As part of a new strategic growth thrust spearheaded by highly experienced mining luminary John Wallington, accomplished South African manufacturer of high-quality customised vibrating equipment – Kwatani – is looking to expand significantly further into Africa and internationally, increase its level of black economic empowerment momentously, ensure considerably greater benefit for local communities and continue to embrace advanced cutting-edge technology.
Wallington, a former CEO of Anglo Coal (Global) with almost four decades of deep insight into South Africa’s resources sector, has joined the 42-year-old Kwatani as executive director. His ‘big-picture’ involvement is to give the 180-employee company a new strategic direction that befits its burgeoned size.
He is applying far-reaching new strategic thinking to Kwatani, which has grown rapidly in recent years off the back of impressive local manufacturing expertise and its strong focus on customised solutions for mining operations.
The independent privately owned original-equipment manufacturer is also in the process of increasing black economic empowerment to a 51% black women-owned level, and devising ways of ensuring that local communities benefit more, and directly, when Kwatani products are bought by mining companies.
The company, headed by Kwatani CEO Kim Schoepflin, has the capacity to design and manufacture to suit the precise requirements of a mine and scientifically measures performance so that it is able to offer continuous improvement.
During Mining Weekly’s tour of Kwatani’s spick-and-span and well-ordered 17 000 m2 premises in Kempton Park, clearly visible was the company’s masterly fabrication and assembly of vibrating equipment, exciter gearboxes and unbalanced motors, and its passion for ongoing research and development.
“High quality is what has allowed the company to dominate, particularly in the heavy metal industry, because that’s where the need for the quality of product has been most urgent,” said Wallington.
South Africa’s Northern Cape province is where the baseload of Kwatani’s business resides and where it is performing extremely well, related very much to the demands of the province’s orebodies.
“You can’t put a substandard piece of equipment into where you have iron-ore without smashing it every day,” noted Wallington, who was executive VP Business Development at Sibanye-Stillwater before joining Kwatani. He is also a former CEO of Coal of Africa, now MC Resources.
His task is to arrive at a multiplicity of answers: should Kwatani carry on acquiring or should it now consolidate? Or, having grown to a certain level in South Africa, should it start going offshore more aggressively? So much depends on where the local mining industry is heading and the opportunities that present themselves north of the border and internationally.
Amid these factors, Wallington is intensely contemplating the apt level of assertiveness of Kwatani’s expansion into Africa, the speed at which the talent-filled company should internationalise, and the manner in which it will grow best in coal, for many years his forte. He spent seven years at Arnot colliery, two years at Kriel colliery, seven years at Kleinkopje colliery and another seven at South African Coal Estates before hitting the high spots within the Anglo Coal head office.
Kwatani is doing a lot of work in Botswana and has done some work in Namibia, Zambia, West Africa and other parts of Africa and the world: “But it might be just one screen here and another there. To take it to the next level, you need to put in resources, establish partnerships and spend some money upfront before you get it back.
“That sort of decision about how quickly to get into Africa and how quickly to internationalise is also something that the company is starting to grapple with, because to go from just one or two orders a year to really making your presence felt, requires deep strategic thought,” he says.
Will Wallington’s huge experience in coal put new emphasis on growing the company’s coal equipment base? “My background in coal is going to help, but I’ve certainly tried to reduce the expectations that I’ll come in and suddenly coal will be flying. It’s going to be a tough one,” he said.
The company develops vibrating-equipment solutions for the most extremely arduous applications. Individual machines can weigh as much as 54 t, handle throughputs of 7 000 t/h of heavy metal ores and have screens 4.3 m wide and 12 m long.
Coal is more forgiving than hard-rock ores and one of the benefits of Kwatani acquiring a company specialising in manufacturing, standardised, fit for purpose and lower-cost, vibratory equipment.
One of the strategic decisions being taken is to arrive at the most appropriate way of increasing Kwatani’s penetration of the coal market by deploying an opposite mix of vibratory equipment for coal according to customer requirements.
Already in widespread use in some of the biggest coal mines in the country, Kwatani group product promises, further expansion.
However, there are many smaller coal mines that run for shorter periods: “These don’t need the same capital intensity at the start in terms of equipment and plantwise and screenwise, as a mine that’s going to be doing higher volumes for 20 or 30 years. Some of these smaller mines do smaller volumes for only five to ten years. They’re going to need a different type specification of product,” Wallington noted.
Online Condition Monitoring
Kwatani provides ongoing assistance for customers and has a work-in-progress tool that enables its sales staff to track performance and read the comments of the users of its product.
Mining Weekly was afforded a first-hand view of the meticulous approach the company adopts to the upgrading of machines that are returned after many years of operation. These are completely stripped down, recommendations made to customers and full technical reports are provided on the replacement of parts. Comprehensively tested machines are dispatched to mines, where field service personnel assist with commissioning, Kwatani GM operations Riaan Steinmann outlines.
In the engineering design office, Mining Weekly watched an engineer carry out finite element analysis on a two-deck screen destined for an iron-ore mine in the Northern Cape, using software that discretises the machine into small mathematical blocks to detect structural weaknesses.
The engineering team is constantly looking at new technologies and thinking laterally with regard to application. Online condition monitoring is used to track the extent to which a machine deviates from its initial state, with the data gathered linked back to the little blocks on the computer screen to determine whether the kind of movement presents any risk.
Engineers outlined to Mining Weekly how they are being facilitated to make full use of the Fourth Industrial Revolution advances to detect failure before it takes place.
The life span of the equipment depends on the material and tonnage processed, as well as upkeep on site. The design team goes on site visits and uses a sophisticated measuring system to obtain data on relevant movement.
The iron-ore and manganese screens are the heavy-duty screens. Iron-ore and manganese material is the most arduous material processed and the tonnages on the screens also tend to be higher.
The coal screens are lighter-duty screens. They also have their own issues as they sometimes operate under highly corrosive conditions or in sandy or clay material.
Although material presents its own problems, iron-ore and manganese definitely present the harshest impact.
Meanwhile, Kwatani was originally registered in 1976 as Joest, a subsidiary of a German company JÖST GmbH & Co KG. In 1989, the current majority shareholder bought Joest and successfully integrated local technology to boost the equipment’s robustness and efficiencies to cope with the harsh African mining environment.
“Kwatani” translated from Swahili means engineered ‘for tonnage’, emphasising the company’s proudly African heritage.
More than 15 000 pieces of Kwatani equipment are spread across 35 countries and the full range of commodities, with recent projects including seven large screens for a diamond mine, eight screens for a copper operation, 45 large screens for a coal mine, 15 vibrating screens for an iron-ore mine and even shake-out screens for a foundry.
Kwatani would like to maintain its competitive edge through its continuing to be technically and technologically more advanced than its competitors. Maintaining that definitely results in a higher base cost which prompts the question of whether to standardise. This is but one of the questions Wallington has been brought in to answer, and he is clearly relishing the challenge of arriving at an optimum strategy for a company that has proved itself to be an important national asset.