Piet Halliday, AEL’s Director of research and technology, said this has emerged as a feasible option in the company’s ongoing strategy to contain costs and keep prices as low as possible for its customers.
The new plant, which would be built at cost of around R5-million, would meet the needs of the entire South African dimensional stone quarrying industry, which amount to more than 300 tons a year, Halliday added.
Originally AEL’s Modderfontein blackpowder plant - one of the largest in the western world - provided free-flowing granular blackpowder for safety fuse manufacture from the early sixties until 1994, when a tragic plant accident led to the decision to cease production and close the plant the following year. Following the decision to cease blackpowder production a solution to the continued supply of safety fuse was readily available.
This was the unique wet-spinning process that had been developed by the then-AECI for safety fuse manufacture.
This process had been successfully employed at the company’s Mankwe facility for over ten years, and the Modderfontein safety fuse plant was quickly converted to this technology.
AEL’s research and technology department has been investigating the feasibility of manufacturing blackpowder at Modderfontein.
The investigation has been centred on converting the wet blackpowder paste, used for safety fuse manufacture, into a dry, granular blackpowder suitable for use in the dimensional stone quarries.
“By following the safety fuse, wet paste process AEL will minimise the traditional hazards associated with Blackpowder manufacture,” said Halliday.
“The AEL investigation has shown such promise that the company is in the process of establishing a final plant layout, and determining equipment costs. This will be followed by official submission of a project proposal,” he added. Should the proposal be accepted and the proposed plant is constructed, it will secure the supply of locally produced blasting gunpowder for the dimensional stone quarrying industry.
“The plant could be built and operational before the end of 2004,” Halliday concluded.