Owing to the continuous expansion of its specialised services in the aluminium industry, local furnace and industrial services company Dickinson Group of Companies has registered a 60% increase in business from this industry in the past 20 years.
“We can now offer more products and services that are integrated into the aluminium smelter industry,” says Dickinson aluminium smelter services company DRS Mozambique MD Clinton Pretorius, adding that a key demand of the aluminium industry remains cost effectiveness.
He adds that the global aluminium market is increasing in terms of supply, with the number of aluminium suppliers also increasing. “Consequently, it is imperative for aluminium producers to remain competitive by producing aluminium more cost effectively.” Pretorius emphasises the industry’s drive to reduce operating expenses.
In light of this, Dickinson Group of Companies, which has been a key services provider in the aluminium industry for more than two decades, is constantly aligning its business strategy with those of its aluminium clients, which include mining giant BHP Billiton’s aluminium smelters; Hillside and Bayside smelters, in KwaZulu-Natal; and its partly owned Mozal aluminium smelter, in Maputo, Mozambique.
For more than ten years, DRS Mozambique has been providing sitewide smelter services for Mozal. These include pot delining and relining; relining induction furnaces and casting ladles at cathode sealing; relining of metal and bath ladles and cast-house launder lines; patch repairs to launder lines and cast-house furnace sections; cleaning cast-house furnaces; flue wall building; supplying labour for manually cleaning the rodding shop; and maintenance works at cathodes sealing; as well as basement industrial cleaning.
The group was awarded the BHP Billiton Mozal Phase 1 contract in 1999. The Mozal expansion project contracts for the potlining of potlines, cathode sealing, refractory lining of the metal and bath ladles and the casthouse launder system on the Mozal smelter projects were awarded to the group in 2002.
However, Pretorius highlights several new projects for the aluminium smelters to increase cost savings and production efficiencies, which include a basement cleaning project for the Mozal smelter’s pot rooms.
While basement cleaning forms one of the general services, the group is engineering different methods and techniques to accelerate the removal of spilled product, or ‘bath’, from the basement where the aluminium pot shells are located. This removal and cleaning of the basement eliminates the possibility of overheating of the pot and improves the ability to blend and reintroduce the spilled product into the aluminium smelting processes, Pretorius says.
He notes that the group is increasing its workforce because an increased amount of tonnage has to be removed within a shorter time; it is also introducing increased mechanisation for the basement cleaning.
Meanwhile, DRS Mozambique is also focusing on the life extension of an induction furnace that melts cast iron for the aluminium process at Mozal. “We are changing and improving the material specifications of the furnace lining, as well as the lining techniques for the furnace to extend the current furnace life from 120 heats to 500 heats,” Pretorius explains.
These new material specifications and techniques also result in significant cost savings, as the furnace needs to be relined only after more than triple the normal life span has been reached, he says.
Another advantage includes increased safety, as the improved lining reduces leakage risks that may endanger the workforce at the smelter.
DRS Mozambique is currently in the final verification stages and testing period of the project.
Metal Ladle Refractory Linings
The group is investigating the possibility of introducing its new method of refractory brick casting and lining for metal ladles at the smelters.
advantages of using the new method include quick installation and cost effectiveness, Pretorius says, noting that Dickinson Group’s precast division successfully trialled the new refractory brick linings on the metal ladles at heavy mineral sands smelter Namaqua Sands, in the Western Cape, about two months ago. The group is driving this concept for the local aluminium industry.
As with the increased number of aluminium suppliers that need to remain competitive, Pretorius notes an increase in contractor companies servicing the aluminium industry in the past ten years, as a result of the closure of several aluminium smelters and foundries.
He adds that this impacts negatively on the aluminium industry, as the industry is cost driven and, therefore, identifies the most competitive service prices.
“These smaller companies do not carry the same expenses or capital investments as larger companies, which might impact on the level of service provided for the smelters and cause premature furnace failures,” Pretorius says.
He adds that complications regarding smelter and furnace repair and maintenance services in the aluminium industry are further compounded by the decreasing skills levels and experience of artisans in the industry.
Nevertheless, Pretorius remains positive about the future of aluminium, as he believes that the outlook for the South African aluminium industry remains positive, owing to the recent increase in the LME aluminium price to about
$2 100/t, which, according to media reports, is the “highest since early last year”.