If you travel along the Sub-Balkan Road, between Zlatitsa and Pirdop, you will see the highest chimney in Bulgaria. It has long stopped smoking, but has turned into the symbol of the region. Here is located the leading producer of copper in Southeast Europe, part of the international group Aurubis. The plant started working 60 years ago as MDK Georgi Damyanov and is now the second largest company in Bulgaria, which shapes the structure of the country’s economy. The plant consists of four factories - metallurgy, refinery, sulphuric acid production and enrichment complex.
Aurubis Bulgaria opens its doors for us to see how the Analytical Laboratories and the Centre for Research and Development work.
Science Meets Industry
Here, copper concentrate from all over the world is processed. The content of the raw materials is analysed in the company’s laboratories, and based on the results, the appropriate “cocktail” is prepared, which continues its way to the production line. The efficiency and quality depend on the accuracy of the research. The copper cathodes produced here are known on international markets with the Pirdop brand and are certified at the London Metal Exchange. Compromises with the high standard are not allowed. The laboratories also make analyses for the Aurubis plant in Lünen, Germany – the world’s largest copper scrap processor. The Analytical Centre is equipped with modern technology, and a number of innovative methods are applied to ensure the required precision. Here, for example, is found a spectrograph used by astronomers to analyse the spectra of the stars in order to determine their chemical composition.
The Heart of the Laboratory
Albena Duralieva is the Head of the Analytical Laboratories. After graduating from the high-school in Pirdop, she continued the family tradition – she graduated in the speciality Metallurgy of Non-ferrous Metals from the University of Mining and Metallurgy, and in 1991, she joined the factory. Her parents were assigned in MDK and stayed there until their retirement. Albena finds harmony in the balance between laboratory analyses, family commitments, her passion for painting and re-reading of Vonnegut and Robert Burns. Tsvetana Pavlova is the Head of Commercial Analyses. For her, working in the labs is also a professional love. The two lead us into the mysteries of everything that is being done here.
Accuracy of the Analysis
Extremely precise analyses are made in the laboratories of Aurubis Bulgaria. The company invests in technology, using both classical methods and instrumental analyses with the latest generation of equipment. The methods are in the wide range of melting of materials in two compact laboratory furnaces to measurements for which the precision required is in ten-thousandths of a percent – as if determining the exact thickness of a pin from a distance of half a kilometre. “We are kind of “sensors” of production,” Albena Duralieva says. There are a total of 48 people working in the laboratories, but even for such a close-knit team, it is difficult to find qualified professionals in order to grow. Training is, therefore, a constant practice. Ilia and Tsanko are two of the youngest recruits who help in the probe analysis. Nedi Nikolova is also a newcomer. She comes from the region and her dream was to work for Aurubis – because of the good professional realization the company offers.
All intermediate processes related to the operation of the enterprise are also monitored here. The laboratories have accreditation for analyses of underground and surface water, emissions from stationary sources and air. Aurubis invests a lot of resources and efforts not only to protect the environment but also to find a way to cope with the so-called historic past-related pollutions. Today, high ecological standards guarantee clean nature in the Sredna Gora Mountains. The region has a potential for tourism development. The company also supports the development of education and culture through its partnership programs with municipalities. “When someone works at a certain place, they have to see the good things and the opportunities around them and to assist for this opportunity to develop,” Albena Duralieva says.
Research and Development
An important part of the whole production process is the Research & Development department. This is the development centre of Aurubis where the ideas for new processes and technologies are born and developed, and they are directly applied in production. Radina Dimitrova works in the R&D department. She is also from the region. She studied Chemistry at Sofia University, had her traineeship in the company, like the prospect of professional realization and decided to stay. The R&D has 11 employees. All of them are highly qualified young people with good education; most of them are doctors of sciences. They have a professional curiosity and for them their work is also a hobby. “There is no turnover here, the challenge for all of us is our commitment to innovative projects and we are most pleased to see them implemented in practice,” says Dr. Milen Kadiyski, Head of Sector at the Development Centre. The R&D department makes discoveries and developments protected by trade secrets and patents.
“I would not change this work for any other” is the sentence we hear from everyone we meet in the laboratory complex and in the R&D department. Here, they feel like highly valued professionals. Many of them are local people with an interest in science and metallurgy, who have returned to their native places after their university studies, and here they realize their potential and develop as specialists.