Firm secures ‘preferred’ status

31st January 2023 By: Tracy Hancock - Creamer Media Contributing Editor

Firm secures ‘preferred’ status

TACTICAL CHANGES Thos Begbie is expanding its business strategy to gain a major advantage over the local market, as demand for copper processing snowballs

Foundry and engineering company Thos Begbie has been named a preferred supplier of Europe’s largest copper producer Aurubis, which also claims to be the world’s largest copper recycler.

Thos Begbie, based in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, manufactures water-cooled copper and other furnace components used to extract copper in the pyrometallurgical industry.

Aurubis completed the upgrade of various parts of its Hamburg plant, in Germany, in June, and the relocation of its slag tapping was part of this upgrade.

Thos Begbie successfully manufactured and supplied 74 critical components to the plant in Germany in six months, as part of Aurubis’ Future Smelter Hamburg 2022 (FSH22) campaign; a feat which “seemed impossible at the time”, Thos Begbie sales manager Esli Bantjes tells Mining Weekly.

“We had previously manufactured components for Aurubis in 2019 and kept in contact with the company in the hopes of becoming a preferred supplier. After three years of persistence and meetings, we finally made a breakthrough.

“After successfully completing the components for Aurubis’ FSH22 campaign and delivering them to site, we had an in-depth ‘wrap up’ meeting with the company’s global category manager, who recommended that Thos Begbie be listed as a preferred supplier for all Aurubis plants.”

Aurubis has production and sales sites in more than 20 countries on three continents and has about 6 900 employees.

Being made an Aurubis preferred supplier expands Thos Begbie’s international footprint, complementing its goal of becoming one of the world’s preferred suppliers of pyrometallurgical components, explains Bantjes.

While the Aurubis contract was fortunately not impacted on by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, he says other contracts have been put on hold as a result.

Gearing up for Growth

Thos Begbie is expanding its business strategy to gain a major advantage over the local market, as demand for copper processing snowballs on the back of the increasing pressure to satisfy the appetite of the automotive and electronics industries year-on-year.

The details of this transition will be released in due time, says Bantjes.

He explains that demand for copper is predominantly driven by carbon dioxide-emissions-reducing advancements in the automotive industry.

“Increasingly, more industries are also automating their operations, in line with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which requires the use of electronics and electric cabling. Therefore, many feasibility studies have been undertaken to develop new copper mines, specifically in Africa and South America, to address the growing copper supply deficit.”

Ironically, Thos Begbie’s furnace components, such as its copper coolers, are made from the highest grade of copper cathode.

Thos Begbie is not facing any challenges in sourcing the copper it needs to produce its components locally, especially owing to lucrative export prices.

“We have a reliable source of registered copper supply and do not see any issues in obtaining our input material. A major concern is the amount of unregistered scrap copper that is exported by our country. Being in the nonferrous industry for 15 years, I do not perceive copper in any shape to be scrap, as it can be remelted and reused,” emphasises Bantjes.

As it trades with international companies, Thos Begbie’s pricing is aligned with the LME, providing an even playing field in terms of the copper price.

But when securing projects – such as the supply of about 400 000 kg of components to copper mining heavyweight BHP’s Olympic Dam in the state of South Australia this year for maintenance purposes – the rand:dollar exchange rate makes a big difference when competing in the international market.

“Unfortunately, there are various uncontrollable factors that influence the exchange rate. As such, we have implemented lean strategies to be as competitive as possible,” Bantjes concludes.