Gold Fields strategic sourcing manager Ben Ludik tells Mining Weekly that, following some abnormal conditions in the forestry industry, the mining industry was hampered not so much by a shortage in timber supply but by a “supply tightness”.
“The combination of forest fires and wet conditions in plantations, owing to high rainfall this past summer, made it difficult to get timber to customers and, as a result, on-site timber stock levels ran low and supply and demand requirements and backlog had to be tightly managed,” Ludik notes.
Although the supply tightness lasted for about five to six months, Ludik says that Gold Fields’ opera-tions were not really adversely affected as the company has good strategic partnerships with its suppliers and a market intelligence capability, which helped it to overcome the problem.
“Stock levels are back to reasonable levels,” Ludik assures. The longer-term supply challenge for the mining industry, Ludik says, would be around securing specially-treated mining timber that makes up around 4% of the timber-supply market.
“Mining timber forms a relatively small percentage of the suppliers’ overall business, with the bulk of timber going to other sectors, such as the pulp-and-paper industries, where high global demands in this sector are creating competitive margin pressures.” “The greater supply challenge in the future will thus probably relate to higher demand-driven timber price pressures, where longer-term strategic partner development and joint total-cost-management initiatives will become more critical.” Following some timber-industry consolidation, the major players in the South African market are Sappi and Mondi/Timrite, where the balance of the supply market is made up of a number of smaller independent suppliers. Gold Fields’ current timber supply volumes vary around 120 000 tons a year, which, in monetary spend value, make up around 40% to 50% of total underground support materials spend. Timber is mainly used in the mining industry for permanent underground support to create a safer working environment.
Worker safety in stopes, tunnels and mined-out areas is of paramount importance to mining, which necessitates effective support systems that are designed to ensure safe mining conditions, prevent rockfall accidents, reduce rockburst damage, and enable continued operations.
Ludik says that, depending on different underground con-ditions and specific locations or areas applied, different strategies and a mix of underground support materials would be employed by Gold Fields to ensure safe and secure support, in line with strict standards and norms requirements.
“A complex but highly specified mix of timber and cement units, backfill bags, poles, steel roof- and rock-bolts, props and hydraulic support systems, meshing and lacing, anchors and wetcrete are usually used in underground opera-tions.”