The potential negative impact of Mining Charter Three, should it be implemented, on the business of mechanical seals, rotating and engineering protection, and sealing equipment supplier Mechanical Rotating Solutions (MRS) is a concern for the Pretoria-based company.
Speaking exclusively to Mining Weekly, MRS MD Francois Steenkamp says 80% of the company’s overall pumps sales and refurbishments come from the mining sector and, with the policy and regulatory uncertainty surrounding the recently proposed Mining Charter mounting, investments in the mining industry have dried up.
Mining Weekly reported in November that the contentious new charter could sink the mining industry’s future, which would have a ripple effect. The charter, scheduled for review by a full bench of the High Court from February 19 to 21, has already contributed to the retrenchments of 25 177 mineworkers since 2017, according to trade union Solidarity.
Steenkamp believes that the freezing of investment in the sector is a “direct consequence of the mining industry having lost confidence in the Mineral Resources Minister”. While the charter awaits court review, it is Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s planned halt of all forms of mineral licensing that “will affect small companies like ourselves” the most, he claims.
Higher domestic input costs, such as energy and labour, have resulted in a steady decline of 0.2% in local mining industry growth since 2012. However, Steenkamp states that the demand for pumps at this stage remains stable. He does note, however, that there has been a marked increase in pumps refurbishments in the industry, as opposed to pumps replacements, and an uptick in the popularity of mobile pump units.
He says pumping accounts for as much as one-quarter of a plant’s total energy use and, as a result, during this time of legislative uncertainty, long-term plans for cost cutting and boosting profit are critical to the longevity of the local mining industry. Steenkamp stresses that by ensuring that “the correct, best practice piping system is designed from the start, a plant can reduce its energy costs by as much as 40%”.
MRS is a distributor and supplier of a range of pumps, including pumps from HCP Pumps South Africa, the sub-Saharan African agent of pumps manufacturer HCP Pumps, and global pumps manufacturer KSB Pumps & Valves. The company believes that having access to a range of pumps from different manufacturers enables it to supply users with the best fit-for-purpose solution.
In one instance, after consultations with a mine in Mpumulanga, MRS designed and manufactured a fit-to-purpose pumping solution in the form of the MRS mobile pumps set. The pumps set provides openpit coal mines and subsurface mining operations with effective water management. “To achieve the best productivity while keeping an eye on the cost of a dewatering solution, mines need to constantly monitor the water table of a quarry using a cost-effective solution that can be rapidly deployed and stored on site,” explains Steenkamp.
The pump is attached to a sturdy, yet portable foundation, which is capable of transporting the pumping equipment safely around an excavation site. A KSB ETA 250/50 cast iron standard construction centrifugal pump, fitted with an Actom 375 kW, 525 V four-pole electric motor, is incorporated as the main dewatering pump. Attached to the KSB centrifugal pump are 450 mm high-density polyethylene suction pipes and pipe floaters, enabling the dewatering system to pump at 35 m static head over 2 000 m into a transfer tank.
The design also includes a smaller HCP submersible pump supplying water to the suction pipes and KSB pump volute, which removes air from the pump and suction line, permitting atmospheric and flooding pressure to cause liquid to flow into the pump on startup.
The Future of Pumps Technology
Pumps technology, to date, has been focused on matching a pump’s performance to a client’s overall system requirements. However, Steenkamp suggests this may be shifting in the South African market. He believes that research and development on pumps is moving towards ensuring that a pump’s efficiency is more directly linked to that of the overall system.
“Pumps manufacturers now offer improved motor and variable-speed drive technology that provide the solutions to accommodating varying load or demand patterns on pumping systems. The future of pumping technology may, thus, rather be in optimal system integration as opposed to the pumps themselves,” he concludes.