Celebrating three decades in business, SA-based mining explosives company BME has become a familiar name throughout Africa as it continues to grow into new markets.
Moving steadily all over the continent, the company’s staff numbers have doubled in the past five years alone, according to BME managing director Francois Hay, while the number of emulsion trucks in the field has rocketed from 80 to over 180.
“Africa has been very exciting for us, having set up our first international emulsion plant at Golden Pride gold mine in Tanzania in 2000,” said Hay. “We have seen particularly strong growth in southern Africa, especially the copper mines of Zambia and, more recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Not that work levels have stood still at home in SA, where BME is a large supplier of emulsion explosives to the surface mining sector. He said that as some SA mines encountered disruptions with their underground operations, there was a shift in focus to opencast – which contributed to local growth.
From small beginnings in 1984, when the company was launched as Bulk Mining Explosives on the strength of a new cold emulsion technology, it soon supplied the big players – earning the explosives contract for Optimum Colliery in 1991.
By 1992 it had diversified into underground explosives and accessories, and built its state-of-the-art Megamite plant at Losberg near Sasolburg to supply cartridged explosive products to underground mines.
In the spirit of technological advancement, BME created a technical consulting unit in 1995 whose work has continued to spur the company’s commitment to innovation. In 2003 it entered the sophisticated electronic detonator market, and went on to develop its own software – BLASTMAP™ III – to plan and execute blasts with scientific precision.
“At the heart of what we do is the technology that constantly adds value to customers’ operations, and then the customer service to go with that,” said Hay.
2009 saw the commissioning of the company’s modern shocktube assembly plant, and BME went on to develop its own brand of electronic detonators– AXXIS – which successfully fired its first blasts in 2010. The development of a new generation of its blasting software, BLASTMAP™ III, was released in 2012, enabling complex timing designs to be undertaken.
The game-changer in recent years, said Hay, was the Omnia Group’s R1,4 billion nitrate plant in Sasolburg, commissioned in 2012 to boost Omnia’s nitric acid output, confirming its place as a market leader.
“This gave us much more capacity and flexibility to grow our offerings, mainly into southern Africa,” he said.
Key among the neighbouring markets has been copper mining in Zambia, where BME has been active since the 1990s; it built its first plant in that country at Kansanshi in 2009. There is also plenty of activity for the company in the DRC and it is currently busy constructing its first plant there.
Long experience of remote operations in countries like Mali and Mauritania has allowed BME to move confidently into Angola, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso – in addition to its more local customer base in countries like Botswana and Namibia. Now, with its greater corporate momentum and strengthened supply base in the Sasolburg plant, it has been able to make more assertive plays into targeted high-potential markets.
The company’s market growth in recent years has also led to the building of a brand new production facility on the site of its original Dryden plant.
“We also have a renewed focus on east Africa, where we have worked in the past and are currently still trading,” he said.
While BME’s success has certainly benefited from its position as ‘first mover’ in many African opportunities, competition remains fierce, said Hay.
“With the strong global focus on Africa in recent decades, more and more international explosives companies – including Chinese firms – recognise the potential of Africa and are moving in,” he said. “But I am encouraged by how enthusiastic African mines are about technological solutions in the field of blasting, and this will continue to give BME the edge in years to come.”