Original-equipment manufacturer Kwatani has kept up sales and service volumes throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the lull in coal demand globally.
Kwatani CEO Kim Schoepflin tells Mining Weekly that the company, as a vibrating screening equipment supplier for major and junior coal mines, was hoping for an uptick in coal demand before the onset of the pandemic, but instead witnessed a massive drop in consumption.
Schoepflin explains that the Covid-19 outbreak resulted in reduced electricity use – which is coal’s largest offtake sector – owing to months-long industrial shutdowns in most countries last year.
However, she points out that coal production was only marginally affected by Covid-19, as the vast majority of mining operations were classified as essential to maintain power supply and, therefore, continued to operate.
Schoepflin admits that the uncertainty about the outlook for coal is probably somewhat muted by the lack of availability of renewable-energy sources in the short-term; however, the trend for coal consumption demonstrates that it is only steadily declining over the long term.
“For now, there are still ample opportunities, considering that more than 70% of South Africa’s energy mix comprises coal and the country targets zero emissions by 2050 – which is a quite a long way away.”
While investors are steadily reducing their exposure to carbon-intensive assets, such as coal, some markets, such as Asia, show signs that coal will not fade away in the near term.
Schoepflin explains that export-orientated coal mining projects are being planned in Australia, Russia and South Africa, while mining corporates are developing cleaner coal solutions.
Kwatani aligns its portfolio to different markets as they develop, ensuring that it remains at the forefront of adapting to customer needs.
For example, since “easily-mined” coal resources have become depleted, seams now mostly have greater amounts of overburden and surface mining has become more expensive. Therefore, technology is the key to efficient and cost-effective coal processing, Schoepflin states.
The company is continuously innovating, either through designing its customised equipment to seamlessly fit into existing plants or by equipping new mines, while improving mines’ productivity, efficiency, operating costs and incorporating environmental considerations such as energy and water conservation.
“In the same way that we see consumers moving towards longer-lasting and more reliable appliances to avoid waste and save on cost, we are seeing a trend of mining companies preferring longer life cycles of screening equipment, with low equipment reliability becoming unacceptable.
“At larger coal mining operations, we see demand for finer coal processing using larger high-capacity multi-slope screens, which we continue to develop at our design and production facilities,” Schoepflin explains.
Kwatani endeavours to supply its larger high-capacity range of equipment commonly used for the desliming, and drain and rinse applications, resulting in fewer modules and, therefore, in less infrastructure at mega processing plants.
“Essentially, the higher capacity and efficiency we achieve in plant optimisation projects using vibrating screens, the more the mine saves on operational cost, and energy and water use.
“We engineer our screens to withstand corrosion and perform in heavy-duty applications; our design teams focus on optimised efficiency, increased life span and ease of maintenance with every piece of equipment.”
Kwatani tests every machine under the supervision of its engineering team in its testing facility before it leaves the factory.
Schoepflin points out that the company’s research and development testing facility is equipped with wet and dry testing screens that can vary all key screening parameters to fine-tune and define the optimal screen setting prior to determining the final screen parameters.
“Our approach is to be a value-add solutions provider by understanding customers’ ore, application and processing needs before determining the right solution. It is vital to adapt equipment to the needs of the customer – that is our value add.
“Naturally, through that process, we have a continuous improvement mindset throughout our business.”
She says coal suppliers – particularly junior miners – are under pressure to maintain supply to State-owned power utility Eskom, while often having to work with difficult orebodies and capital constraints, as well as a shortage of labour and skills.
Schoepflin adds that these miners typically build modular plants which process up to 250 t per hour and comprise of smaller screening equipment not exceeding 2.4 m in width.
Consequently, Kwatani has developed a fit-for-purpose equipment range and differentiates its service offering to these miners accordingly – from offering a fast turnaround on customer visits and training on Kwatani’s equipment for self-maintenance and trouble shooting.
She says Kwatani was fortunate to steer its way through the pandemic unscathed, owing to years of managing its capital conservatively, even in times of double-digit growth.
“We have consistently reinvested profits in the business and built our asset base, comprising more than 17 000 m2 of engineering, manufacturing and research facilities.”
Further, the majority of its raw materials are sourced locally from long-standing suppliers, located close by at the company’s facility in Gauteng, which contributed to the company’s resiliency over the last year.
Schoepflin says this supports the drive for localisation and makes economic sense, as Kwatani has an easy-to-manage supply chain and quality control.
Covid-19 has also reiterated the importance of flexibility and amenability to change for the company, she adds.
Kwatani’s motto, Engineered for Tonnage, continues to embody consistent and continuous tonnage enablement for customers, Schoepflin concludes.