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#5missingdots with...

Afonso Lobato de Faria, CEO of the ETSA Group

ETSA Group is a leading operator in the rendering sector in the areas of notably, collection of animal by-products and used cooking oils and animal by-products processing.

The group is currently exporting to Europe, South-East Asia and Africa and is to export to the US soon.

ETSA is part of the Semapa Group, one of Portugal’s largest industrial groups operating in several areas including pulp & paper, cement and environment.

We recently spoke with Afonso Lobato de Faria, CEO of the ETSA Group. Afonso Lobato Faria amassed a wealth of experience in the environment sector having held executive posts in companies such as Águas de Portugal, Efacec Ambiente, ISQ, and the Portuguese Water Partnership.  We are thrilled to have Afonso on this #5missingdots and discuss the role of AI and data analytics in the rendering business.

Wiimer: The rendering industry handles 18 million tonnes of animal by-products in Europe each year which is reprocessed into a myriad of usable products. The industry has a key role in driving circular (bio)economy and preserving the environment. For those who are not familiar with the rendering business, could you briefly explain ETSA Group activities?

Afonso Lobato de Faria: ETSA is the main Portuguese recycler in the food sector or in other words is the main company in the Rendering industry. Rendering is not a very well-known activity, but it has a huge importance for the well being of our society since it is responsible for reintroducing essential elements such as proteins and energy in the economy. If Rendering didn’t exist a large quantities of food waste would end up in the landfill. Rendering reduces the amount of greenhouse gases in 90% when compared with landfill deposition.

The recycled proteins are crucial for the petfood industry and the recycled energy is indispensable for the biofuels sector.

Wiimer: Considering that activities of the ETSA Group are very diverse, including notably logistics, industrial and commercial, the surge of AI tools opens endless possibilities. From route optimization, predictive maintenance, capacity planning, warehouse management, workforce scheduling, service quality, sustainability… how do you set priorities?

Afonso Lobato de Faria: When you run a company, you must have long-term objectives, but also quick wins and you have to do that at the same time. Regarding AI you can only have quick wins when you have the data ready to be used otherwise simply don’t work, so in ETSA we are investing in AI in the areas that we have already data like logistics. For the long-term objectives, like in predictive maintenance, that you don’t have the data ready you have to start your journey precisely gathering the referred data.

Wiimer: In your opinion, companies in the rendering business are already harnessing the potential of data? Could you provide examples of AI and data analytics use cases with tangible results in the short-term?

Afonso Lobato de Faria: I think the top rendering companies are beginning to explore the potential of AI. In the case of ETSA we have worked with Wiimer in 2021 in a predictive model for optimal logistics. The model was able to predict with a 10% margin of error the quantities that ETSA must collect in the following week. It was a very useful project for us.

Wiimer: The ETSA Group has grown consistently over the years and continues to scale up its activity with, notably the recent acquisition of the company Tribérica, which produces natural packaging for the food sector, and the 15M€ investment in a new industrial facility for the production of aquafeed components. Which are the main challenges of implementation AI and data analytics in such a diverse fast-growing company?

Afonso Lobato de Faria: It’s a classic paradox for growing companies that want to organize that growth which is a big challenge because when you merge two companies for instance, those companies have different systems and cultures that must be adapted but in management you have to become a master of paradoxes. In my opinion you must planned so you can get the basics first. After the basics are in place you can look at new opportunities like in AI.

Wiimer: Where would you like to see the ETSA Group in five year’s time?

Afonso Lobato de Faria: I see ETSA as a multi-factory company present in several European countries and developing new sophisticated products like the one we will produce in the new factory ETSA ProHy in Coruche. In that factory we will manufacture an innovative product that consists in a hydrolyzed protein suitable for early-stage fish. I also see ETSA using several AI tools and solutions to increment our productivity.

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewees and do not reflect or represent the views or positions of Wiimer.


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