The history of Tehnolit in Mogilev is a story of bold ideas and amazing growth: from a small company on the outskirts of the city to a successful private business with unique scientific and technological expertise. Since its inception, the company has been supported by the state. Aleksandr Lukashenko visited the plant on 22 June 2016. Back then the president lauded the high efficiency and quality of the production processes at the plant. BelTA correspondents visited the plant to learn more about its milestones and secret of success.
The company manufactures components and spare parts for automotive, railway, agricultural, construction and special-purpose vehicles. It was the first plant in Belarus to manufacture a wide range of piston rings and O-rings, cylinder liners, bushings, discs and other rotation parts for various purposes from special wear-resistant cast iron produced by a new method of freeze casting. The company together with the Institute of Technology of Metals of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus has been honored with the State Prize in Science and Technology for the development and industrial use of this method. Tehnolit specializes in small and medium-sized mass production. It all started in 1997 when Aleksandr Bodyako launched a company. Now his wife Irina, sons Andrei and Konstantin, his brother Viktor work here together with him as well as almost 400 more people.
You need to be ready to see things differently and put it all together at some point…
“I graduated from the engineering institute in Mogilev. My sons did, too. We all attended the same university. Then I worked at the Institute of Technology of Metals in Mogilev,” said the director and founder of the plant, Aleksandr Bodyako. “I have always been a rebel and a leader. It seemed that a brilliant social and political career lied ahead of me. I saw everything differently from others, always looked for some new options and opportunities. The life took me to the Academy of Sciences. Science is a subtle and peculiar art where a lot depends only on you. But to get the result, you need to accumulate a large baggage of knowledge first to know where to go next.”
“Those were difficult times back then. We had no money but we had the desire to develop. The company purchased used lathes. Some of them were upgraded, others were fixed. The lack of funds prompted the company to come up with its own solutions and to keep going. All the inventions were just a matter of luck. However, good luck comes only to those who are ready for it. One should be able to think out-of-the-box, to take the best from others and to put everything together. After welding, I moved on to casting. I could not make heads or tails of it. I spent my nights reading textbooks and notes while holding my sleeping son. I studied and educated myself about it. At some point I started seeing things the way no one else saw. People laughed at me, but I kept searching.”
At some point Aleksandr Bodyako “lost interest in textbooks”, but did not drop his work at the institute. “I started thinking that I was going the wrong way and that I should look for some applied scientific solutions. There were 12 of us in the first company. We learned to make piston rings on our equipment. They were in demand and we earned some money. I was convinced that this money should be invested in production, but not everyone agreed with me,” he noted. Some time later the first company seized to exist. However, Aleksandr Bodyako realized that manufacturing was absolutely his cup of tea, as it was the physical embodiment of his expertise and knowledge. And this work paid his bills. Some time later, Aleksandr left the Institute of Technology of Metals.
At this point the history of Tehnolit begins. It was a small company based in a semi-destroyed building on the outskirts of the city. The building was so out of shape that trees grew on its roof. The building was restored little by little and a small-scale production was launched.
“I had some experience, knew directors of some leading factories. They guided me through my project. Step by step, I made myself at home with commercial and manufacturing processes,” Aleksandr said.
Everything started here with mechanical processes. Welding was done in the Institute of Technology of Metals from where they leased the equipment. They launched a small-scale production as it needed fewer resources. High production efficiency, small batches and reasonable prices helped the company take its market niche. Little by little, the company grew bigger and decided to purchase ovens.
“I kept saying that I was not into welding. Probably it was the reason why I thought that they did a lot of things in the wrong way. Sort of a rebel. The ovens chirped, needed constant repairs. They added something to the composition and once again it was not what it should be. I was sure that everything could be done differently, even though the whole world was so used to working like this. We were gradually changing, finalizing, inventing,” Aleksandr said.
Almost 400 people work at Tehnolit. The average age of employees is 36. The company produces spare parts for ships, tanks, trains, tractors and other vehicles and also learned to design and make machine tools. Aleksandr and his whole family work here.
“I have wonderful children. The eldest son, Andrei, possesses a good entrepreneurial spirit. He knows how to make money. He is in charge of purchasing new modern equipment. The junior, Konstantin, is a great manufacturer. In many aspects, they are better than me and a better continuation of me. Each one of them is talented, a good leader and a bright personality. My wife works here, too. She is a very good software specialist. Electronic accounting at the plant is her merit. I am lucky that they do not only work with me, but also try to bring something new into the business. We do not like the phrase ‘family business'. A family business is only represented by family members. What about the people behind the machines, who work in the foundry and sales departments? Others work here too, and they have as much to do with our business as my sons and I. A lot of people work here together with their families. Everyone contributes to the development of a quality product which is in demand on the market,” the director said.
Konstantin Bodyako, HR manager and deputy director for production at Tehnolit, talked about how he started his career at the plant. “Like everybody else, I started out as an assistant worker. I learned to work on machines and in the foundry. I was given no leeway, and that was good. I had a chance to feel metal in my hands, to understand how hard this work is,” said Konstantin.
Tehnolit is interested in highly qualified employees. Every third worker here has a university diploma. Close attention is paid to the training of future personnel at the plant. “We start working with third-year students of the Belarusian-Russian University. These boys will go the same way as I did. Naturally, we do not employ girls as machine operators. They work in the quality control department. Also, we do not welcome it when students say that they are willing to skip classes to work. Studies are a priority. One should learn enough theory before putting it into practice,” the deputy director stressed.
Konstantin Bodyako took us on a tour of the plant, showing several large buildings that are home to shops for production of cylinder sleeves and piston rings, a foundry, a quality control service, offices of constructors and engineers, and other facilities. All shops follow an established operating procedure and work towards a single goal – deliver excellent performance at all stages of production. The enterprise has recently set up a new large shop for production of non-standard equipment. One of its products is a honing machine that has already been introduced into the manufacturing process. The foundry is basically the heart of Tehnolit. Its monthly output is around 600 tonnes of cast iron. It is eye-catching, but dangerous work that requires precision and care.
In one of the shops, we met Aleksandr Galanov, who has been with Tehnolit since 1998.
“My employment record book has only two entries. Before Tehnolit, I worked at the Elektrodvigatel company for 13 years. But that enterprise was struggling, so I took a second job at the Institute of Technology of Metals, where I met Aleksandr Bodyako. Later I came to work for him, when the enterprise had only 20 employees,” Aleksandr Galanov said. “I have come a long way together with the plant, there were some hard times. But no one thought about quitting. One cannot abandon a ship they are travelling on. Tehnolit is now a plant with a good history, a large team, and qualified specialists. I am sure that our ship will have a bright future,” he believes.
The enterprise also has a small canteen that employs only five people. The canteen offers workers a substantial meal every day. Dishes on the menu repeat once every two weeks. The enterprise pays for over 60% of the meal.
“One cannot demand effective work from employees if they do not provide normal working conditions for them. Our employees, an opportunity for them to use their knowledge and skills in the course of their work represent an important vector in the administration's work. Our people have to be comfortable everywhere: from their workstations to their places for recreation. We try to provide them with everything, including wholesome, tasty, and versatile meals. Special rooms are available for those, who are on some diet or have brought lunch from home,” Konstantin Bodyako stressed.
The deputy director is convinced that a system to incentivize and remunerate employees is the key factor of success at any enterprise. “People need to know that they will get a different payment for different work results. It is unavoidable. All of us work not for the sake of ideas but for the sake of making money, too. Our contracts provide for various bonuses on the occasion of holidays or the birth of children. We also support those who happen to be in a difficult situation, those who get sick or whose relatives die,” he said.
At present Tehnolit is a modern private enterprise that cooperates with many leading companies of the country: Belarusian Railways, BelAZ, MTZ, BZA, and many other ones, for which Tehnolit is the only supplier of components. The Mogilev-based enterprise exports more than 60% of its products to neighboring countries, the Middle East, and Africa. The output grows larger all the time. In the last three years the output increased by 2.2 times, with salaries up by 50%.
Tehnolit is successfully working on a new ambitious project. The company intends to make continuous-cycle furnaces to make charcoal out of low-grade timber. It is a proprietary design. The furnaces represent a new generation on the international market. They are environmentally friendly, energy-effective, and boast high output and high quality of charcoal.
“There is no secret to success. Loving your work, supporting your family and friends, treating your employees fairly may be described as a success formula. Don't be afraid to stand out from the crowd. Trust in yourself. Seek new ways and don't be afraid to learn. Always remember that everyone has the right to make errors. It is errors that force us to look for something new and continue working,” Tehnolit Director Aleksandr Bodyako summed up.
Photos by Oleg Foinitsky