Rising input costs, regulatory pressures and flat commodity prices are making it increasingly difficult for local miners to make enough money to stay afloat.
With little or no control over many of the challenges faced by stakeholders, the matter of cost has evolved to much more than just a survival tool.
It is also driving innovation and competition, which brings much needed benefits to a stagnating eco-system.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 9 2018
It is also attracting new and dynamic entrants to market like Solar Mining Services, which provides explosives and related services for the mining and quarrying sectors.
Charles Hurly, Solar marketing lead says that the company’s sales line is about supplying fit- for-purpose products that are competitively priced as its emulsion is priced around ammonium nitrate based indexes showing price changes based on underlying changes in material input cost.
This is how Solar Mining has begun to establish a competitive edge in the local market. Its business model and costing practices that pertain to raw materials are quite different to that of existing businesses.
Existing competitors also import ammonium nitrate to supplement their supply, but they are typically using NH3 pricing standards from Sasol Ammonia as their main nitrate formula component, Hurly outlines.
He adds that industry players should not discount the savings that effective purchasing can bring to the table.
“The cost savings gained could mean the difference between prosperity and mine closure,” he says.
“Finding the right supplier is just as important as data collection, planning practices, and enforcing accuracy protocols, and streamlining operations.
Here is his checklist to ensure optimal cost and operational efficiency:
Suppliers of a full blasting service will ensure that timing designs give desired outcomes, adequate stemming is done and quantity as well as quality of explosives is correct.
Poor stemming material or practices lead to the loss of energy to do the ‘work’ in and down the hole.
For example, air blasts are really comparable to having an open window with the air-conditioning blasting away, which is a waste of energy and money.
Poor timing designs can lead to cut-offs, desensitisation of explosives product or sympathetic detonation and poor burden relief.
The potential danger of undetonated explosives cannot be calculated, as this poses great risk to safety.
Excessive powder factors will lead to fines, which adds to existing cost pressures by way of mineral losses, unsaleable product or wasting explosives when fine fragmentation is not required.
The access to accurate geological information gives all parties direction on scenarios with regards to rock types and response to the drilling, explosives and loading operations.
Drilling depth accuracy is paramount to minimising the effects of ore dilution caused from over drilling. This is an enormous waste of potential ‘selling price premium’ for minerals.
Mine planning gives direction on time saving from a resource allocation perspective.
Less time can be wasted figuring out what needs to be done and determining where efforts are required if planned properly. This will allocate the maximum available time towards production.
The importance of drilling accuracy cannot be understated.
Hole depth, angle and accuracy according to the planned burden and spacing have a huge bearing on the success of blasts.
If the burden and spacing are not drilled correctly and are too far apart for example, a blast can freeze or have massive boulders as a result.
The planned powder factor may not be enough to do the work in the borehole.
The energy from the explosives not working optimally and could create toes or craters, resulting in poor bench floors for the next blast.
Machines typically suffer drive damage as an example, tyres are often damaged – leading to unexpected costs and down time.
Loaders and haul trucks are damaged due to over-sized rocks being lifted or falling and damaging buckets.
Secondary blasting wastes time, money and losses in production occur. Holes far apart create issues for planned lengths of initiating products, and the list can go on.
Streamlining mining operations eliminates basic inefficiencies and easier to maintain quality measures.
For example, a clean bench is safer to work on, easier to stake (for holes), quicker to move machinery with and better to measure BCM’s.
Properly blasted materials can also be loaded and hauled quickly and optimally.
The cost and management of the mining business has always, and will remain a complex topic and the impact of technological advancements is inevitable and unavoidable, but getting the bare basics right will always remain an important element of business practice and an imperative.
Just like cellular phones are replacing calculators and music players, at the end of the day its main purpose is still to be a communication device.
Similarly, Solar Mining is not only providing explosives supplies fit-for-initial-purpose, but is competitive in pricing.
“We can assist in getting the basic supporting procedures in place for a successful blast,” Hurly concludes.