"Have we ever really stopped to think about a company anniversary?" Arjen van Dijk, Director of Water Storage at Nederlandse Plastic Industrie (NPI) repeats the question. "No, not really actually." Looking at it this way, this year's 65th anniversary is extra special for the Frisian company. "We have become more active on social media, so we also have a platform to reflect on it these days," adds Berber Bonnema, responsible for sales and marketing. As part of the anniversary, they go through the current developments in the field of water storage together and also pause to reflect on a piece of history.
What was special at the end of last year was a project 'just down the road', in Friesland. Arjen had not experienced it in 22 years.
A piece of history
We have to go back to the fifties for the origin of NPI. In those years Jan Hiemstra went from his village Tzummarum to visit farmers and villagers to sell household goods. He welded electricity pipes into hula hoops, a worldwide craze at the time, and laid the foundation for the company, which also started to produce all kinds of other plastic products. In 1957, the name Nederlandse Plastic Industrie was born.
Arjen van Dijk joined the company at the beginning of this century. It is a period in which NPI has just made the transition to an internationally specialised welding and trading company in synthetic foils for groundwork, road construction, hydraulic engineering and horticulture. Smiling, he says: "My first international trip for work was to Belgium. After that, however, I went to many more exotic countries. The distant hinterlands of India, Myanmar, Iraq, Iran, the not always obvious destinations."
Foil pulling for Schoneveld Breeding in Tanzania
Local fairs and partners
It raises the question of how a company of Friesian origin ends up in those countries. "Showing your face locally", says Arjen. That sounds very simple and, according to him, it actually is. "I visit local fairs to get to know people. At the end of May, for example, I will be at AgriTechnica and HortiAsia. You are also at these fairs to find and connect with partners. Then you go and do a first project with them. I always go along for this. I provide technical training and commercial support. This is how we support new partners."
Having local partners is very important for NPI, especially internationally. The company does not supply growers directly, but does provide customers with service. "Of course you always want to deliver the best quality to prevent repairs and problems in advance. Certifications are important for that. We are working hard to be able to offer such certifications on more and more products. But if something unexpected does go wrong, you want to be able to offer the best service via local partners, by phone or online." This is also true closer to home, of course. This is where NPI was able to deliver another project in Friesland at the end of last year. "This project has recently weathered three storms. Fortunately, no repairs were necessary", Arjen laughs.
Horticulture is a big branch for NPI in water storage, but the demand from fish farming is also growing.
The products supplied by NPI always come with instructions for use. Berber: "Over the years, these instructions have become better and better. Our products come to the customer as a kit, so that they can use them right away." Not all products require instructions as if it were a construction kit. NPI also supplies many horticultural supplies from its own warehouse. "We are originally a film processor, but we also have many other products. In horticulture we are strong in ground cloth, but we also have an extensive package of trade products for fruit cultivation thanks to an acquisition in 2019."
Berber and Erik van der Geest at IPM Essen 2020 in a stand full of trade products
Among the new products this year is a special water bag for gardeners. "This bag can be zipped around the trunk of a tree and gives off water evenly over a long period. With the dry, hot summers these days, there is a lot of demand for this. The product is also popular with local authorities and the Forestry Commission.
In the field of water storage, Arjen sees that demand is increasing worldwide. "The demand for silos has risen explosively in the past year, but dug-in basins are also making a comeback." NPI makes the foils for such basins prefabricated. "We receive the dimensions and make the foils in our factory under optimal conditions. This saves an enormous amount of time during installation. It's just a matter of rolling it out and installing it."
A dug basin for a blueberry grower in Serbia. The film is here ready to be installed.
Over the years, the projects requiring water storage, including those in horticulture, have grown larger and larger. Isn't that difficult, if you work from your own factory? "No," assures Arjen. "The limitation is not in our factory, which was completely renovated in 2017, but in transport. That's why we have our own designed machines to fold large films. The challenge for us is to fold the package in such a way that it is suitable for a truck. We also look closely at the final project environment. Can you get there by crane and/or forklift truck? With this information, we determine in advance how the package should be positioned once it is there, so that it can be rolled out properly and quickly. There is no need to worry about that locally anymore. Turning over a few thousand square metres of film is no fun.
NPI's factory is designed to handle large foils. To do this, they mainly use specialist machines developed in-house.