The challenge of keeping mining supply chains fully operational under pandemic conditions is requiring not just short-term logistical dexterity from suppliers; it also demands longer-term innovations that enhance safety and efficiency.
“With global mining operations continuing despite national covid-19 lockdowns, service providers have had to think on their feet to keep delivery flowing,” said Joe Keenan, managing director of blasting specialist BME.
“But this is only the beginning; the future will demand significant acceleration in technology-driven solutions to maintain efficiency in the mining industry while keeping all employees safe from the risk of covid-19 transmission.”
According to Keenan, the process of remaining compliant as a global supplier under lockdown has certainly not been straightforward. It has been a steep learning curve for most businesses to understand how different countries’ covid-19 rules apply, and how to continue conducting business within these parameters.
“The value of our customer and supplier network in this regard has been invaluable, as we could consult with them to help resolve ambiguities,” he said. “It has been vital to get the right advice on how best to comply while still delivering what the customer requires.”
He highlighted that the lockdown created many barriers to meeting customer expectations, and the solutions were not self-evident. Especially with customers across national borders, logistics became a challenge. However, he was generally pleased with the success achieved in the face of many uncertainties.
“Among the logistical achievements, for instance, was the timeous shipping of resources to customers in Australia and West Africa – which was done in anticipation of the lockdown,” he said. BME was also able to continue satisfying the requirements of one of Zambia’s largest copper producers, despite the difficulties of negotiating border regulations.
The company is also continuing to roll out large projects for major customers, while keeping most of its staff working remotely. This includes the recruitment of about 170 people for one key project, and the continuation of on-site testing.
“While the current efforts are to keep mining operations running normally, the future will see considerable changes in how suppliers like BME will support our customers,” he said. “The leveraging of technological innovation to keep mine sites safe and efficient becomes an even more vital imperative for technology providers.”
Operationally, there will be ongoing focus on social distancing and digital processes to reduce proximity between employees.
The installation of BME’s XPLOLOG system in its emulsion trucks, for instance, allows paperless handling of data between the company and its customers.
“Our BLASTMAP software for blast planning also allows for digital blast designs, which can be managed and shared more easily between users located remotely from each other,” he said. “The way we interface with customers in terms of procurement and sales will also change.”
With strict requirements limiting face to face interaction, more communication with customers will have to be conducted digitally. These communication systems will also have to be adapted to streamline the sales process and keep contracts flowing.
“Creative solutions will need to be found for how to manage tenders, for example, especially where site visits are required,” he said. “There are still various practical issues to be resolved so that normal procurement can continue.”
In terms of ensuring supply to, Keenan emphasized BME’s investment in the automation of its manufacturing plant at Delmas in Mpumalanga. While the driver for this process was primarily the quality of its emulsion product, the effect has been to enhance security of supply while applying strict social distancing protocols.
“At our facility in Losberg, Gauteng, where we manufacture our AXXIS equipment and non-electric detonation systems, there is also a high level of automation,” he said. “We can therefore accommodate the Covid-19 regulations without affecting the value chain.”
In terms of further expediting the shift to non-contact interaction with customers, BME’s new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system enhances its shared services capacity, allowing less paperwork and more electronic documentation and processing.