Innovative thought leads to success and efficiency in the open cast mining sector

Though South Africa’s mining industry is going through turbulent times, it is still the fifth largest producer of gold in the world. It’s mining of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium and vermiculite make it one of the world’s largest producers of these needed minerals. In addition, South Africa is recognised as the world’s third largest exporter of coal.

Indeed the current thought, due to current labour unrest, shows how seriously the mining houses in this country are taking into account spiraling costs and exploring options on how to curtail them.

Changing the mindset in the historically conservative mining sector in South Africa has never been an easy task, but Mario da Silva and his son Zack from Bel Quip Centre put their heads together and put into motion a brand new application for a steel crushing machine.

Da Silva, who is a mechanic by trade previously worked as a Product Support Technician in the refurbishment of earthmoving equipment, until he started a small family business, Bel Quip Centre in 2006.

The company was established as an aftermarket workshop for the refurbishment of older earthmoving machines. His reputation for good, honest and reliable service followed him to Bel Quip Centre, which soon became recognised as the top refurbishment centre for large, older machines as well as newer and smaller models.

“Many large earthmoving machines are utilised in the mining sector, and it was through our exposure to various sites that we learnt more about mining in relation to machine refurbishment. We saw a gap in the market to expand our services – an opportunity to chase,” Da Silva explained.

Secondary blasting in the open cast mining industry is expensive, time consuming and incurs long periods of downtime, particularly in the specialised area of platinum mining.

The oversized rock needing to be reduced is left lying around, often in remote parts of the quarry, until the secondary blast has been safely scheduled. This process often requires extra machinery to load and move the rock into place.

Mario da Silva and his son Zack
Mario da Silva and his son Zack

Adverse geological conditions can contribute to large blocks needing secondary blasting, as can inappropriately designed blasting operations. These factors impact upon the mines ability to produce the most quality rock within the prescribed minimum costings.

The da Silvas stumbled across a breaking machine that had been utilised in the steel industry. After much investigation and meetings with mining colleagues, Mario and Zack were convinced that this breaking machine would work well within the open-cast mining sector: breaking the rock down to the required size; cutting operational costs; and optimising uptime.

Acting on their ‘gut’ feeling, they approached the mine manager at one of South Africa’s leading platinum mines, who requested a demonstration.

“We invested every single cent that we had in purchasing this breaking machine from Fractum, Denmark. We carried out the demonstration to key mine personnel, and showed how oversized rock could be crushed/broken to the required size, in less time, with less labour and with substantially less downtime. Three minutes into the demonstration, management were convinced and we got the go ahead – our belief in this product coupled with our straight-forward approach to business within the industry served us well,” detailed da Silva.

“We found ourselves in a situation where we knew we could expand our menu of operations. We had already established Bel Quip Centre as the leading yellow metal refurbishment centre for older earthmoving models and we were well on the way to expanding this operation to include not only new models, but also models new to South Africa – we were at a crossroad. Do we invest every Rand that our family business had at our disposal to infiltrate the mining sector with a service we were new to? Take that chance? Strategically it made sense to grow our business in an area that we were convinced would thrive, even if it was new to us.”

“So,” da Silva elucidated, “The answer was yes, yes!”

The da Silva’s went ahead to purchase these new machines, trusting their ‘gut’ feeling and excitement for this new opportunity they believed made perfect business sense.

“While the secondary blasting sector is not complimentary to our refurbishment operations, it was not a strange environment for Bel Quip Centre to operate in. We felt our mining knowledge, coupled with our technical experience made it a healthy alliance” said da Silva.

“We achieved excellent productivity and cost ratios with the new rock breaker, highlighting the cost efficiencies that can be obtained in secondary blasting operations. Word of mouth found us needing to purchase a further two machines in 2013, with a third on order for 2014. The savings we can achieve with the Fractum breaker are substantial. In this economic climate where mining costs are taking strain, it would make sense therefore to explore cost saving production methods”.

“For a family business to find R10 million is a big step, in fact a nerve wracking step, but our ‘gut’ feel and innovative thinking has paid off,” da Silva added.

Luckily, the da Silva’s management ethics and performance enabled them to secure the funding to supplement their own personal financial investment in order to expand and explore, what they felt was a most challenging, yet, fruitful endeavor.

Should mining operations purchase the breaking machinery independently, Bel Quip Centre can be contracted to remove the final material excess making the breaking of oversized rock and materials a seamless operation at the mining facilities.

Bel Quip Centre is exploring the possibility of machine rental and short-term contract work. As the mining sector responds to this alternative to secondary blasting techniques, the company believes that for some mining operations, rental is the way forward.

It alleviates the capital cost outlay for the mine and all of the associated running costs such as machine maintenance. It enables Bel Quip to supply the machine to a number of concerns instead of the machine being purchased outright and static in situ.

The forklift rental sector globally, in particular, has shown how beneficial it is to offer such flexibility to a customer base. The upside being that economies unsure as to when a recovery is going to become evident can formulate a more realistic budget in the interim. Renting enables the customer to only pay for what it needs for the time it needs to utilise the technology.

Da Silva has expressed pleasure with their alliance with Fractum.

“Their investment in research and development ensures that newer, updated models are available to us, to offer a cost and production efficient solution to, what is perceived as the ‘hardest of mines’ in the world. It means that we can continuously offer the latest technology to enhance an activity which has previously been labour and production intensive as well as expensive, at a substantially lesser cost. We are lucky, because through our association with Fractum, they assist us to be successful, and we are a positive example of how their technologies work – another win-win business strategy,” he said.

The da Silvas in the first instance will assess the customer’s requirements and propose the most suitable option i.e. rental vs purchase. Transportation of the breaker is then arranged accordingly – normally on a low-bed carrier: much the same as it would normally be done for any rental or purchase of earthmoving machinery.

If the rental machine is to be there for a short period of time, and the customer would prefer their own operators, Bel Quip Centre will provide the training to ensure that the task is completed successfully and correctly.

“We are servicing platinum mines in the North West Province, Limpopo and have expanded our service to a similar mining operation in Namibia. Based on the number of enquiries we are currently receiving, there is an increasing demand for this technology. Rental will, in our view, be the option for many mining concerns and we are ready and geared up for that. We believe we have set the bar for Fractum globally as a result of our out-of-the-box application thinking – it was three minutes that changed our lives!” concluded da Silva.

Bel Quip Centre is in the process of becoming BEE compliant.

The Fractum breaker, from Fractum Denmark, has applications in the mining, steel and demolition sectors. It offers low operating expenses; low excavator wear; flexibility in that it can easily be moved to site; offers reduced noise for operator safety as well as making it less harmful to the working environment.

Fractum efficiently breaks oversized rock – the harder the rock the easier it is to beak.

Fractum can break bauxite, granite and basalt rocks with a few strokes, significantly improving productivity at opencast mines and quarries.


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