Trainee report: Bioforce Program 2014, Pulp mill, Fray Bentos, Uruguay

I really wanted to get in either to UPM Bioforce Trainee Program or to the international trainee exchange program of PI (The Finnish Paper Engineers' Association). I had always wanted to work in a pulp mill, work overseas and to learn one more language so this opportunity to work in a mill in South America seemed like a perfect combination of the all. I set my primary aim to Bioforce Trainee Program in Fray Bentos and secondary to the trainee positions of PI in Chile. Later on PI announced that this year the trainee positions in Chile had been moved to winter 2015. I remember one cold droplet of sweat rolling down my forehead as I was in Guatemala at the time building up my Spanish keeping eye on the internships.

Well, I posted my application and made it through the firs set of interviews in Helsinki to the final web interview directly to the mill of Fray Bentos and amazingly got accepted to the program even though I lacked direct work experience in pulp production. Soon after that I was on my way to Fray Bentos and now I’m already back in Finland writing this report with a cup of mate in my hand after unforgettable three months I spent in the countryside of Uruguay.

As discussed during the selection process my job consisted of studying the processes and everyday operations of the pulp mill working with the process operators. I worked for two to three rotations per area and in three months explored more or less all the functions of the mill in aim to learn everything I could in a limited period of time. For me this arrangement worked well as a modern pulp mill really is an interesting learning environment for a soon-­to­‐be engineer.

While learning a thing or two of process operations I also studied quite enthusiastically to make the most of my limited time in the plant. I kept on exploring the operation manuals of Andritz, searched the PI-diagrams of the mill, updated my pulp making vocabulary in Spanish with the training material of SENAI-CETCEP and by the end of August finished couple of books of the Papermaking Science and Technology series. It was really inspiring to learn things this way in the mill with half of theory and other practice.

The way of work is quite alike compared to mills in Finland although with a little Uruguayan twist like passing and sharing a cup of mate, greeting everybody every day with handshakes or cheek kisses and there really is a certain boost of liveliness and positive energy to what I had used to, but in general the real work is done the same way and as efficiently as in Finland.

I truly enjoyed working with the fellow operators. They are awesome people: hardworking, smart, friendly, the list would go on and on. They are also delightfully active and open minded for development projects and are for example eagerly participating in meetings between shifts in the mill. I got the impression that they are very happy, proud even to be working in UPM because working conditions in general are great and fair. The people of the mill treated me very well and from the first day I felt welcome to be part of the crew. My shift had a great team spirit and it was always fun to go to the mill because I knew the day would be great anyway no matter the level of challenges in the production.

Shifts also organize regularly a dinner where an impressive amount of meet is grilled and couple of beers sipped. To me it seemed like a great way to lift the team spirit even more, talk about the things at work and have a little bit fun.

One of the most challenging but also interesting and rewarding experiences for a trainee is surviving in Uruguay, of course, in Spanish. I had been preparing for it by taking all the courses in the university and even by traveling to Guatemala for self-­‐organized immersion studies. But it still was surprisingly tricky to get along with the accent of Uruguay and the words and phrases of Fray Bentos. With supportive encouragement of the fellow workers, little by little Spanish got a lot easier though and I am really happy for the progress I made during the internship. The process of learning a new language is by itself a really interesting experience not to mention the massive joy you feel when you realize the little steps of advancement you make along the way.

Before the trainee ship I had travelled quite extensively to different, remote even places of the world but still working in a foreign country was a quite different story. There are so many new things to learn and even to understand that sometimes I felt a little bit overwhelmed. But there really was nothing too difficult to handle and even though it is not always easy it surely is interesting. I have to say that key adapting to the life in Fray Bentos really is the language so prep up your Spanish before signing.

To balance the life at the mill, I utilized the four free days (advantage of shift work) between rotations mostly by traveling. Couple of times I departed quite directly after night shifts to my travels and one time even arrived back to Fray Bentos two hours before first morning shift. My travels included for example a magical sunrise in Cabo Polonio and a photographing course in Buenos Aires, just to name a few.

I can strongly recommend the Bio Force Trainee program for everyone interested in learning some of the secrets of pulp making. For me it was the most intensive, eye opening and inspiring working experience I have ever had. I returned home full of energy with a feeling that there are a lot of potential and interesting job opportunities in the forest industry for young engineers. I am very grateful to UPM and The Finnish Paper Engineers' Association for offering me this trainee position and wish to give special thanks to all the wonderful person I met and worked with before, during and even after the trainee program. Thank you.


Aleksi Alasalmi / University of Oulu, Process engineering/paper & pulp/ industrial engineering.