By Sharyn Macnamara
Electra Mining Africa 2022 celebrates its 50th year and ‘local is lekker’ with day five’s theme: South African Day on the 9 September. When it comes to a celebration of local excellence in technological development, innovation and manufacturing capability, who better to speak to than MEMSA (Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa) and the Mandela Mining Precinct (MMP) in the South African mining context?
Launched in 2016 and based at the MMP in Johannesburg, MEMSA aims to grow the local supply chain of capital equipment for the mining industry. “Our aim as MEMSA is to put local OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and service providers on the map,” says MEMSA CEO, Lehlohonolo Molloyi. By the same token, one of the purposes of the MMP as a public private partnership is to drive this dynamic supply chain. “We follow the principle of exhausting all local opportunities when looking for a specific technology, before we go global,” notes Dick Kruger, strategic advisor at the Mandela Mining Precinct.
MEMSA is 43 members strong having grown from a base of 35 members in the past year, this being a major feat since, according to Molloyi, most clusters have reduced in size in the face of challenges posed by COVID-19, the Ukraine War and other local economic constraints. MEMSA represents not only local machinery and equipment OEMs and component manufacturers, but MEMSA members also supply other complimentary and essential services to the mining industry such as collision prevention services (CPS), ventilation systems and services, and underground support systems in terms of roof bolting and drilling equipment, amongst other core service offerings.
New services on the cards for the cluster include those involving ground stability, in both surface and underground mining and more of the IoT (Internet of Things). Molloyi notes, “There has been major interest from companies involved in software development, embracing new 4IR technology to join us on both a membership and associated membership level. A number of SMME (Small, Medium and Micro-enterprises) have also joined the ranks in the past year and they form a very strong arm of the future industrialisation in South Africa.” This being said, the focus on capital equipment is critical to not only usher in a new age of mechanisation in the South African mining industry, but to prepare it for Industry 4.0, as digitisation is accelerated by the IoT.
Local OEMs and suppliers of services across the cluster’s membership are most certainly holding their own in the realm of technical capability and innovation when compared with their international counterparts. And the local mines are supporting them, says Molloyi. This includes development in the realm of battery electric mining vehicles by members including Rham Equipment, Fermel (personnel carrier) and Battery Electric (diesel locomotive conversion);1 innovations in explosive casings (NXCO); the development of trackless mining machinery suitable for mechanised mining methods, with sophisticated safety mechanisms; innovative hydro powered drilling equipment; and data sensing devices and systems for better safety and productivity.
While Covid-19 had a marked impact on the procurement appetite of the mining industry over the past two years, Molloyi says the fact that the end of the pandemic is now in sight, combined with resurgent commodity prices, has meant that the bulk of MEMSA members have full order books at present.
In terms of the support of some of the local innovation activities – Molloyi can name many top line examples of member companies who are continually testing new innovations with the support and goodwill of local mining companies, who are prepared go the extra mile in testing this new technology because they have faith in local capabilities. “One of our members, Rham is testing a new technology in the coal mining LHD space in collaboration with Sasol.
“Another interesting development recently involves a foreign company with a new technology in the tyre space who is willing to empower a local manufacturer with the production of this innovation, and Impala Platinum has supported this project whole-heartedly with testing facilities. Although this technology will come from overseas initially, it will be a local factory that will manufacture, with a spinoff of local job creation and empowerment of women and youth communities around mines.
“Not to mention the amazing technology that was showcased at the inaugural Innovation Awards, hosted by MEMSA in April this year. Many of decision-makers in local procurement tend to consider international mining solutions as being superior, when in reality our own local OEMs are on par or better with the major international players.” MEMSA’s objective in hosting these awards was to highlight local technology in the sector.
The category winners were as follows:
- Hard Rock Mining Equipment: Hydro Power Equipment (HPE) for the development of the Isidingo Drill and Drill Guide
- Soft Rock Mining Equipment: Rham Equipment for the development of Battery Electric driven LHD, Dump Truck and Land Cruiser
- Safer and Healthier Mining: Mine Support Products for the Rocnet Modular Safety Net
- Mineral Processing: AZMET Technology & Projects for the AZMET Cyanide Removal Process Technology (AZ-CRP)®
- Improved Productivity: Hydropower Systems for the HV212 EOD Hydrovessel
- Emerging or Small Enterprise: Gravitas Minerals for the Optima Classifier™
“Many of our members invest substantially in in-house R&D, but the long lead time to deliver a working prototype is often counteracted by international companies exploiting preferential interest rates and other benefits to import equipment at a substantially cheaper cost. These are some of the challenges that MEMSA has been addressing,” says Molloyi.
Not only do local OEMs have to compete directly with mega global manufacturers, but the latter also have access to significant funding from their parent companies, in addition to support from their governments. This has a major impact on the investment that these companies can pump into R&D. “From that perspective, a local OEM might build a prototype, only to find its innovation ‘pipped to the post’ by technological advances imported from better funded and resourced global companies,” adds Molloyi. This is one of the reasons that local innovation is often kept “hush, hush” until it is ready for market – and ‘local is lekker’ is unable to shout success from the rooftops, and thus loses out on marketing opportunities to build up to sales as soon as it is released. Nevertheless, South African manufacturers continue to leverage expertise and innovation that meets local challenges cost-effectively to offer solutions for local, continental, and global markets.
Molloyi emphasises that there is a need for local banks to come on board in terms of supporting local OEMs – to be more flexible in terms of structuring their funding deals to assist with financing the procurement of local capital equipment. Molloyi cites an example, “In a recent case where a buyer was prepared to order local, a MEMSA member lost a sale of 3 machines amounting to a substantial loss of income due to the fact that our local bank deals were not comparable with that of a foreign OEM, and local funding was not attainable!”
Functioning in the midst of the MMP, MEMSA is uniquely placed to collaborate with key partners such as the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), the Minerals Council of South Africa, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the Department of Trade and Industry and Competition (the dtic), and the South African Minerals’ Processing Equipment Cluster (SAMPEC) to overcome some of these challenges.
Local collaboration and strategy
Kruger at the MMP highlights the five strategic programmes2 the MMP works to in order to support local industry with relevant innovative solutions to drive the economy: Longevity of Current Mines (LoCM); Mechanised Drill and Blast (MDB); Advanced Orebody Knowledge (AOK); Real-time Information Management Systems (RTIMS); and Successful Application of Technologies Centred Around People (SATCAP). Noting that each one of these has a Technical Steering Committee advising the programme manager on projects. The Technical Steering Committee is drawn from stakeholders in the local gold and platinum mining industry, who guide the manager on what will best serve the industry to ensure the industry needs are met when it comes to R&D, and investments are thus well spent. He says, “Once a project is completed, it is signed off by the Technical Steering Committee.”
He adds to some of the MEMSA ‘local is lekker’ success stories, sharing where the MMP has assisted with funding to grow the local manufacturing capabilities in South Africa. He highlights the Isidingo Drill Challenge – also nominated for a MEMSA award in April, noting how a trending industry move away from pneumatic drills in the deep underground mines to hydroelectric drills drove a challenge the MMP put out to the local market. He explains, “We gave local suppliers international specifications and challenged our talent to develop a homegrown solution to meet the local industry requirement, with the assistance of MMP funding. Two local companies have since produced two prototypes that were every bit as good as anything you can get in the world. One of these companies already has commercial orders for the resultant product.”
There is another vital local innovation in the making currently mentioned by Kruger. “When one charges the face in mining with explosives, you’re sitting in the worst place in the world. We put down a challenge for narrow reef stoping, which was taken up by the University of Pretoria. We are at the point where the first stage of development is the technology demonstration of a piece of equipment that will move down the working face with remote control and charge the holes with explosives, which is extremely exciting. I have no doubt that this will be pulled off in the not-too-distant future. Soon we will be looking for a local manufacturer to manufacture the product itself.”
Another recent innovation is a replacement for timber supports underground. A novel synthetic support can now be used as a support to replace, heavy timber that must be cut to fit, and which burns creating a potential fire hazard. “A local company has come up with this totally synthetic solution, which is half the mass and easy to handle. We took it on, tested it exhaustively and proved that it is every bit as good as a timber prop, but with the reduced weight and handling advantage!”
Kruger expands on this, pointing out the fact that not many countries in the world mine narrow reef, hard rock, deep level, orebodies – the area the MMP is active in – and one simply does not get ‘off the shelf solutions for this kind of mining that fit the South African specs. “So, we are literally forced to develop support systems ourselves. Pushing the ‘local is lekker’ envelope even further – we are at the point where we are investigating in some very sophisticated equipment that is not available in South Africa yet. But our priority will be to find something that could be applied, and then use our resources to develop and adapt it for our conditions, with the first port of call always being to manufacture locally,” concludes Kruger.
Why support local?
It goes without saying that supported localization at the doorstep of a mine should shorten delivery timelines, would eliminate import lead times, and most definitely would reduce the transportation carbon footprint and pricing add-ons. Procuring locally is a job creator and pushes the envelope when it comes to local innovation and technology, which in turn drives and enables the upskilling of the local workforce and creation of new, meaningful skills. Molloyi comments that there seems to be a “huge disconnect of understanding of what is actually available in South Africa and where to find it.” His message to the market is, “Contact MEMSA, and if we cannot assist, we will direct you to the right people.” MEMSA, the CSIR and MMP are currently updating their TARA (Technology Availability Readiness Atlas) database. Local manufacturers of capital equipment also have their equipment specifications available in the Equipment Specs Handbook – an annual directory, where one can directly compare specifications and capability across brands.3
The decision makers – procurement managers, the engineers, the general managers and the local mining CEOs – should always ask themselves the question, “Is this technology available in Africa, if it is, have we looked into it?”
For information on innovations available in the market go to African Mining’s product review on page 28. n
- See our African Mining series of articles, ‘How is Africa faring in the BEV race?’, and Part 2 in particular on page 59.
- Longevity of Current Mines – LoCM is aimed at improving mining practices and procedures, particularly for established mines that are already constrained by their infrastructure. The aim is to prolong the sustainability of the mines, thereby maintaining current jobs) Mechanised Drill and Blast (MDB – targeted at providing sustainable mechanised solutions to the gold and platinum mining industries by introducing disruptive technologies to facilitate zero harm and achieve financially sound underground mining operations with consistent production rates at optimal cost.
Advanced Orebody Knowledge – AOK is aimed at providing mine planners, rock engineers, geologists and other decision-makers with information and knowledge that will contribute to optimal extraction and zero harm objectives.
Real-time Information Management Systems – RTIMS Management aims to improve data sourcing, transmission, storage, dissemination, and information management tools, practices, and procedures for mines.
Successful Application of Technologies Centred Around People – SATCAP: This SAMERDI programme aims to understand how both specific and general challenges relating to people in the mining modernisation process can be understood from all stakeholders’ perspectives. As systems, technologies and processes modernise, these will have an impact on the people in mining. The SATCAP Programme seeks to gain an understanding into the challenges, effects and impacts of mining modernisation on people in the minerals sector. The SATCAP research agenda addresses modernisation and the impact on jobs (creation and displacement) and skills requirement (both reskilling and upskilling) with the aim of developing the framework for a modern workforce for a modern mine.
- For more information on the Equipment Specs Handbook go to www.equipmentandhire.co.za