Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: A Russian rail company this week began the rollout of a R500-million railway investment in South Africa.
Creamer: We are starting to see the foreign investment is starting to flow in South Africa more confident about investing in South Africa. Out at Boksburg East this week we saw the Russian investors there with a 30% black economic empowerment partner (BEE). A leading figure in that BEE section is Mafika Mkhwanazi.
He is so well versed with Transnet and has been in the executive and also as a non-executive director there. He is very much part of this roll-out where the Russians are working on a former factory area that was owned by DCD Dorbyl. We have had a long period of building locomotives and wagons there, but this Russian company is far bigger than anyone we have had involved there. This company employees about 100 000 people, in 14 operations around the world.
It is not only investing in South Africa, we see similar investments in Argentina, Cuba, Egypt and Kazakhstan. What it finds so interesting in South Africa is our narrow railway line gauge. We have got to go to the imperial measure 3 ft 6 inch gauge, which amounts to about 1 067 mm. That is very different to the rest of the world, but we have this narrow line in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Anglo and also in Mozambique. So, they are seeing a far bigger market here that this will be the area where they concentrate heavily on this narrow gauge railway for the whole of the region.
This gives them a far bigger market, because they want to assemble locomotives, rolling stock, wagons and manufacture them. Also, they are expanding, because they want to enter the service and maintenance area. They will be keeping all 130 skilled people already in Boksburg East in that factory, which is about 45 000 square meters, quite a big area under cover. They have also been sending some of these people to Russia for training.
Kamwendo: The richest mining companies of the world are now intent on investing heavily to automate mining.
Creamer: The momentum is there it is not going to go away. We see that big mining groups around the world are now just moving towards a new era. They know they have to. We will see the first intelligent mine opening in Australia next year. This is by Rio Tinto and it is an iron-ore mine. It will still have 600 permanent jobs.
What happens in these mines now is that there is so much automation. They have already got this group of 130 driverless trucks and trains and automatic drills. The interesting thing is that all this is controlled in the cities. So you have people in Perth who are controlling equipment that is 1 500 km away. This is the idea that there has been this big fly-in fly-out in Australia. People have had to fly people in and then fly them back because they want to be at home with their family at a certain time and not stay out in rural areas for too long.
This can all end now. We also see people are riding existing technology waves it is not as if they are reinventing the wheel. They are looking at what happens in the aerospace, defence and marine industry. They are also going for far more precise mining. They don’t want these large sized particles being brought to surface and so much waste, because they have also got their eye on the competition and the recycling that takes place, which is very competitive these days.
Kamwendo: Electric vehicles are being earmarked for use in underground mines to promote health and protect the environment.
Creamer: There has been so much diesel used underground. Those diesel fumes are a risk to health, they should have never been used underground because there are catalytic converters which use our platinum which should have been fitted into these vehicles ages ago.
We know see the big mines again the BHPs and Rio Tintos coming in and saying that they are going to have electric vehicles underground, maybe in bigger quantities than those on the roads on surface, for health and environment reasons.
Hopefully our fuel cell will start featuring, because we see the South Africans mines are talking about using fuel-cell driven vehicles underground, which will help demand for our platinum, the price of which is very low at the moment.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.