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During challenging market conditions, there is a constant need for mining companies to operate efficiently and in the most cost-effective way.

That is why long-established mining services provider Fraser Alexander is investing heavily in technology to optimise its processing offering. GERARD PETER spoke to Minerals Processing general manager BONGANI BUTHELEZI to find out more.

Founded in 1912, Fraser Alexander offers end-to-end breaking, crushing, screening, pelletising, briquetting and mineral processing services that are tailored to specific ore, waste and run-of-mine needs.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 4, 2020
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Major or junior, Fraser Alexander offers bespoke processing solutions for all mining companies. Throughput of its plants ranges from 50 to 700 tph and allows modular expansion when configured in parallel or in series.

Buthelezi explains that managing a process plant requires a lot of planning, particularly when it comes to equipment maintenance and replacement of parts.

It is for this  reason that Fraser Alexander has a work management system that links resources with condition monitoring to ensure accurate information about component life cycle patterns and maintenance schedules.

“We are confident that we are managing our processing plants well,” he adds.

“Proof of this can be seen in the fact that we have high engineering availability (available operating hours) in our processing plants. The industry norm in terms of engineering availability is about 85%.

At Fraser Alexander, we operate in the vicinity of 90% and believe that there is more scope to push the envelope and increase this number with the help of technology.”

Currently, the company is keenly focused on fully automating its work management system, with a particular focus on making it swift and paperless.

“We have conducted trials with artisans using tablets to receive and complete job cards. As soon as they reach a wifi hotspot, the information is uploaded to the work management system which saves time and significantly enhance the quality of planning and execution,” says Buthelezi.

Productivity combined with safety

Another technology concept that Fraser Alexander is looking at is realtime monitoring of large components through oil or vibration analysis.

“This will allow engineers to pre-empt any possible component failures. For example, if the vibration frequency of a particular component has changed, there could be an issue and we can investigate immediately,” explains Buthelezi.

Realtime monitoring also helps get a better understanding of how equipment is being optimised.

“Let’s say our real-time monitoring system identifies that a particular piece of equipment has been idling for a long while, we can investigate to find out the reason: Is it behaviour related or is there an issue with the equipment and how is it impacting on the rest of the operation?”

Fraser Alexander is looking at technology to enhance safety at its plants. Currently, the company is trialling a mobile device at a coal mine in Delmas that uses facial recognition to pick up signs of driver fatigue.

Taking a well-calculated risk

While the majority of Fraser Alexander’s processing customers are in the coal industry, the company is looking to expand into other commodities.

While it already has a strong footing in South Africa, it is looking at cautiously expanding operations into neighbouring states.

“Political stability plays a key role in determining where we operate and we are looking at countries such as Botswana as opportunities for further expansion,” states Buthelezi.

“Our company’s business model is to invest capital upfront so we own the processing plant and also provide the expertise to operate the asset. As such, it is in our best interest to ensure that we invest in a stable region that allows us to get a return on investment in five to six years’ time.”

Fraser Alexander also offers a specialised BOOM model (design, build, own, operate, maintain) that caters particularly for mining companies that are capital constraint. When it comes to the process aspect of a project, we will fund the processing asset, operate and maintain it with our expert team.

“The benefits for mining companies is two-fold, funding of the asset as well as the operational expertise to ramp and maintain the operation at its nameplate performance,” Buthelezi adds.

While the capital outlay for investing in new technologies is considerable, Buthelezi says that it helps Fraser Alexander to remove any efficiency leakages from its operations, thereby making the company more competitive.

“In mining you don’t control price, only the cost. So every time there is a low commodity cycle, our clients will ask us to optimise costs. And the only way to ensure that we are one step ahead is to invest in technologies that will make us more efficient,” he concludes.