SNF completes $18 million Lara plant upgrade

June 12, 2024

SNF Australia has significantly expanded capacity at its polyacrylamide manufacturing plant at Lara.

Phil McColl, who took the CEO role in April, says the construction and commissioning of the plant has just been completed at a cost of around $18 million.  The upgrade takes SNF Australia one step further up the raw material supply chain for acrylamide one of the key ingredient for SNF’s many polymer products, including powders, emulsions, liquids and dispersants, which are sold in 140 countries and improve the efficiency of industrial processes.

“We’ve invested significantly in our acrylamide plant, which is a key raw material that we used to have to import,” Mr McColl tells Geelong Manufacturing Council.

“Now we are able to basically manage our own feed stocks which insulates us if there was another pandemic, and gives us more stability and resilience in terms of our production footprint and the materials that go into the products we produce here.”

Founded in 1978, the privately-held firm is headquartered in the Rhone-Alpes region of France and has the largest polyacrylamide making capacity in the world across 21 facilities, accounting for almost half of all global production.

SNF is the world’s leading manufacturer of water-soluble polymers for treating and recycling water and wastewater. The Lara production facility manufactures polymers in emulsion and solution form, including, flocculants, coagulants, dispersants, and other specialty chemicals.

SNF Australia counts Barwon Water among its customers, and aids water treatment in oil and gas extraction, mining, agriculture, drinking water production, wastewater, sludge dewatering, and the manufacture of paper, textiles and cosmetics.

Mr McColl joined SNF Australia in early 2023 and spent a year shadowing Russell Schroeter, who was MD for more than two decades and remains chairman, to ascertain “the operating rhythm of the business.”

“That was always the intent of joining, it was part of that medium term succession plan,” he says, adding he now enjoys a commute going against the traffic to Lara.

“I travel in the opposite direction towards Geelong, which a more relaxing commute than fighting to the CBD on a daily basis. A good day is 25 minutes. A bad day is half an hour,” he says.

After a flat period during covid, Mr McColl says “there’s definitely been a bit of a shake up,” and in the evolving SNF pipeline are new scale and foam control additives, and products to control atmospheric and airborne dust, as well as filtration products to help reduce iron ore shipment moisture levels.

“These are areas that are an expansion to what we’ve traditionally sold, it’s going to help us with that next stage of growth that we’re looking to achieve in the next three to five years. We’ve got a number of innovative products that we’re bringing to market that’s going to set us in good stead to get back to the growth figures which we’ve been traditionally accustomed to.”

Mr McColl, who grew up in the UK, travels to the SNF French headquarters regularly, as well as regional meetings from Jakarta to Calgary and beyond. He is proud that sixteen different nationalities are employed on site, giving the Lara site a culturally diverse community, and also that women have been promoted to key leadership positions such as head of engineering, supply chain, the site QC manager and production chemist.

SNF also runs a graduate programme to attract younger people into the business.

“We’ve kept the people that are transitioning towards retirement and brought in graduates into different parts of the team to work with those people over a three to five year window and make sure they’re fully up to speed in the markets and the products and the applications in which we work,” Mr McColl says.

“We’re investing heavily in the diversity and strengthening of the team and we’ve really pushed internally to develop female members and tried to bring balance into the leadership team.”

Next on the agenda is a new office building on site for the local team of 85, which has grown 14% in recent years.

“We’ve just got to that stage now where the infrastructure that we’ve got is too small to comfortably house the team. The plan is to really keep the local element as this does give you different lifestyle opportunities — we really are able to offer quite a broad cross section of careers for people who perhaps don’t want to commute into the city.

“There are not many production plants where you could live at Torquay or one of the other beaches and yet still be part of a sizable company which has got a manufacturing and sales footprint and inhouse supply chain. That’s something that we intend to continue to leverage when we do our recruitment pushes.”