Sephaku Cement saves 25% by using Chinese contractor

10th August 2012 By: Leandi Kolver - Creamer Media Deputy Editor

Five-hundred employees of Chinese company Sinoma International Engineering are currently working on site to construct cement producer Sephaku Cement’s new Aganang cement production facility, near Lichtenburg, in the North West, with 200 more to arrive within the next few weeks.

The Aganang operations will include limestone mining and the chemical processing of raw materials to produce clinker.

Sephaku did initially go out to tender for South African contractors, but realised that no South African contractor would be willing to take a turnkey risk on such a plant, Sephaku Cement CEO Pieter Fourie tells Mining Weekly.

“The fixed prices we received from the Chinese Sinoma saved us 25% on total development,” he says.

However, skills transfer and the use of local labour are provided for in the contract with Sinoma. One South African labourer is used for every three Chinese workers.

“I must reiterate that the Chinese workers will only be here during the construction of the plant; therefore, permanent jobs for South Africans will be created during the entire life of the plant, which is expected to be between 30 and 40 years,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the skills transfer between the Chinese and the South African workers is progressing well, especially with regard to the work ethic.

The Chinese building style does differ from the South African style in some practical ways, says Fourie.

“The concrete and steel are the same but concrete pumps and cranes are used more extensively for placing concrete. Other practical examples include their wheelbarrows that are properly balanced, the ways in which they rapidly fix the steel, using tailor-made tools rather than pliers and doing all steel fixing preparation work at a one-metre level above ground. These are minor differences that result in significant productivity improvements,” he explains.

Language did prove to be a challenge, but both companies have appointed translators to deal with this.

“We also experienced some challenges relating to safety management, as our safety culture is very different to theirs. Construction of the plant must be done in compliance with the requirements of the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA). As this is new to Sinoma, they have appointed knowledgeable South African safety persons to assist them and key Sinoma persons have been trained in the requirements of the MHSA.

We have, however, worked together on this and are proud to have more than one-million lost-time injury-free hours on this site,” Fourie points out.

Sephaku started construction on the R2.3-billion, 2.5-million-ton-a-year cement production facility late last year, with first production scheduled for September 2013, after the commissioning of the plant’s clinker in August 2013.

“We decided on this project because the average cement plant in South Africa is about 38 years old and we believe it is time to add capacity in preparation for the country’s future growth,” says Fourie.

Half of the clinker will be milled at Aganang to produce cement and the rest will be transported to the Delmas plant, where it will be further processed, using fly ash produced at the fly-ash classification plant at Kendal power station, as an extender to produce the final cement.

“Sephaku realises the future is in waste-heat recovery,” says Fourie.

To convert a normal cement plant for cogeneration is difficult and plants usually have to be shut down for about six months. However, Sephaku’s cooler was designed to make this possible future transition easier, he says.

“However, this is a future project which will only be considered once the current project is stable. We decided to keep this plant as basic and efficient as possible as we are still establishing ourselves in the cement business,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the construction of an Eskom substation was completed in March. A new 49 km 132 kV incoming powerline has also been erected from Watershed, near Lichtenburg, to the plant, says Aganang civil engineer Jacques Minnie.

Construction of a 4.2 km asphalt-surfaced access road from the existing Kapsteel road to the plant location is also under way. The road will consist of two 3.7-m-wide lanes, with two additional 0.8 m paved shoulders. It is expected to be completed in November, he concludes.