Mining industry suppliers and service providers need to react quickly to the industry’s changing needs during periods of volatile commodity prices, and attending the 2017 Investing in African Mining Indaba is critical to facilitate strategic management in this regard, says mining products and services provider Multotec COO Jannie de Jonge.
After a prolonged period of challenging economic conditions in the global mining industry, commodity prices, such as that of gold, have started to stabilise since September, he notes. “I believe the worst is behind us and it is now a matter of focusing on adapting to the needs of the industry in a potential growth market.”
De Jonge points out that, when commodity prices started to decline after the boom from 2009 to 2011, manufacturers and suppliers were slow to adapt to the new requirements of the mining industry. This created a lag in the provision of effective products, services and solutions to an industry that had altered its focus from capacity expansion, new technologies and exploration projects to cost saving, improving the use of existing capital assets and reducing plant downtime.
“As a result of this period, we have learned that the key to success and sustainability lies in the synchronisation of the mining industry and its supply chain to manage, counter or exploit changes in the commodities cycle and prices. Manufacturers and suppliers have to be prepared for the shift in the commodities cycle and do everything they can to reduce the lag in the supply of relevant solutions.”
To achieve this, he stresses, it is crucial that suppliers ensure that they are in a position to predict short-, medium- and long-term changes in commodities by gathering as much information on the market as possible.
Suppliers must work closely with mining industry clients to understand the particular environments and contexts in which they are working, De Jonge stresses. They must also have a thorough understanding of the commodities that clients are focused on, as well as the cycle and price drivers that affect the sustainability of their businesses.
“It is also crucial that suppliers understand the macroeconomic forces influencing the mining industry. We need to anticipate changes in the mining environment and ensure that our clients’ operations are consistently supported.”
De Jonge highlights that an event like the Mining Indaba, which will be held in Cape Town from February 6 to 9, is an ideal platform for assisting suppliers in getting to grips with all these aspects.
“Multotec has attended the Mining Indaba for the past six years and will have a senior delegation attending again this year. There is no better place to access information about the macroeconomic factors affecting the mining industry and our clients’ needs.”
He explains that the event offers a good opportunity for networking with key players in the African mining industry and for alerting existing and potentially new clients to Multotec’s product developments.
While another commodity supercycle is unlikely in the foreseeable future, steady growth can be expected, De Jonge points out. In line with this, Multotec is focused on introducing water-treatment solutions that will assist mines in managing the increasing pressure to incorporate water reticulation into operations, as well as technology to improve screening systems and, thereby, recoveries.
Education Is Key
De Jonge highlights that the lag in response from suppliers to the demands of the mining industry seems to be more significant in South Africa than in countries such as Canada and Australia, which are far more sensitive to developments in their clients’ mining environments and, subsequently, quick to respond in a beneficial way.
“As a result of labour legislation that makes it difficult to vary the size of a workforce according to demand, and a loss of expertise in the country, owing to many skilled professionals seeking work overseas, South Africa has been very slow to adapt to changes in the market.”
He adds that greater focus on training and development in the country is imperative, highlighting that Multotec is attempting to assist in this endeavour by offering a range of metallurgical processing courses to upskill mineworkers.
“This is a key area influencing South Africa’s success. We must improve our skills and competence levels so that we can be competitive with other leading mining countries.”
In February last year, Multotec also launched three learnership programmes – a first for the company, which saw 41 of its employees qualifying for the programmes.
Twenty employees are enrolled into the Production Technology Learnership, which aims to develop skills in manufacturing, engineering and technology processes, while 12 employees have been enrolled in the Polymer Compound Manufacturing Learnership. The aim of this programme is to ensure an understanding of the manufacturing processes in the polymer compound manufacturing sector and the production requirements for an individual’s specific area of work. The remaining nine employees have been enrolled for the Injection Moulding Learnership, which provides the information to effectively participate in the plastics manufacturing industry.
The programmes provide a structured learning process, during which theoretical knowledge and practical skills for the workplace are gained, with access to knowledgeable mentors from Multotec. Completion of these programmes leads to a National Qualifications Framework-accredited qualification.