South Africa-based foundry and engineering company Thos Begbie sales engineer Esli Bantjes explains that the shortage of capital in South Africa has forced mining companies to cut back on retaining full-time maintenance crews, instead outsourcing this critical service when necessary.
This has resulted in the company expanding the number of crews immediately available for deployment to do emergency repairs and refurbishing on site, Bantjes adds.
“The mining and smelting operations know that we manufactured and supplied the components and, therefore, have an intimate knowledge of the workings of each part of a furnace.”
Bantjes notes that it is “logical” that the site repair teams enabled Thos Begbie to diversify its capabilities – in terms of not only manufacturing components for the pyrometallurgical industry but also installing components – as the company understands the critical parameters that have to be met.
“In effect, the mining groups chose to outsource these critical emergency repairs to our trusted teams, rather than permitting construction workers unfamiliar with their specific requirements to do the work.”
Additionally, he adds that Thos Begbie has been engaging with Anglo American Platinum regularly regarding on-site repair work since the start of this year. He also cites recently completed repair work on a slag tapping launder.
The slag launder is constructed of steel and is also water-cooled. The slag-tapping system consists of a slag tapblock, slag insert and a slag launder.
“Because of the high temperatures and production rate at which the plant was running, it caused a burn-through on the launder.”
Bantjes adds that to repair the launder, the tapping process had to be halted, and that work was done within 2 m to 3 m of a working furnace in heat-stroke conditions.
Meanwhile, Thos Begbie MD Joubert Groenewald saw the gap in the market and established additional teams, equipped with vehicles that were custom-fit with all the necessary emergency equipment for site- approved vehicles.
Bantjes explains that conducting on-site repairs requires specialised equipment.
“These vehicles already have the necessary equipment installed – such as generators and welding equipment – which makes it easier to access the site, do the work and return to base.”
However, when working across borders, Thos Begbie has to obtain the necessary import/export documentation to transport the equipment. This, in return, raises other difficulties such as customs clearance, permits and fees to transport the equipment.
He notes that this can be mitigated by having a site establishment office at every smelter plant with the necessary equipment, which would eliminate import/export documentation and delays at custom clearances.
“If the need for frequent site repairs in neighbouring countries increases, we can circumvent the problems of repatriating our equipment by ‘selling’ the specialised equipment to the smelter as part of the scope of work, [with the client] keeping the equipment in a dedicated store or container.”
Bantjes, however, points out that until the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated downturn in all commercial activities are reversed, the cost of new equipment cannot be justified by either the client or the company.
Meanwhile, he adds that another challenge that the company has to address pertains to job-creation imperatives that require the use of local community members when contracting for jobs.
Bantjes explains that, with its specialised line of work, it cannot simply employ workers from the local community, as they are not trained or qualified in this discipline.
In South Africa, “we can [mitigate] this to a certain extent, as we have all the relevant trained personnel employed full time at Thos Begbie”.
However, the scenario changes beyond the country’s borders. “Resources are limited, and Thos Begbie must make do with what is available. Every second person is a qualified artisan but when it comes to working with copper, the majority do not comply with the stringent standards.”
He adds that, owing to the international travel bans put in place by governments because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the company will not be able to offer full assistance to neighbouring countries in terms of on-site repair work.
Bantjes concludes that Thos Begbie is virtually a self-contained manufacturing facility with its own generation of electricity in the event of power outages. On-site X-ray and nondestructive testing facilities make it unique in terms of manufacturing capability and stability.