Uruguay project update: Keeping the pedal to the metal
Time flies: it’s been two and a half years since UPM announced its decision to build a pulp mill in central Uruguay, and these past 30 months really have flown – with some turbulence included!.We have reached the height of the project in the number of people: over 6,000 are working on the project at the various construction sites.
At the pulp mill site in Paso de los Toros, the installation phase with mechanical erection continues to progress in all main process areas and electrification, instrumentation and automation erection works have started. The majority of large civil works have also been completed. The power boiler pressure test was done successfully in December, and commissioning works will proceed in the coming months.
At the pulp terminal in Montevideo works are progressing as planned. A large part of the terminal area has been completed, including the structure and roofing of the pulp warehouse – an area of 50,000 square metres. The unloading lines for the railway were also completed and construction of the railway has continued. Piping, pipe bridge, auxiliary machinery and electrical installation work continues in the port basin.
Unforeseen but persistent challenges
Implementing a project of this scale is a massive undertaking under any circumstances. Carrying it out during a global pandemic and unprecedented global logistics challenges has truly tested our stamina and sometimes even creativity.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit during the first year of the project. Thanks to the prompt and consistent national measures taken by the Government of Uruguay, and the speedy implementation of our own strict Covid protocols at all construction sites, works have continued throughout the pandemic. The health and safety of the people and the community have of course been our top priority throughout all this, but you can imagine that having as many as 20% of the workforce in quarantine at the worst times has naturally challenged the project.
Another curveball for the project came with unprecedented logistics challenges. Across the globe, few if any industries have been immune to supply shortages and delays. In our case, large parts of the mill are very special, tailor-made pieces manufactured in different parts of the world. Even in normal circumstances timely transportation over seas and then across Uruguay is a real-life jigsaw on a massive scale, or an extreme version of the good old video game Tetris. Throw in the logistics challenges of the past 12 months – from the Evergreen ship stuck in the Suez channel to the tight availability of containers and vessels – and it’s an entirely different ball game.
The majority of the equipment has now arrived in Uruguay so the biggest material uncertainties are resolved. Large scale cargo transfers from the UPM Fray Bentos port to the new mill site still continue for a few more months and include the transports of the machinery, equipment, and structures necessary for the construction of the UPM Paso de los Toros mill.
New timeline, unchanged determination and growing excitement
Given the persistence of the pandemic and the impacts of the logistics challenges, we have adjusted our project timeline and will now work towards a start-up by the end of the first quarter of 2023. For us this delay – albeit minor and inevitable – is of course disappointing because we are a very determined bunch of people! But the setbacks have only ignited our resolve: the spirit and energy in the team is high, and we continue full speed ahead.
It is also inspiring to see the new pulp professionals emerging: the first 62 pulp mill operators have already been trained and some are honing their skills at our Fray Bentos mill even as we speak. As part of our community outreach programme the citizens of Paso de los Toros are developing their English skills – and having fun doing it! Dozens of local companies have grown and expanded their businesses alongside the project, and new businesses have started up in the region and communities surrounding the mill.
These are just glimpses of the new opportunities this project has already brought and will continue to bring to thousands of people. Seeing the mill taking shape is extremely exciting – seeing the excitement of people as they seize these opportunities is both humbling and energizing.