South Africa-based foundry and engineering company Thos Begbie restarted its entire facility, in line with the regulations to facilitate the shift to Level 4 of the national Covid-19 lockdown, earlier this month.
The company has implemented various shifts to maximise the physical distancing measures stipulated by the regulations, thereby reducing contact and possible transmission among employees.
“This means that the company will restart its manufacture and supply of furnace equipment for one of the largest global copper operations, diversified major BHP’s Olympic Dam mine,” says Thos Begbie sales engineer Esli Bantjes.
Bantjes suggests that, as with many suppliers, production has been delayed by at least four weeks, but the company is confident that it will be able to make up lost time with the additional shifts.
He explains that the Olympic Dam mine contract entails the manufacture and supply of critical smelter components, some of which remain in service for up to eight years, adding that others are of a consumable nature, requiring more frequent replacement.
Thos Begbie has been working with various engineering design houses since 2003 on improving the design and manufacturing process of the critical components for the Olympic Dam copper smelter in Roxby Downs, South Australia.
The components that the company is manufacturing under contract will be used for the next routine maintenance shutdown. This entails a major de- and reconstruction endeavour scheduled around statutory requirements stipulated by the Australian environmental authorities.
As technology changes and more commodities are used in everyday electronic appliances, non-ferrous smelters have no choice but to keep up with the high demand of supplying high-grade metals.
This means that the output of furnaces needs to increase and, therefore, “the furnace performance is analysed every few years and redesigned using the latest technology”, Bantjes points out.
The company is an approved vendor with a “notable record” of meeting the quality and commercial requirements of this particular copper smelter over the past two decades.
“Thos Begbie has a long-term contract, which simplifies the complex processes of tendering for each item,” he adds.
Bantjes says furnace linings are constantly repaired or replaced as necessary, and these changes will improve efficiency instead of increasing tonnage, he states.
All the components Thos Begbie supplies to the metallurgical smelting industry both locally and globally are manufactured at its works in Middelburg, in Mpumalanga.
Bantjes points out that the company has developed and refined its processes so that all aspects of the manufacturing process, nondestructive testing and accreditation are done on site.
The barriers to entry in the foundry casting business are so high that it remains commercially sound to manufacture locally and export as needed, he asserts.
However, with the increased demand for faster delivery, a bottleneck developed in terms of supplying approved coils that were completed in-house, causing unnecessary pressure on the casting team in the copper foundry.
Consequently, Thos Begbie sourced the required computer numerical control automated machines to do the rolling and bending of these critical items. The company also added an automated elbow press to its manufacturing process to comply with stringent customer standards.
Since commissioning the above machines, the company has reduced unnecessary costs on reworking and additional welding, as well as importing the elbows that were adversely affected by the fluctuations in exchange rates.
Bantjes points out that relying on external resources meant that the company had little control over the lead-times and quality standards.
He concludes that the company is a self-sufficient furnace component manufacturer verified as a preferred vendor by most non-ferrous smelters, not only in South Africa, but globally.Features Deputy Editor