The provision of bulk materials handling equipment and systems to industries such as mining and power generation is a keenly contested market in Africa, with a host of suppliers and contractors competing for the available business. But if there’s one company that stands out due to the depth of its experience and the breadth of its offering it is thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions South Africa, based in Johannesburg, with a brief that extends over much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Thyssenkrupp Stacker

Part of the giant global thyssenkrupp group, which is headquartered in Essen, Germany, thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions South Africa can deliver not just individual machines for materials handling – such as a full range of stackers and reclaimers – but entire ‘pit-to-port’ solutions. Its offering includes fixed, semi-mobile and mobile plant and in-pit crushing stations, conveyors, stockyard equipment, rail wagon tipplers, feeders, spreaders as well as train and ship loading and unloading systems.

The previously well-known Polysius business unit, now part of the rebranded thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions, also offers a full range of comminution equipment, including one of the most comprehensive crusher ranges on the market – often a key part of any materials handling system.

While thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions South Africa serves many industries, mining is a key market for the company and has been so for decades. “We count most of the mining majors operating in Africa as our customers and we have enjoyed relationships with most of them which go back to the late 1950s,” says Jacques Steyn, General Manager – Materials Handling.

“thyssenkrupp is renowned for the reliability and longevity of the equipment we provide. Via our Asset Management Programme and rebuild and refurbishment capabilities, we are able to extend the life of our machines even further. This has become a critical factor for our clients in a capex constrained and low price commodity market where any asset has to be stretched as far as practically possible to ensure profitability.”

Discussing the current state of the market, Steyn’s colleague, Philip le Roux, Sales Manager, Materials Handling, says the recent downturn in mining expansions and capital spending by mining houses has inevitably led to large capital projects being stopped or delayed. “Fortunately, the significant installed base of equipment we have offsets this to a certain extent,” he says. “Our experience is that our service business – the supply of parts and spares, as well as service, repairs and the refurbishment of equipment – experiences growth and a different set of opportunities as the market is more prepared to increase operational expenditure in a deflated capital expenditure cycle. This is the case at the moment.”

Le Roux adds that thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions South Africa puts a huge focus on service. “It is one of the ways we differentiate ourselves from our competitors. Clearly, all reputable companies will strive to provide reliable service and backup but we believe we go the extra mile. Critical to this effort is our service centre in Chloorkop, near Johannesburg, which operates on a 24/7 basis. It was originally established to refurbish and manufacture components for our line of High Pressure Grinding Rolls (HPGRs) but has been expanded significantly and is now equipped to provide a full servicing capability for all thyssenkrupp brands and equipment.”

Steyn notes that thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions South Africa has a sophisticated in-house multi-disciplinary design and engineering capability and indeed in the case of some equipment – such as drum reclaimers – is regarded as a global centre of excellence within the wider thyssenkrupp group.

“This is a major advantage for us as it means that we can provide our client base with customised solutions and quick turnarounds,” he says. “Customers clearly appreciate the fact that their projects can be designed and engineered locally. Our belief is that if you want to serve the African market, then you need a strong on-the-ground presence in Africa.”

A current contract which illustrates the point Steyn makes is being undertaken for one of the large coal majors in Limpopo Province. “We’ve been tasked to design, fabricate and install a 2 600 ton per hour stacker at the mine,” he says. “The unit will be installed at an existing stockyard and there are some fairly demanding requirements we have to meet in terms of the machine profile. We’re designing in full 3D here in the South African office. With the very specific client specifications and requirements and the interactive role the client engineer plays during the design phase of the equipment, it is critical to have these capabilities in our local office to ensure a successful project. The local engineering office allows for constructive reviews and integration of requirements with the customer in line with the specifications on a short turnaround time.

“Whilst we regularly make use of our other design facilities across the globe – in Germany, Brazil, Australia, the USA and India, to name a few – we have found that to be really competitive in any local market you firstly need to understand the local requirements and you need to have a decent local footprint and capabilities – from sales and design to operate and maintain.

“As far as fabrication is concerned, the decision of where to fabricate is simply driven by the total project cost – a combination of fabrication, quality control, assembly and logistics. We certainly still have the capability and strive to manufacture here in South Africa – as we have done many times in the past – but we of course have to be competitive,” observes Steyn.

Turning to the pit-to-port concept, Le Roux says that the scale and often remote locations of modern mining projects, particularly in respect of bulk commodities such as iron ore, mean that mining companies are tending to look for suppliers who can provide an all-in-one turnkey service – from the pits where the material is extracted through to the ports from which it is exported.

“They don’t want to have to interface with multiple companies,” he says. “Dealing with a single supplier is more efficient and ensures that the different parts of a materials handling system are fully compatible with each other. We look at projects holistically to ensure that we deliver to customers systems that optimise material quality, flow and capacities at every stage of the pit-to-port process.

“Given current conditions, there are not too many projects of this type under development at the moment but we have identified these in the past and there will definitely be more of them in the future,” he states. “We see particular opportunities in West Africa in respect of iron ore and bauxite where some mining houses are pursuing projects which will not only see new mines being established but also new rail links and port facilities. We have the ability to assist at every stage of these projects.”

Steyn makes the point that as part of a global group, thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions South Africa often finds itself working outside its normal geographical area of operation. “We’re currently contributing to a project in Saudi Arabia, for example. It is being executed by our Chinese office but we’re providing support. Similarly, we’re assisting our French office with the engineering for projects in Morocco and Mauritania.”

Finally, and on the subject of skills, Steyn notes that there has been an enormous loss of capacity at the artisan level in South Africa. “We’re addressing this by expanding our own in-house training efforts and, among other things, we’re currently building a purpose-designed training centre at our Chloorkop facility. It is intended primarily to service our own needs but it will also be available to train employees of our customers where appropriate. We see the training centre as being a key strategic investment, which will ensure that we continue to have the in-house skills to install, service and maintain thyssenkrupp installations all over Africa.”
thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions South Africa has a positive outlook on the market and are adapting their skills and strategy to ensure they are well positioned to meet the current and future demands of customers in South Africa and Africa. With the support of the global group, they remain a supplier focussed on conquering their market.