The innovation seen at this year’s Electra Mining shows what the local mining and engineering industry can do
The overall winner of this year’s Electra Mining Africa “Innovation & New Products Awards” is mine and tunnel ventilation products manufacturer ABC Ventilation Systems (ABC).
The new product hardline that won them top honours, as well as the Local Manufacturing: Innovation New Product (Mining category) award, is a modified HDPE polymer material converted into ducting for ventilation underground. The hardline product overcomes safety and logistical as well as installation issues associated with traditional steel ducting.
“The inside of the product hardline is smooth and offers a low friction factor compared with other ducting. It is also fire retardant and has a low toxicity index rating,” says ABC Ventilation Systems MD Terry Pearce.
“In addition, it is easy to move logistically, and the product can be recycled when the mine is finished with it,” he adds.
ABC has also engineered the ESD electrostatic discharge HDPE polymer product for mines and customers that require anti-static products. It is black in colour and adheres to all local and global safety standards.
The awards were presented in partnership between Electra Mining Africa and the South African Capital Equipment Export Council (SACEEC). SACEEC represents the capital equipment, machinery and equipment, and project sector both for new projects and for the aftermarket. Its CEO, Eric Bruggeman says ABC’s innovation is a prime example of South African engineering developing a solution to a problem and then exporting it across the globe.
“The Innovation Awards started four years ago. Back then we had eight entries. This year’s Electra Mining had 21 entries that were adjudicated with 18 winners and runners-up named, including the overall winner.”
But he says it’s not just about quantity, it is also about quality. “The innovation seen at this year’s Electra Mining has made me proud and shows what the local mining and engineering industry can do, and it excites me.”
The awards are divided into two sections: Innovation: New Product and Innovation: Existing Product, for local manufacturing and for international manufacturing. “Whether it is an innovation to an existing product or a new product, it must have a massive impact. It must blow you away. And of course, you must sell it successfully as well,” he explains.
This year’s winners range from big companies, such as Multotec to Aditiv Solutions, a small company of eight young engineers. “But what they have in common is an innovation that has changed their industry,” says Bruggeman.
The Awards are also about encouraging young companies, such as Aditiv Solutions, to motivate them. “These are the future engineers of our country,” he says.
Innovation: A Complete Ecosystem
Pearce says it is not easy to run a business and develop products. “But if you want to grow your business, you must persevere and be focused. We started 16 years ago in a garage.”
Today the company employs 45 people and exports to the African continent as well as to Chile, the US and Canada. In Africa, the affiliate companies in the ABC Group of companies manufacture the hardline product, which creates jobs.
“We thought we were progressive back then, but we were only as progressive as the technology of that time allowed us to be,” says Pearce.
“Today’s fast-moving technology is providing an environment that is conducive to shifts in the industry. The young engineers coming through into the industry have an appetite for better and smarter ways of doing things to give the mining operation advantages and opportunities.”
Therefore, he says it is important to give young engineers guidance and some free rein to allow creativity to develop ideas and products.
Bruggeman says this is one of the reasons why ABC is the overall winner. “They are ahead of the game because they give their staff opportunities to experiment and fail. That’s how to get to winning innovations that change an industry.”
The awards show that South Africa can compete on a global stage. “There is no reason why we cannot; we are as good as the rest of the world. The curve of innovation is open. As South Africa does not mass produce, making products better and cheaper is how we innovate,” says Bruggeman.