Since he arrived to Colombia, the Engineering and Environmental Manager’s mission was to lead Ternium’s investments in the country. Among them, the biggest investment was the new plant in Palmar de Varela.
Luis Zuleta’s career as a Mechanical Engineer started in 1998 in Sidor, Venezuela, when he joined the Investment branch of the organization as part of the Young Professionals program. He worked in the coordination of special projects, mainly in Direct Reduction.
From that moment on, his professional career began to grow. In 2001, he was part of an experience-based program in Argentina (SIDERAR and SIDERCA) and by 2004, he was already participating in the implementation of an iron briquettes plant that Tenaris and SIDOR had acquired in Venezuela (MATESI, previously POSVEN). In 2006, he traveled to Mexico to the operation of the Direct Reduction plants in San Nicolas de los Garza. Then, he became part of the Pesqueria project (first Greenfield project of Ternium), where he participated from the first studies to the construction, where he was in charge of investments in the general service area of the plant on the first stage, as well as of the Joint Venture with Nippon Steel (Tenigal), which was implemented in 2013.
Luis Zuleta in MATESI
His leadership, technical knowledge, discipline, and his attention to detail made him, his wife, and children, Alejandro and Gabriel, pack up their bags to live in Colombia in 2014, where the new challenge was to manage the investment projects of the company in the country.
– How was Palmar de Varela born?
– Since 2013, it was clear that we needed a rolling mill that would allow us to have a better competitive advantage within the market at a technical and productive level. In 2014, there was a potential possibility of building a greenfield in Colombia, considering the important space in the market we had to look for, which was import.
Picture taken before the pandemic
While we prepared an investment project for Manizales to improve the mill conditions, we established communication with a company that was buying a plant to dismantle in Italy. We went to see it and realized it was the perfect plant. We got to an agreement and, in 2018, we launched the project formally.
– How was the team chosen?
– I came here with a small team formed by personnel from Manizales and Medellin, and we hired some more people in Barranquilla. We set up a temporary office in the north of Barranquilla. From there, with the support of the other areas, we set up all the detailed engineering and planning for the project. In October 2018, we started working on the land.
– What has to lead the greenfield project meant to you?
– Thinking about the strategy of where it’s convenient to invest and how we are going to do it is something beautiful. Seeing how the idea is built with the team, the participation with other areas, how the interested parties get involved in the process (such as the government, suppliers, and contractors), and building the puzzle little by little, is very rewarding. It’s about understanding how these ideas are taking shape and getting organized. We prioritized and made the most of every person who participated in the project for the result to be optimal.
– How did the pandemic affect the development of the project?
– This process made me understand the teams better from a personal, professional, and social perspective. The pandemic paralyzed us all, it destroyed our expectations and made us reconsider how to do things in another way to comply with the deadlines, which was challenging for me and for the team. This affected a lot of people, because not everyone is prepared to work with constant change, with uncertainty.
This affects people and their families who wait for them at home. Besides, the project was out of town, we had to travel a lot.
When we made the first bar, we were really happy because it was not only our achievement, but also all the families who were there supporting the process indirectly, and who were happy when they saw the photos and videos that we showed them at any stage we accomplished.
– From that moment to now, what has happened?
– The plant has been producing well and has been able to supply most of its products. The production is improving every day and we have new products. Operations has control now and solve any problems we may have. We are sure that this plant is going to achieve the expected production levels very soon.
Picture taken before the pandemic
– What’s next? What’s the operation?
– Finishing the rolling machine, having the space ready for the operational services, and adapting the facilities to have a plant worthy of a company such as Ternium, where people are happy and operate in the required safety conditions.
– What has this challenge meant to you?
– A great learning. Professionally, it’s something I wanted to do and I’m happy to have achieved so. I would love to repeat a project like this, it was really nice.