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Fleet solutions improve efficiency, reduce costs in African mining

8th November 2013

  

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Logistics plays a vital role in mining profitability. A unique bulk haulage fleet is supplying reliable, cost-effective materials handling solutions to the Zambian and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) copper industry, using trailers that enable return loads – even if they are bulk liquids.

Road haulage is the backbone of supply chain logistics in African mining. While rail is an important component – parti- cularly in linking processed product to ports for export – most bulk cargo moved between mines and processing facilities is carried by road. As a result, there are two factors mining companies must consider when contracting bulk carriers: cost-effectiveness and reliability.

“One-way traffic is one of the biggest contributors to logistics costs – so, ensuring that trucks never travel empty creates an immediate saving,” says Buks van Rensburg, co-owner of logistics company Buks Haulage Limited (BHL), of which Cargo Carriers is the Zambian subsidiary

“For example, our tankers carry copper concentrate from mine to smelter using a tipper,” says Van Rensburg. “At the smelter, the tankers load sulphuric acid, which is a smelting by-product, using the tanker component of the trailer, and deliver it back to mines where it is used in leaching during copper processing.” By ensuring that tankers are carrying cargo on almost every journey, BHL is able to offer more competitive pricing than it would otherwise.

He adds that, whichever direction the trailers are going, the load is always equally configured over the axle, thus complying with safety and road regulations, and reducing the wear and tear on the road surfaces and tyres.

BHL has also been using unique tanker-tipper combination trailers for two-and-a- half years. The multipurpose trailer concept is not new, but BHL’s ‘Bucksta’ has a side-by-side configuration of tankers and tippers, which avoids the loading and structural problems experienced by other designs.

The tippers are equipped with galvanised hydraulic covers, offering protection against theft and the elements. With tankers and tippers combined on one trailer, BHL is able to transport liquid and dry bulk cargo on return routes or simultaneously, delivering another logistics saving.

Adapting to African Conditions

African roads present haulers with extremely variable conditions, so the trucks pulling the trailers need to meet those challenges if a company is going to maintain any kind of reputation for reliability. This is the reason that BHL, when upgrading its fleet earlier this year, opted to buy 80 FAW trucks from China, rather than a European manufacturer.

“We can service and maintain the vehicles in our own workshops,” says Van Rensburg. “The majority of the latest European models are intensely computer-based and you need computerised diagnostics and expensive spares to maintain them. That’s just not practical in an African environment; you can end up with enormous down-time on each vehicle,” he adds.

He explains that the company saved time and money by opting for trucks that do not require digital diagnostic infrastructure and specially trained technicians to maintain them.

“We are saving 8% on fuel and are running at over 90% utilisation, compared with our 65% utilisation on the ‘more sophisticated’ European fleets. This translates to lower costs on top of the savings generated by return loads. These cost savings and the higher levels of reliability make the combination hard to resist,” he says.
Already active in Zambia, the DRC, Namibia and Angola, BHL is planning continued expansion into sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the mining and farming sectors, which also have a need for flexibility on return loads. “It is a fast-opening market, with African growth in general still outpacing many developed nations,” he concludes.

Edited by Shannon de Ryhove
Contributing Editor

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