The situation is really unfavorable, it is a fact. Every day we receive the necessary information from our partners and we know what the situation is in other countries. However, it should also be noted that the pandemic affected not only heavy industry, but also other industries. People lost their jobs and their main source of income. Being in a state of constant expectation and fear is very difficult. However, it should be noted that the Georgian government, businesses and the people themselves have assumed great responsibility for the situation. We can say that we have successfully completed the first stage of the fight against the pandemic.”
- Experts say that there is a risk of a export turnover decrease. How do you assess these risks? In addition, what can the company do to avoid losses, to make the post-pandemic period as painless as possible?
“Market requirements change weekly. Our experience tells us that stagnation is always followed by growth and we will not miss this moment. We have determined the company's development strategy for the year to come and it provides for production volumes that correspond to the current market needs. If necessary, we can increase these volumes.”
- What are the plans of the ZFP for the near future?
“Due to the current situation, the rhythm is intense and ZFP continues to work in a rather optimistic mood.”