Tully Sugar is investing more than $8 million in upgrade and maintenance projects, including installation of a new mill turbine at a cost of about $3 million.
General manager Barry Dun said the works would be carried out before the next crush, which was expected to begin at the end of May.
The business, acquired by Cofco in 2011, has had a run of bumper seasons culminating in a record 2, 935,950 tonnes of cane crushed in 2016.
Mr Dun said it was investing in capital works to help match the mill’s capacity to the cane supply.
Among the major projects this year are installation of an additional steam turbine to drive the shredder.
“Our current shredder is underpowered for the task we’ve been requiring of it so we intend to double the power by installing a second steam turbine,” Mr Dun said.
“That turbine is arriving in Townsville next week and will be brought to site. Much of the installation we will be doing ourselves in co-operation with the turbine supplier (Shin Nippon).”
Mr Dun said also that Tully Sugar had placed an order during the week for a further 100 new cane bins, worth about $1.7 million, to be supplied by Bradken Industries – which has an operation near Innisfail.
“Bradken Industries has a presence in China as well,” he said.
“Part of the fabrication work for those bins will be done in China and some of the assembly and casting and specialist work will be done at their site here.”
That supply chain model had successfully delivered 200 bins for Tully Sugar last year, he said.
Mr Dun said Tully Sugar also planned a $300,000 refit of one of its locomotives.
EDMS Australia will lead a $1.2 million project to upgrade the receival hopper under the rotating tipper that empties cane bins at the mill.
Townsville-based Dawsons will carry out a $500,000 project to add capacity at the evaporators, where water content is removed from the cane juice.
Mr Dun said one of the centrifugal units would be replaced at a cost of about $800,000, with Tully Sugar’s own workforce carrying out the installation.
“Then there’s a handful of other minor projects,” Mr Dun said.
The extended crushing season has increased the amount of Tully Sugar work for contractors.
“We have a significant engineering capacity within our own organisation, but with these large crops that we’ve been processing that creates significant opportunity for others as well because our opportunity to undertake maintenance works and upgrade work is quite limited,” Mr Dun said.
“Normally the crushing season would finish by late November or the beginning of December and not resume again until the middle of June.
“But last year we crushed through to New Year’s Eve and the year before was January 4, and we’ve been aiming to be going again by the end of May – so it’s quite a compressed period and a lot of extra work to do.
“There’s a strong relationship between the size of the crop we crush and the amount of maintenance that’s required on the factory after we finish crushing.
“It’s a good problem to have, but it is stretching our own resources to get the amount of work done that we think we need to do.
“There is clearly spill-over to contractors and whilst we don’t have a clear policy of supporting locals we do like to do that.
“There is capacity in the region, but at the end of the day it needs to be commercially attractive for us to support those people.”