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South Africa-based foundry and engineering company Thos Begbie’s Zambian branch will expand its workshop into a fully equipped heavy machine and fabrication shop with fabrication facilities to cater for other industries.
Thos Begbie Zambia MD Piet du Preez highlights this as the medium- to long-term vision for the company.
The workshop was recently secured for its latest branch, near Kitwe. Du Preez notes that all the necessary permits have been obtained and the company registration is complete. “An investor’s certificate for establishing a business and investing in the economy of Zambia gives shareholders the confidence to invest in Zambia.”
The new branch is in line with Thos Begbie’s greater Zambian expansion plan and the company is looking at forming alliances with local industry to increase its value-added component, deviating from the original core business.
Du Preez explains that service offerings at the branch will include the supply of new equipment and the repair of existing furnace components with specialist welding, machining and quality assurance, “which is only part of what we envisage for the future”. Thos Begbie is also negotiating access to a mobile crane and other heavy site equipment at short notice.
Although the company serviced the needs of the various smelter operations in Central Africa for many years from its Middelburg plant, in Mpumalanga, the only viable route for delivery is usually through Zimbabwe, which has become more of a risk to its high-value products and the safety of the crew, notes Du Preez.
Operating from Middelburg also resulted in delayed responses to urgent breakdowns; therefore, choosing Zambia was relatively easy as a strategic decision, and the branch will “reduce the reaction time to attend to the urgent needs of the smelters in this region”.
Thos Begbie also aims to have a presence where the world’s future reserves of copper and related platinum-group metals (PGMs) minerals are situated, says Du Preez.
“It is no secret that the rest of the world’s copper reserves are being depleted at an alarming rate and that the political instability in Central Africa has probably been the main reason for these orebodies not having been fully developed. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that stability will eventually prevail.”
He adds that the outlook for the industry in the short term is excellent, as copper is a strategic metal which forms an integral part of future technology in the renewable-energy field.
“The current disadvantage affecting the investment in more copper mines is the low price. However, we feel that this will normalise over the years to come when demand is greater than supply and prices will increase, allowing for greater investment.”
Therefore, having a well-established presence will place the company in a strategically strong position to expand, along with other new entrants, into various minerals sectors in Zambia.
Most of the machinery used in the furnaces, trained artisans at the workshop and a vehicle will be permanently available at the Zambian branch. Du Preez adds that, if required, South African staff can be flown in to Zambia in 24 hours. This will allow Thos Begbie to offer reliable and instant assistance to its clients in Zambia to ensure the most economical running of its smelter operation with the lowest cost per ton possible.
“This local presence offers a springboard to enable servicing of the Zambian mines, as well as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.”
Copper mines produce raw ore, which is further processed and prepared for smelting in the huge furnaces. The production line comprises many different segments, each depending on all the others running in series, explains Du Preez.
Any one component that fails or has reached the end of its life and has to be replaced causes the whole production process to stop. “Sometimes, a temporary fix is possible where a water leak or a crack in a copper launder can be urgently welded on site and production can resume within hours.”
Miners tend to leave the supply, erection and maintenance to outside contractors like Thos Begbie. The welding of copper and associated alloys is a highly specialised art and only welders who are continuously involved can maintain the required standard, Du Preez explains. Most furnaces operate at more than 1 000 ºC and not anyone can work under such arduous conditions.
The company can assist during these unplanned instances, he adds: “Imagine clients’ peace of mind knowing that Thos Begbie is an hour away with a stock of critical spares or the equipment and specialised labour to get their furnace back in production.”
He underscores that the company has been a supplier of critical components to the mining industry for 132 years.
Meanwhile, the Caminex trade expo is vitally important to everyone interested in mining and associated industries, as companies will have an opportunity to network and engage with the Zambian market, says Du Preez.
Thos Begbie will exhibit at the three-day expo in Zambia, which will take place from June 4 to 6 at the Kitwe showgrounds.