Managing logistics during Covid-19
As the starting point of the extraction process, blasting is a critical element ensuring smooth mining operations. This makes the uninterrupted supply of explosives and accessories non-negotiable.
According to BME West African operations GM, Michael Klaasen, the Covid-19 pandemic has not affected the company’s services to customers. “Fortunately, the spread of the Covid-19 virus has not been as prolific in West Africa as in most parts of the world – and it has been more or less free of the Delta variant,” says Klaasen.
Where the pandemic continues to affect many companies in West Africa is because of the global disruption of ocean-going freight, he says. This has caused the world’s container transport sector to shrink, making shipping services both unreliable and expensive.
Managing supply chain risk
With the cost of Class 1 containers going up by 40-50%, BME has effectively managed supply chain risks through various strategies.
“We source our raw materials from a range of suppliers to ensure that the supply line is always robust. Our priority is to avoid the possibility of stock-outs at customer site, and we have continued to achieve this goal across the continent,” says Klaasen.
A three-month supply of stock is made available on each operation, a strategy that has proved successful even through the hard lockdowns that occurred early on in the pandemic. He says that mining customers in the region had generally adapted well to the new challenges, with much more communication now taking place on digital platforms.
“Where we do need to meet customers face-to-face, we follow strict health protocols – although personal or business travel is still complicated by the need for Covid testing and quarantining. Most importantly, the movement of goods and equipment is generally not a problem.”
Poor infrastructure remains a challenge
Klaasen says that poor infrastructure remained a challenge in the region, including roads and data connectivity. This often leaves many remote areas completely cut off in terms of reliable communication.
To service customers reliably and timeously, BME now has seven manufacturing plants for emulsions in West Africa. BME has been active in West Africa for many years, steadily building a strong reputation and a wide footprint.
“We have ongoing opportunities to expand into both opencast and underground operations across commodities in this region,” says Klaasen. “Gold remains the dominant metal, but there is plenty of scope for more activity in copper, iron ore, bauxite, diamonds and emeralds, as well as lithium in recent years.”
The mining sector in West Africa is – as with mining elsewhere – driven by productivity and cost-competitiveness. BME therefore focuses on supporting mining customers’ efforts to control their costs – not only with its blasting products and services but in terms of downstream efficiencies.
“This starts with our reliable emulsions and secure supply chain and includes optimum blasting to ensure the highest efficiency in loading, hauling and comminution functions – which are energy-intensive,” he says.
Improving blasting technology
In addition to sourcing raw materials from a range of global sources, BME is constantly on the lookout for quality options that are cost-competitive.
“Our continuously improving technologies also position us well to make the most of emerging opportunities, as mines look increasingly to digital solutions to build ‘mines of the future’,” he says.
Later this year, for instance, BME will be rolling out its smart truck concept at flagship operations in West Africa – adding to mines’ transparency and efficiency of systems. The company’s digital solutions – which fall under the Blast Alliance brand, and include its Blastmap blast planning software and XPLOLOG data logger – have been well accepted by many mines in the region, contributing to mines’ monitoring, control, and productivity efforts.
Klaasen notes that regulatory authorities in West Africa are increasingly recognising BME’s emulsion as a 5.1 oxidising agent – so that it is not governed by the same regulations as traditional explosives.
“Because our emulsion only becomes explosive when it is loaded into blast holes and chemically gassed, this makes it much simpler to handle. This of course promotes safety on the mine site and throughout the supply chain, and facilitates easier procedures for transportation, storage and on-site delivery.”
The wide, thick nature of many orebodies in West Africa – which are exploited using long-hole drilling and open stoping – make BME emulsion very suitable, as it is easier and quicker to load holes.
“There are world-class mining operations in West Africa, and we are proud to be associated with them. A leading gold mine in Mali, for instance, is ranked in the top 10 lowest cost producers globally; here, we deliver 2000 tonnes a month of our emulsion, and optimise their production efficiency with our electronic detonators.”
Image: Modern detonators have revolutionised blast timing. Image credit: BME
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