Apr 08, 2011
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Gwala: South Africa is the real-life lab for new German mining equipment.
Creamer: Yes, this is a new way of doing it: don’t do everything in the lab, do it in the actual place where it happens. The German company Eickhoff, which is a family business, was founded in 1864 in Germany, right in the heart of coal country. Eickhoff is using our coalmines here to develop a new set of machines called continuous miners.
So, it brought out the prototypes and put the first prototype into the mines and it has gone already from good to great within the first model range.
It is a new way of doing things where you actually develop your product while they are being used, because then you get the good tips of what sort of improvements can be made and, at the same time, you are phoning the world and telling them you are developing a new product so that it can go into the market.
But, we’ve got it here, this continuous miner particularly because our form of mining is board-and-pillar mining. That is the way we mine and this is ideal for these continuous miners which cut into the coalface and fling the coal behind them and set it off on conveyor belts.
This German company, Eickhoff, has got eight of their prototypes in the market, backing them with a lot of people. They have 100 people with a third of them in the field to check on these things and using South Africa as a veritable lab.
Gwala: Another issue that has been worrying everybody well across the board, South Africa receiving a measly $400/t for product that it could sell for $100 000/t.
Creamer: This was emphasised by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. You can see the impatience developing and a lot of Ministers saying that we are giving away our birthright in South Africa.
The product he is referring to, of course, is the mineral sands, the titanium product that, when it becomes uplifted into titanium alloy, it has a marvellous price surge.
He is saying, “let’s get the benefit of that price in South Africa” and you can see him now gathering his forces. It is not only in South Africa. If you talk to any minerals Minister in Africa, if you talk to industry Ministers in Africa, they are all giving the same ‘b’ word, beneficiation.
Lets uplift. I think it’s a new era that we are entering into in South Africa and Davies is saying “let’s lead the show with this titanium uplift” that can also involve a plant that would deal with zirconium, vanadium, magnesium and silicon, but lets add value to these metals and minerals which we have in South Africa and instead of talking about it we have got to do it.
There is one huge constraint, energy. We know that we are entering into an energy problem and the government can talk as much as it likes, but if it doesn’t see to that energy it won’t happen.
If hasn’t got a business case it won’t happen. We know that the private sector needs to be led into this energy equation, because unless they start producing their own energy, we are not going to have things happening.
Gwala: Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of a human being entering space for the very first time.
Creamer: This is incredible. April 12, 1961, into space went Yuri Gagarin. That was the first man to go into space. He was sent into space by a capsule blasted into space by the Russians.
It was the time of the cold war space race. At that stage the whole world wanted to be the first in space and the first on the moon. At that stage Nikita Khrushchev who was head of Russia wouldn’t even name who his engineering team was. The engineers had to rename nameless, he just referred to a chief commander.
Sergei Korolev only got named after his death, that’s how it was. But, the immediate response was from America and at that stage President John Kennedy said that they also want to get a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Of course, he was assassinated in November 1963.
But, it did happen, before the end of the decade, in 1969 the Americans got a man on the moon in July and that was Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It just shows you how intense that race was during the cold war period. Now what we deal with are far more mundane issues like global warming and the problems in the eurozone.
Gwala: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.
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