Crushing and screening specialist B&E International is leveraging its extensive in-house expertise and manufacturing capacity to partner with capital-strapped mines and startups – not only to design and build the plants they need, but also to run them on a toll basis.
According to Chris Weideman, director operations at B&E International, the company’s 40 years of experience in constructing and operating crushing and screening plants has allowed it to offer customers a wide range of contractual options.
“Perhaps the most exciting aspect of our offerings – especially for smaller operators who might be new to the mining game – is that we can take the financial and operational load off their shoulders when it comes to beneficiation,” says Weideman.
He highlights the shortage of capital as a perennial challenge for new operations, exacerbated by the recent years of low commodity prices. This has led to the toll option being a valuable strategy to spread risk and ensure smooth, optimal processing.
“Outsourcing this process function to a company with our experience can put the customer’s mind at rest and allow them to focus on other aspects of their operation,” he says. “For our part, we essentially assume the risk of ensuring the plant works optimally; if we don’t perform and the plant does not generate product, we don’t get paid.”
A recent project of this nature was an opencast copper project in Namibia, one of the sub-Saharan countries where B&E International maintains a permanent office. A plant was designed and constructed for the customer, and a contract signed for B&E International to operate the plant for a seven year period on a toll basis.
The facility includes a primary jaw crushing plant with secondary and tertiary crushers to bring the material down to a minus 25 mm size. There is also an acid plant where the ore is mixed with sulphuric acid before being trucked to the heap leach pads and stacked using telescopic stackers.
The confidence to take on these contracts stems from B&E International’s long history of successfully building and running plants. The company entered the mobile crushing field in 1976 and later diversified into bulk mining, processing and beneficiation of minerals. This included designing and constructing purpose built plants, as well as providing maintenance and operating processing plants for mine owners. It was acquired by the JSE-listed Raubex Group in 2008, adding further foundation to its offerings and capacity.
“The obligation of running the plant, of course, creates an extra incentive for us to ensure that the plant is reliable and efficient,” Weideman says. “We are comfortable with that, however, as we have developed a strong team that has done this many times before, and have the skills to add new value to every specific project.”
There is a substantial support structure in place to stand behind B&E International plants and to assist customers in their operations, in terms of technical skills, design ability and procurement capacity. These are available over and above the job of operating their plant.
Ken Basson, B&E International’s director: plant and equipment, emphasises that the company is not a project house, and differentiates itself by the way it can realise downstream value from toll revenue generated.
“There is a further option for the customer to take over ownership and operation of the plant after, say, an initial five year period during which B&E International is the owner and operator,” says Basson. “If we do a good job, of course, the customer may choose to leave us with that responsibility, and can then extend our contract to continue operating the facility on a re-negotiated basis.”
The plant would have a residual value after it is amortised over a given period, and B&E International can agree upfront with the customer what the buy-back value would be, he adds.
“At the same time, we also still design and construct plants for larger mining companies who know exactly what they want, and they own and operate these themselves,” says Basson. “So our flexibility extends beyond our design and manufacturing capacity to include the nature of the ownership contract that the customer prefers.
The company’s well-resourced manufacturing facilities in Kempton Park, Gauteng, are also an important differentiator, allowing B&E International to build its plants in-house after designing them. This provides a high level of control over the quality, planning and timing of the manufacturing process – with advantages in terms of cost-effectiveness and speed.
The minimal amount of outsourcing to subcontractors in the value chain is carefully monitored and controlled.
In its choice of capital equipment like crushers for its plants, B&E International is not tied to any specific original equipment manufacturer, so the company is able to specify the brand and model that best suits the needs of the customer in that particular application.
B&E International has also seen demand from mines wanting to expand, upgrade or optimise their existing operations. A number of customers have seen the company’s technical capacity in this application, and this has strengthened the relationship for future opportunities.
“We even play a role in helping companies to troubleshoot their underperforming plants,” says Weideman. “Our engineers will spend time on site, conduct a work study and assessment, and propose a solution – which we would be in a position to implement.”
Its experience in sub-Saharan Africa is another aspect that has built customers’ confidence in B&E International’s operational ability, and allowed it to develop its geographical footprint on the continent.
“In addition to South Africa and Namibia, we have a permanent base in Botswana and have worked in most southern African countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia,” he says. “We have also sold equipment into the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
The applications for the plants have been across a range of commodities with copper, gold, diamonds, coal, chrome, zinc, manganese and iron among them.
“For instance, we design, build and operate coal crushing plants for many of South Africa’s major coal producers, washing the coal and splitting it into fractions according to the customer’s requirement,” he says. “This includes primary crushing at some mines, where we might also feed material onto conveyor belts which carry it directly to power stations.”