Local foundry company Thos Begbie opened a workshop in Solwezi, Zambia, in March last year to supply and service copper smelters in the region more efficiently; however, the impact of Covid-19 has forced the company to close its workshop indefinitely.
“There has been a drastic decrease in smelting activities in Zambia during this period. As such, we pulled our technicians back from Zambia and mothballed the workshop until further notice. We will now focus on offering on-site assistance with remote workshop establishments on the major sites,” states Thos Begbie sales representative Alex Nhlapo.
Consequently, the company will provide engineering services and support for smelters, when required, from the company’s local office in Middelburg, Mpumalanga.
These smelters include the Kansashi copper mine, in Solwezi; Konkola Copper mines’ Nchanga smelter, in Chingola; and Mopani Copper’s Mafulira mine, in the Copperbelt province.
Thos Begbie specialises in the manufacturing of water-cooled copper components for the pyrometallurgical industry. With the prevalence of copper mining and processing in Central Africa, the company has, in recent years, “embedded its footprint in the copper smelting fraternity around Zambia”.
Nhlapo explains that prior to the establishment of the workshop in Zambia, Thos Begbie representatives travelled to and from Zambia to provide on-site services for smelters.
He highlights copper theft as a significant risk when transporting components over long distances, which resulted in not only the loss of copper but also drivers being at risk.
The company also had to deal with long lead times in terms of component repair during the time, as components would be exported to South Africa, repaired and then sent back to the relevant smelter in Zambia.
Nhlapo adds that this process could add about ten weeks to lead times and was often exacerbated by the difficulties of moving components through border control, which could, in turn, result in expensive import and export costs.
These factors led to the establishment of the workshop – located about a one- to two-hour drive from the main smelters – which made visiting the smelters to provide on-site services easier.
“Now that the workshop has been closed, however, we try to provide the necessary service remotely, and export components only when urgently required. We have placed all the equipment required for on-site repairs at the workshop in containers for safe keeping.”
The inability to travel, owing to lockdown regulations means that, Thos Begbie can provide only engineering advice until further notice.
Nhlapo, however, points out that providing these remote services often requires specialised equipment to be sent from South Africa to the different smelters in Zambia. Operators at the smelters use the equipment according to the engineering advice from Thos Begbie.
However, this creates a security risk, as Thos Begbie does not have a direct line of sight on equipment, exposing the equipment to the possibility of theft. As such, the company often arranges with plant security to assist in safeguarding the equipment.
“As the demand for copper increases, pressure is placed on smelters and refineries to increase production output. The majority of copper unearthed in Zambia is processed between the three main smelters for Konkola, Kansashi and Mopani. As such, we make sure that we are at their beck and call because we have a steady relationship with these smelters.”
Nhlapo says one of Thos Begbie’s long-term goals is to expand into the Democratic Republic of Congo market, and solidify the company’s presence in the country’s mining and smelting industry.
“Covid-19 has disrupted our travelling schedule and plans, but Thos Begbie is focused on strategising and developing a robust and organic plan to reach all corners of the copper mining and smelting fraternity in Central Africa.”
He emphasises that implementing this growth strategy will run concurrently with the pronouncement of the benefits of using components sourced from Thos Begbie, including reduced maintenance expenditure and operational risks, as components are scrutinised by the company’s in-house and external quality specialist before dispatch.
“Strategically, our selling point would be the sophistication and high level of specialty involved in manufacturing copper components. In Africa, there are various foundries that can mould, cast and machine different alloys. In terms of copper, however, we provide the best-quality components that are tailored to customer requirements,” he concludes.