Development Zones across the world are created to attract foreign capital, substitute imports, create jobs, and link productive and value chains. All this directly contributes to the development of the country, and that is what Cuba has been doing in its Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM).
While this type of project usually requires between three and five years to create the necessary infrastructure and conditions to attract businesses, the ZEDM has done so simultaneously. Five years since its creation, the Zone already has a concessionaire and 41 approved users, of which 17 are in operation.
Although many of the entities located in the Zone are already providing services, until now none of those in operation has been dedicated to producing finished goods. Devox Caribe’s ZEDM plant is set to be the first to do so, and recently began its test phase.
THE COLOR OF CUBA
“A proudly Cuban product!” is the branding slogan that can be found on each one of buckets of paint produced by Devox Caribe. According to its President, Jaime Murow Troice, Devox, a subsidiary of the Mexican company General Paint, has been importing paint of all kinds to Cuba for 25 years.
“The business proposal of the Special Development Zone is attractive and we decided to produce rather than to import. We were one of the first to arrive at the ZEDM and today we are the first to make our product here,” Murow explains.
The factory that is registered within the Zone’s modalities as a Cuban company with a hundred percent foreign capital, is capable of producing between 60,000 and 70,000 liters of paint in an eight-hour work shift, which is equivalent to around 3,500 buckets.
“In this first stage, we will only produce water-based paints. One hundred percent acrylic paints and of very high quality; waterproofing coatings, polyurethane acrylic roof coatings, flexible wall paints, some surface finishers, floor and wood varnishes, all water-based,” the Devox president notes.
HIGH TECHNOLOGY TO PRODUCE
“The productive spaces are ready. All the tests have been undertaken for the start-up and we have enough raw materials,” Murow states, explaining each of the factory’s areas.
From the outside, one can see six storage tanks and the water cistern, which has a capacity of 130,000 liters. Once inside, the areas are well defined. In the center, at a height of 5.40 meters, is the plant’s platform.
Murow explains that when building the factory, devised were ways to save electricity and water, as well as creating an environmentally-friendly plant.
“Raising the platform was very expensive, but the idea is to work using gravity to unload the tanks. In this way, the paint flows directly into containers without the need for pumps that consume energy,” he adds.
The largest of the tanks is for white paint. The others are intended for greens, reds and other shades. This separation makes washing easier, saving on unnecessarily water use. The method allows water to be reused in other processes such as the plant’s bathrooms, which are connected to a biodigester.
It is rare to find a factory where all the tanks are made of stainless steel, but here, Murow notes, it is fitting due to corrosion and cleaning issues. “They are all closed stainless steel tanks, and the mixers inside are not like traditional paddles. These, unlike the others, consume 25% less energy and are 50% faster in the mixing process.”
On this same platform is the control room, which is the “brain” of the entire factory. From here, all procedures are monitored. It is a fully automated plant, but it can also be controlled manually.
“It is designed to never stop. It is completely automated but, if we have a problem, it can also be controlled manually. It is a state-of-the-art plant that has fiber optics for voice and data communication.
“It can be operated from anywhere in the world, because it is integrated into what is known today as the Internet of things (IoT). From a mobile device or a computer, one can review the system operation and activate or make changes in the factory production processes,” the Devox Caribe president explains.
Another area is the color laboratory, where each of the colors requested by clients is designed, using new pigment technology.
“These are pigments that do not have to be dispersed, you do not have to grind them, or use liquids. They are granules that are mixed with the solid material, and without making powder, you add them to obtain the color you want. This avoids dirtying paste pipes and makes the process as clean as possible,” notes Murow.
Quality assurance is another of the procedures performed in a paint factory. In this part of the process, viscosity, and washability (possibility of cleaning dirt from the dry film without causing deterioration) tests are conducted, and it is ensured that the paint matches expectations and that the batch in production matches its design.
In another area of the plant, the packaging process is carried out. This happens from the platform, by gravity, as the paint flows to fill buckets. This process is also automated, using high-tech equipment.
A SUSTAINABLE FACTORY
The ZEDM defends ecological sustainability and the activities of concessionaires and users must contribute to this objective. The Devox Caribe plant is designed to save energy, water, and operate in the greenest possible environment.
So much so, that the company decided to combine the industrial plant with art. Its president says there is no need to separate these two fields, and as such, the columns that support the platform and other spaces of the structure have been painted by a young artist, to create a colorful, natural looking environment.
“It’s about living in harmony with the environment that surrounds us. For example, we have decided to use a grid and gravel for the outdoor area, so that when it rains, instead of flowing into the storm drain, the water returns to the subsoil helping to refill groundwater sources,” Murow details.
The plant, as requested by the Zone and the municipality of Artemisa, is designed to withstand hurricanes. Even though its structure includes holes to be lighter and allow for better air circulation, it maintains its resistance.
Another interesting fact about the factory is its roof, completely covered with translucent solar panels. The cells generate power for the factory’s operations and contribute to lighting all its spaces.
“Architecturally, it looks very good and allows us to generate our own energy. We have a contract with the Electrical Union of Cuba (UNE), and any excess energy that we generate goes to the National Grid. So far, as the factory is not working at one hundred percent capacity, we have only contributed 30,000 kilowatts to the grid, but on productive days this figure can increase significantly,” Murow adds.
Another feature of the plant is its so-called photovoltaic lamps. These are openings that absorb solar energy and magnify it, allowing for further savings.
The factory also has an emergency power plant. As its president explains, on a cloudy day, when there isn’t enough solar energy generated to operate, the “brain” of the photovoltaic system will decide to use power from the grid, or the emergency plant. “For example, when working at night, all power will be supplied by the UNE, as the system is not designed with batteries.”
EXPERIENCES AT THE ZEDM
The president of Devox Caribe notes that the plot where the plant is located was made available in January 2016. The building permit process followed and groundworks began immediately, and it was in January 2017 that assembly of the plant structure began. It took about two years to complete the construction works.
“The Single-Window, which is our link from the ZEDM to the outside world, has supported us, but it still took longer than we expected to finish. It has been a difficult road, because practically all the supplies had to be brought from abroad. The logistics have been complicated, even with all the facilitation that Customs has offered us; but we have the satisfaction that the factory is already producing and there are contracts with different entities,” he notes.
As a fully automated plant, it only requires about 30 workers to operate. However, it is important to clarify that all are qualified sector professionals. According to Murow, the idea is that all workers be Cuban.
“In this first moment, there are two Mexicans training the staff, but the intention is that if we are in Cuba, the workers be from here. The work team provided us through the employment agency is very good. We have worked with them on issues related to productivity, equipment, product quality; and they learn well,” Murow continues.
The idea of this type of company or factory is to create productive chains together with Cuban enterprises. The company president explains that they have already started using materials from the Coco Peredo Mine and all the parts they use are manufactured in Cuba by the Agro-industry.
“We are in the process of incorporating Cuban enterprises into our production chains, but as of yet, we have been unable to advance at a good pace. Currently, we bring most of the raw materials from abroad, and from Cuba basically we only use water and calcium carbonate,” he adds.
The company has already begun to supply paint to the Cuban enterprise, Almacenes Universales S.A., and as of January 2019, will begin supplying other clients. In this first stage, only water-based paints are to be produced, but anti-corrosion coatings and other high-value paints are planned for the second phase, ideal for any type of construction, home or industry.
Devox Caribe today consolidates itself as the first company in the Mariel Special Development Zone to make finished products. With a production capacity of 24 million liters of paint per year, this company has as its priority meeting the demands of the Cuban market, and later, exporting its products to other parts of the Caribbean.