The Investing in African Mining Indaba will once again provide a perfect platform for BME, a leading South African supplier of mining explosives to the African mining industry to present their technical expertise, products and services. 


Always at the forefront of innovation and technology, BME will be showcasing products such as the AXXIS™ Digital Initiation System, together with state of the art blasting software like AXXISoft™ and Narrow Reef Emulsion pumps which lower safety risk. These highlight just some of the advanced products that will be showcased by BME at the African Mining Indaba. 


The ‘Big Reveal’ however, will be the developments, implications and discussions around Omnia’s nitric acid and ammonium nitrate complex at its Sasolburg site which will commence production during the first quarter of 2012, ensuring security of supply which is currently essential in booming commodity operations in Africa.


“The demand for commodities has returned to levels last experienced in 2007 before the global recession,” says Francois Hay, Managing Director at BME.


“The rapid return to health of the market and booming demand has resulted in pressure being placed on suppliers. In many cases, such as yellow metal, waiting lists are growing with mines having to wait for up to 18 months to source capital equipment requirements. ”


“Because explosives form the basis of most mining operations, mine owners have actively been seeking solutions to their twin requirements of security of supply and the diminishing pool of skills available in this arena.”


BME, as part of the Omnia Group, is able to ensure supply security through Omnia securing an investment of R 1.4 billion in its new nitric acid plant in South Africa, which is on track to be completed early in 2012.


Says Hay: “The Omnia Group has signed a supply agreement for ammonia with Qafco in Qatar, which will contribute immensely to our supply security assurance to customers.”


“Growth and activity is increasing across sub-Saharan Africa. The potential of the Mozambican coal fields is being assessed and there is increased activity in the DRC.


“We have also seen increased activity in Botswana which we have experienced first-hand through our involvement in the Basil Read and Leighton joint venture, at Debswana’s Jwaneng Cut 8 expansion,” he adds.


However, with the current commodity boom, the challenge of a scarcity of skills becomes more pronounced says Hay. This is primarily being felt in the areas of mining and explosives engineers, resulting in mining operations relying more on suppliers to provide the necessary capacity.


“This is being exacerbated by an increased number of mining operations in remote areas requiring on site dedicated technical skills. We expected the increased demand for skills but it remains a challenge to attract the right people. We are rather fortunate to have a technically strong team both in South Africa and the rest of our African operations.”


The demand for skills is being met to an extent by BME through the offer of a comprehensive service that provides mines with off-site assistance to plan and maximize the effectiveness of their blasts.


“We also have a dedicated training facility near Witbank, where both BME staff and customers are given the opportunity to develop their knowledge. We are in the process of accrediting the training centre and increasing the number of courses offered both to our staff and to customers,” says Hay. 


The question now is just how long the present boom in demand could be expected to last.


“One can never know. Demand from the East remains strong but it cannot continue to grow at current rates indefinitely.


“We as a company have a long term view to grow in a sustainable way. Our challenge is to continue to supply our customers in times when demand increases rapidly whilst containing costs to ensure you are ready for when the wheel turns,” Hay says.