Quality Labs undertakes the full spectrum of chemical assays on ore samples, and chemical water analyses. Being situated on the Western Limb, the main focus of the laboratory, housed in the old Tobacco Research Centre in the town of Kroondal, is chromite and platinum group metals (PGM) work. The laboratory has a long chrome and PGM assaying track record.
“Part of the mineral processing chain involves sampling for process control and metal balances. As we have expanded our operations on the Eastern Limb, we have set up and operate laboratories for Marula Platinum and similarly for Everest Platinum,” Paul Thomson, Minopex managing director, says. “This has given us the necessary experience and expertise to operate laboratories.
“The key focal points of the laboratories are quality and result turn-around time, in order to operate the plant efficiently.” Quality Labs will be looking at improving its service to its current client base as well as targeting and developing new clients.
Quality Labs will be set up to operate as an independent entity separate from Minopex, which will establish systems to ensure it is a stand-alone company. “There is a lot of potential for such a service, as there is a huge demand in the area and not every lab has spare capacity. Gearing up to expand is not something that happens automatically.”
For existing labs to gear up they need space, infrastructure and equipment. Some of the equipment has long lead times and power supply infrastructure can be a constraint.
“Most assay work in the area is done in-house by the existing mining houses and Quality Labs will be positioned to deal with the overflow work from laboratories,” Thomson says.
Minopex will not compromise on health and safety of lab employees, and will ensure they are not exposed to unacceptable levels of toxins over time, with personnel being trained in safe and accurate laboratory procedures.
A large factor in Minopex purchasing the laboratory is the increased demand for processing samples in that area. “The turn-around time for samples at some laboratories is up to three weeks; Quality Laboratories is targeting a 24 hours turn-around time for plant operations samples. This deal will facilitate the fast throughput of plant samples while less urgent samples can be processed at a slower pace.”
The presence of a creditable independent laboratory in the area together with the management infrastructure will, in general, make the mining industry in the Western Limb more flexible. “To achieve this we will ensure Quality Labs gains the necessary accreditation.” Then it will consolidate the business and look at the demand in the area and increase capacity accordingly.
The first step would be to work on a shift system, as Quality Labs, which has 24 staff, can operate on a roundthe- clock analysis schedule by changing from a two shift cycle to a three shift cycle.
Thomson says that the purchase of the business has a very favourable payback period, but that is not the main consideration; the aim really is to add value to Minopex’s existing business. Minopex already does oil analysis and thermography at its Technical Services facility in Middleburg, which it operates to support its core contract processing business.
Minopex has been operating processing plants on the behalf of mining groups since 1996. Currently it operates three coal washing plants, these being the Forzando and Dorstfontein coal processing plants for Total Coal and Leeuw Mining’s Vaalkrantz coal processing plant. It operates three diamond plants in Lesotho, including the Letseng diamond processing plants for Gem Diamonds. It operates four PGM plants and a tailings treatment plant for Aquarius Platinum and the Marula PGM concentrator for Impala. Minopex will operate two new PGM concentrators which are ramping up later this year, those being the Blue Ridge platinum concentrator and the Boynton Pilanesberg platinum concentrator.
“We have also been awarded the plant operation of a zinc processing plant to be established in Burkina Faso,” Thomson says.
Minopex undertakes contracts based on various commercial options including fixed cost operational labour with spares and consumables purchased on a cost plus basis, fixed cost with a variable cost on a rate per plant feed tonne, and contracts based on an overall feed rate per tonne.