Corona’s severe impact on supply chains leads to innovation

The lockdowns because of Covid-19 caused bottlenecks at African borders and made it difficult to sustain supply chains across the continent. Image credit: vonews.com

Corona’s impact on supply chains in Africa was severe. Different regulations at different border posts once again highlights the need for more cohesion between African countries  

Albie Visser, general manager at blasting specialist BME says that mining operations in Africa rely heavily on the flexibility and ingenuity of service providers to keep the supply chain functioning.

“The first weeks of the lockdown were challenging, especially the logistics of moving our emulsion product across national borders from South Africa into other southern African countries,” says Visser. “Different countries – and even different border posts – applied different rules, making it difficult to know what the exact compliance requirements were,” he adds.

The pandemic caught most authorities unaware, leading to regulations being hurriedly developed and enforced. In some cases, the regulatory requirements were not practical. “At one border, for instance, drivers were required to have a Covid-19 test not older than three days – but in South Africa it took nine days to get results from a test through normal channels,” says Visser.

This meant that innovative thinking was called for, and BME worked closely with its own suppliers and the mines themselves. While some deliveries were initially delayed by border issues, the company’s responsiveness and agility kept up its deliveries to site. National lockdowns in the region affected the mining sectors differently from country to country.

South Africa’s lockdown saw demand for emulsion drop sharply at first, but this returned to almost normal as mines ramped up to full production where possible. Activities in Botswana slowed down, but Namibia’s mining industry was more resilient and supplies to Zambia were almost unaffected.

In South Africa, BME works on several sites, with an average of three teams per site. By conducting risk assessments and adapting its existing safety systems, BME quickly developed its own Covid-19 protocols in line with national safety regulations – even before some of the mines finalised their own systems. Among the measures BME introduced is to divide staff into small groups to keep closer control of movements and restrict infections. For example, each group will stay together for transport purposes, and will use only one specified bus.

“Each bus, which has a thermometer for daily testing, will collect staff from their homes,” Visser explains. “We know exactly who they live with, for purposes of future contact tracing.”

It does mean more buses arriving at the work site, but any infection picked up can then be controlled and traced within that group. There is also another screening test at the mine site when staff arrive, and the necessary social distancing is observed. “To date our measures have been very effective, with no Covid-19 infections at any of our operations,” he says.

From the manufacturing perspective, BME’s facilities are also well positioned to keep feeding the supply chain even under lockdown conditions. According to Ralf Hennecke, BME’s general manager: technology and marketing, most of BME’s production plant processes are highly automated. We are able to apply the necessary social distancing and minimise staff without affecting production,” says Hennecke. “This applies to our explosives facilities as well as our factories for non-electric and electronic detonators.”

Even the company’s remote bulk emulsion plants – often located on customer’s mine sites – can be operated with minimal staff. He says that BME’s technology, including planning and reporting platforms also assist mines to reduce opportunities for Covid-19 transmission. “Our technological innovations allow data to be digitally captured, stored and transferred to the mine’s operational and administrative systems,” says Hennecke. “This can be done safely with only a few human touchpoints, and also in real time for greater efficiency,” Visser concludes.

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