Inca Tops S.A. was founded in Arequipa in 1965 and, from the outset, its underlying philosophy was one of harmonizing its production processes with nature, long before the concept became as widespread as it is today. Indeed, it adopted a company slogan to underline this, “Working with Nature”.
The company commenced its activities by classifying and scouring alpaca fibre which, in turn, led to it investing in combing and spinning equipment. As its market horizons expanded over the years, its capacity grew to include production on other sites in Arequipa aside from its home base in the city’s premier industrial park, Miguel Forga. Its topmaking and spinning production allowed other in-house companies to develop woven cloth production and knitwear and, before long, the Grupo Inca was formed, branching out into other business areas besides textiles. Always, however, Inca Tops has been the bedrock of the group, steadily providing the revenue to allow the other members to flourish and remain true to the original concept of harmonizing people, planet and products.
Today, its “Working with Nature” slogan has been replaced by a new one for all companies under the Grupo Inca banner, “Working Responsibly”. Four years ago, the company acquired the scouring, combing and spinning facilities of one of its rivals, Productos Del Sur S.A., and found itself stretched into operating from yet another site. A decision was taken to relocate all its sorting, scouring and combing production to an outlying district of Arequipa, Zamacola, where a purpose-built factory could be built employing ecological principles, particularly with regard to energy generation and recycling of water. The site acquired occupies 43,000 square metres and work commenced on building the new factory, known as Planta Zamacola (Zamacola Plant) in 2011. After impressive construction and installation progress it came on-stream to full production earlier this year.
The ecology of Planta Zamacola Michael Sanchez, the factory’s Operations Manager, outlined some of the thinking behind the decisions employed in the strategy employed in converting an ecological concept into a reality. “We identified the need to heat water for our scouring operations as the major cost and area where contamination most frequently occurs when using traditional fuels such as diesel or oil in boilers,” he said. “We decided to harness a natural resource that Arequipa has in abundance every day of the year, sunshine. As a result, more than 1,200 solar panels have been installed on the factory’s ample roofspan and which provide 80% of our energy needs.” When the water to be heated for the scouring process requires temperatures higher than can be produced from solar transference, the company augments the energy required by using natural gas. This takes care of the 20% of requirement not possible from solar energy and is economic and “clean” with regard to emissions into the atmosphere. The factory’s Head of Special Projects, Hector Beltran, explained further, “We have calculated that the total emissions to the atmosphere per annum caused by our use of solar energy and natural gas will be 364, 260 kgs of carbon dioxide (CO2); 980.70 gms of sulphur oxides (SOx) and 1,204 gms of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide (NOx).” The impurities removed in the scouring process include vegetable matter, dirt and dags. These are separated from the fibre during the process and remain together with the water employed as “waste”. Inca Tops has built a water recycling plant onsite which filters the solid wastes from the water which is then recycled for re-use in the plant. The remaining solid waste is then dried and compacted to be used as a fertilizer in the soil for an in-house vegetable and herb growing project. “We have a recreational area for our employees which includes a grass football pitch, roaming space for a small herd of alpacas and an area where we grow lettuces, radishes, mint, oregano, rocoto and chili peppers for use in our canteen kitchen and which are prepared in the meals for our employees,” said Michael Sanchez. “With a workforce of around 700 in this plant employees every little helps,” he added.
Hector Beltran summarized the beneficial impact of the company’s use of solar energy and water re-usage by commenting, “Our implementation of strategies in these two areas has resulted in Inca Tops being accredited with the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (Confidence in Textiles: Tested for harmful substances). We are proud to share this achievement with our customers as a recognition that we practice what we preach when supplying them with our products”. Other areas where ecological and environmental benefits have been experienced with the new factory include the locating of the company’s fibre classification department on the second floor of the factory. Being sited close to the roof allows a better and uninterrupted use of the natural light used by the operatives when grading fibre as only daylight, as opposed to artificial lighting. is employed. As the district of Zamacola is situated on the outskirts of the city of Arequipa there are transport advantages that the company has gained, too. Firstly, the factory is near to the main airport making the dispatching and receiving of samples, machine parts and supplies much more effective from a time and efficiency standpoint. Also, Peru’s main arterial highway, the Panamericana Del Sur, runs close to the factory facilitating fibre deliveries by lorry from the alpaca farmers in the altoplano area of the Andean highlands to enter the site without having to navigate the increasingly traffic-congested centre of Arequipa where the company used to be located. By the same reasoning, this makes the logistics of receiving containers to pack with tops for driving up to Lima’s Callao Port for export extremely sound as well. By reaching its full production capacity the company is able to produce some 27 0,000 kgs per month of alpaca and wool tops, 35 % of which are for its own spinning requirements with 65% exported worldwide.
Future Summing up this latest chapter in the Inca Tops story its General Manager, Roberto Fioretto, said, “Now that Planta Zamacola is functioning at its full capacity, we can feel satisfied that we met the challenge posed by constructing a modern factory incorporating the ecological facets that are at the nucleus of its operations.” “Our group has always recognised that the alpaca is an extremely sustainable animal which is much more efficient than goats, sheep and cotton in terms of the amount of water it consumes as well as pasture. This efficiency is essential to the families that farm them in the altiplano region of Peru where life is harsh and unforgiving.” He added, “Just the fact that the fleeces of this animal come in around 25 natural colours - more than any other fibre-producing animal - is yet another example of its ecological credentials as this means that tops and yarns can be produced without the need to dye.” As Inca Tops looks to continue its harmonious relationship with people, planet and products, he concludes, “Our new alpaca combing plant is the best way that we can honour this marvellous animal and position it perfectly for future projects.”