BLASTING INDUSTRY TRIALS Problems in the mining sector have forced stakeholders in explosives to re-evaluate education and research standards within the explosives industry
Explosives suppliers and manufacturers needed to start establishing common goals, share knowledge on training, and standardise testing methodology and best practices to ensure sustainable economic growth, said integrated energy and chemicals company Sasol senior manager of technical services Ron van Dijke at the Explosives Education and Research in Africa (EERA) conference.
During the conference, held in November 2015, he outlined an extreme downward trend in commodity production and pricing in his presentation, Challenges and Potential of the Explosives Sector in Africa.
Van Dijke emphasised that, while the African mineral commodities sector was expected to grow between 5% and 12% over the next few years, South Africa’s sector would only experience between 0.5% and 1% growth, with its platinum sector continuing to record negative growth.
From an explosives supplier’s perspective, the dismal state of the mining industry had created a “price crunch” and an environment where “price is king”, Van Dijke noted. This, in turn, negatively impacted on the training and research and development (R&D) budgets in the explosives industry, as it attempted to reduce costs to survive the current market.
The industry has also had to deal with the “brain drain” in Africa – a result of the industry’s inability to educate, upskill or retain skilled workers – and the dilution of skills, as experts are spread thinly across the continent.
Van Dijke reiterated that the best way to deal with challenges was to work with “open books”, adding that, ultimately, “it’s not just about intellectual property – it’s about sharing the knowledge and ensuring the next generation does not just have the theoretical knowledge but also the practical knowledge regarding explosives and mining”.
The only other way for suppliers to ensure relatively stable growth was through becoming “strategic partners instead of just vendors”, Van Dijke said.
He noted that, because mining operations “saw everything through price-tinted lenses”, companies needed to focus on providing complete solutions rather than simply supplying a product. Companies could achieve this by refocusing their service offerings, such as blast optimisation and technical support, Van Dijke added. However, he admitted that perhaps the African explosives and mining industries had not matured enough for this to be a realistic goal.
Research and Standards
Van Dijke highlighted that research was driven by quality, safety and cost. He pointed out that, within the last four years, cost had been the main determining factor and, when companies approached everything from a financial perspective, quality and safety could be compromised.
He proposed that mines, suppliers and governments pool their research and create standardised regulations across Africa to ensure sufficient levels of safety and quality.
Van Dijke believed that introducing centralised testing facilities, rather than companies using their own facilities, would ensure that “everyone is on the same page and accountable to the end-user”, parti- cularly in areas such as analytical testing, where competitors sometimes use different techniques, yielding different results.