Durable storage tubs for the global fish industry

The fishing industry in Iceland has learned that adding ever more value to the resource is the only way to compensate for dwindling fish catches. This pursuit for greater value has led to the development of a vast and diverse ancillary industry on Iceland dedicated to developing and implementing methods that increase the returns from the raw material. Vessel design, catching gear, storage and transport, processing machinery, and biotechnology, are some of the areas that have developed in Iceland as a result of the fishing industry.

Some of the companies that started in response to demands from the local fishing industry have grown to become international leaders in their fields, Marel for example in processing equipment, and Hampiðjan in catching gear. Yet another Icelandic company, Promens, is well known all over the world for the durability and flexibility of its storage tubs. You might not think that plastic storage tubs are a particularly sophisticated product, says Sævaldur J. Gunnarsson, area sales manager for Europe, but it is surprisingly difficult to make them properly, something we have been doing since 1984.

Containers are available in different colours, and can be decorated with the owner’s logo, a serial number, or some other text, that serves to promote the company and its products.


Double-walled insulated plastic tubs

Back then the company was known as Saeplast, a firm established in Dalvik in northern Iceland to cater to the demand from the fish industry for ways to extend the quality lifetime of fish. The solution was a double-walled insulated plastic tub for the storage of fish. After Saeplast was established several international acquisitions followed over the years, leading to the formation of the Promens Group, which became the parent company of Saeplast, which in turn changed its name to Promens Dalvik.

Today the Promens Group offers a wide range of products and services grouped into four main categories: insulated tubs and pallets; packaging; components; and material handling. Although the Group has diversified, the international fisheries sector remains one of its most important customers. At Promens Dalvik, 50% of the turnover is generated by the fishing industry, says Hilmar Gudmundsson, sales and marketing director. It used to be 100%. While sales to other sectors have increased several-fold, sales to the fish industry have also increased. To better serve its customers Promens Dalvik has over the years expanded its production base from Iceland to three factories overseas, one each in Canada, Spain, and India. This allows us to adapt the production to the order, depending on who the customer is, where he is, and the product required, explains Mr Gudmundsson.


Containers are highly versatile

Under the insulated tubs and pallets product category fall about 20 different sized double walled plastic tubs that are used primarily by the fishing and fish processing industry. But the containers can be used in any other industry that needs volume storage. We produce tubs that are used in the meat business, in bakeries, wineries, and recycling plants for batteries or paper, for example, adds Mr Gunnarsson. Our tubs are easier to handle than steel containers, they cost less, and they can be easily cleaned to the standards required for the storage of food products, thanks to the smooth polyethylene skin. The containers’ structure comprises a double wall of polyethylene sandwiched around a thermal insulation material of either polyurethane or polyethylene. The latter makes for a heavier, stronger and more durable container that can be completely recycled. Containers with polyurethane insulation, on the other hand, are slightly lighter and cannot be recycled economically as the insulation has to first be separated from the skin. But irrespective of the type of container they are all available in different colours, and can be decorated with the owning company’s logo, a serial number, or some other text, that serves to promote the company and its products.

Hilmar Gudmundsson, Sales and Marketing Director. Half of Promens Dalvik’s turnover is generated by sales to the fishing industry, the rest comes from the meat industry, recycling plants, bakeries, wineries and other sectors that need volume storage.

Sævaldur J. Gunnarsson, Area Sales Manager. Plastic tubs are a surprising difficult thing to manufacture properly, something Promens Dalvik has been doing since 1984.

Promens has also been working to keep its products at the fore when it comes to innovation. As tracking and tracing fish through the entire value chain becomes increasingly important Promens is reaping the benefits of the many years it has spent developing and testing RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips. These can be embedded in the container and fed with all the shipment-related data, which can then be read by a scanning device. We also hear from our customers that containers sometimes get lost, says Mr Gunnarsson, that is, they go to the processors and then do not return. So we are working on a tracking system that we know from the medical industry and trying to integrate it into our tubs. We need to know whether it will still work in a much rougher environment and are running a test on 1,000 tubs that belong to one of our old and valued customers.


Third production line in Dalvik from mid 2012

As it diversifies into other lines of business where it sees a use for its tubs, Promens is also adding capacity to its factory in Iceland. For the last 12 months the factory in Iceland has been shunting projects to the other plants in Canada, India, and Spain as it prepares to install a third production line, which will go on stream in June or July this year. The new line is expected to give a 70% increase in capacity to the Dalvik plant and will add to the overall flexibility of production.

As with other businesses selling plastic tubs is also about developing a relationship with the customer. Even if a tub lasts 10 to 12 years most customers do not buy a single batch of tubs once and then come back a decade later to replace them all, says Mr Gunnarsson. The containers are usually bought in smaller batches every two to three years so we are in regular contact with our customers. The contact includes ensuring that the containers are meeting expectations, discussing other needs with the customer, finding out about future requirements, even developing the customer’s own design ideas. Promens’ plastic tubs are indeed robust but accidents can and do happen, usually in connection with a forklift. A misjudgement can result in the fork of a lift piercing a container, which then has to be pulled out of service immediately as the rough, humid environment can inflict lasting damage. Once it has been removed from service it can be repaired. Although customers are trained in the service and maintenance of the containers, and Promens also has a network of contractors who can carry out the repairs on site, some prefer to send damaged tubs back to Promens to have them repaired.

Promens is also constantly tweaking the design of its products to improve them. Most recently the company built a new security foot which allows fully loaded containers to be stacked higher yet with complete stability, thus enabling better use of floor space. Small yet innovative changes like this together with good customer service are likely to keep Promens busy in the years ahead.