Tobacco Processing
Lilongwe Factory

Blending of tobacco before processing

Checkers make sure non-tobacco materials are cleared.

Particle size degradation testing shakers
There are various forms of tobacco processing methods. Tipping & threshing is the main method in use today. This is the most common processing technique where the objective is to remove the midrib (backbone stem) from each individual leaf (lamina). Inefficiency and loss in cigarette manufacturing is commonplace when large and excess stem fragments pierce cigarette tubes. Therefore, tobacco processing facilities are equipped to remove up to 99% of stem from whole leaf tobacco. By weight, stem can constitute up to 30% of the whole leaf.

The process of threshing tobacco is complex and involves a series of steps where the product is conditioned with heat and moisture to help the product become soft and pliable. This ensures minimal breakage when manual quality searching occurs prior to a second conditioning which prepares the product for a series of electrically driven mechanical threshers.

The threshers help separate the mid rib from the lamina by a tearing action which is created by rotors with both fixed and rotary knives placed above a shaped basket of different patterns and sizes. Once this is done various air separation devices, known as classifiers, are used to separate the “lights”, the lamina free of stem from the “heavies”, the lamina still attached to the stem.

Due to the nature of the tobacco leaf not all lamina is removed on a single pass of threshing and separating therefore this process occurs as many times as required through the processing line to ensure maximum removal of lamina in as large as possible particle sizes with as least damage and stress to the lamina as possible. The industrial standard for this is normally through 5 stages of threshing with a varying number of classifiers to achieve maximum efficiency.

Throughout the recovery process of the free lamina (lamina with little or no stem) the particles are sized through sizing shakers of various openings to ensure that lamina of specific size are packed correctly prior to export to cigarette manufacturers.

Once threshing is completed all the products pass through a drying process where the complete flow of product is subjected to heated air flows, from both above and below the medium of transport of the product known as an apron. Here the contained moisture within each individual particle will, through osmosis, intentionally be driven out of the particles to a measured percentage remaining in the collective particles and should average out at an even moisture level. This is done for precise control of final moisture content.

Through precise control of measured heat and moisture the even dried product then has the contained moisture raised to a predetermined percentage that ensures the integrity of the product throughout it's shelf life which may be as long as 5 years.

After this process the products are packed into specific packages and marked accordingly before shipment to customers.

Strict processing parameters are adhered to through constant monitoring in the Quality Control Department. The primary parameters typically measured and monitored throughout are particle size, stem content, objectionable stem content (diameter of stem remaining in the product) and moisture amongst others.


Tobacco processing Lines inside the factory
Lilongwe factory facilities
  • Clinic:A clinic is situated on the factory premises. It is a fully equipped modern clinic open 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the processing season. Its highly trained staff is always on hand in case of emergencies

  • Security: A company security department is also based on the factory premises. It has 155 men operating on a double shift system 365 days a year. A large proportion of these men undergo continuous skills training including first-aid and fire-fighting techniques.

  • Canteen: All company employees have access to the canteen situated on the factory premises. At peak processing period which is normally in the month of July, the canteen serves approximately 118,000 teas and meals, e.t.c.

  • Packed tobacco
    Limbe factory
    The Limbe factory is located approximately 300km south of the Lilongwe facility, in the town of Limbe, Southern Malawi. Limbe is adjacent what is known as the “commercial” capital of Malawi, the City of Blantyre.

    In terms of processing this is a specialized factory where “hand-stripping” and “butting/loose leaf” are the major processing methods. Additionally, specialized processing techniques such as “west coast” packing and “tobacco bundle” production takes place here. These production types are specifically for cigar and roll-your-own manufacturers.

    Hand stripping: This process involves manual separation of each tobacco leaf’s mid-rib (stem) from the lamina by physically extracting it from the body of the leaf. Prior to this process the tobacco is conditioned with heat and moisture to enable easier separation.

    Basically there are two types of hand stripping methods; Total strip and 2/3rd strip.
    Two-thirds hand stripping (also known as ‘tip and strip’) begins with a third of the leaf (from the tip end) or a 3” tip cut / removed through a set of knives. The rest of the leaf is then stripped manually. After sorting these two products are then blended back together, redried and packaged.

    Butting and Loose Leaf on the same production line: This offers customers a choice of two processing methods.

    The first option is butted and tangled loose leaf which offers variables in terms of the butt cut length to achieve variable specifications. The cut is executed by a shaft mounted rotary knife and typically is set around 5 to 6 cm cuts. The second form is tangled loose leaf without "butting". This involves the removal of the tie leaf with a specialized knife cutting device. Thereafter the bundles pass through a bundle breaker opening system into a picking and sorting area before proceeding to the redrier. After redrying is complete the product is packaged in various forms and transferred to the packed product storage area (also known as “dry” warehouse).

    Bundle packing: This type of process involves specific customer determined tobacco bundle grades being placed on ‘racking sticks’. These sticks are all at a uniform 1.8m length so they can all pass through the redrier unit in a constant stream. Once sufficient “sticks" are prepared and racked they are placed onto the “racking belts” which feed through the specifically designed bundle redrying machine. For optimum redrying performance it is important that only uniform bundle qualities are used i.e. similar qualities and of equal length. These “sticks” are then retrieved at the exit end of the redrier and passed onto packers who remove the individual bundles and place / pack them into either cardboard cartons or hessian wrappers (bale form). Final product package mass varies with the packaging type.

    West Coast: Another unique tobacco processing operation wherein very small bundles of 4 to 5 similar/uniform length leaves are tied together before the process commences. These common “bundle-lets” are bulk stacked according to their unique grade characteristics where they await processing. Being such a type specific operation the process requires inordinate attention to leaf quality. Only perfectly intact, long, naturally oily dark fired tobacco leaves are used. Assorted flavours can be applied onto the product during the steaming process. After steaming, the bundles are carefully wrapped in a plastic sheet embedded in a wooden box before being transferred to the final product warehouse.

    As in Lilongwe, strict customer quality control standards are adhered to throughout all these processes.

    Limbe factory has clinic and canteen facilities catering for over 2,000 employees during peak processing periods.

    Packed carton conveyor lift system from end of processing lines to the final product warehouse

    Limbe Offices

    Limbe factory picking belts

    Limbe factory Hand-Stripping floor