Senmin of South Africa is the sole local manufacturer of chemicals used for the beneficiation and flocculation of a wide range of ore bodies

Sector Publication: Manufacturing Digital - [picture and caption please]
Territory Publication: African Business Review
Company Name: Senmin International (Pty) Ltd
Headline: Senmin: Mining Chemicals Specialist
Written by: Kevin Doyle, Senior Editor

Produced by: Nizar Kanafani

Standfirst: Senmin of South Africa is the sole local manufacturer of chemicals used for the beneficiation and flocculation of a wide range of ore bodies.

With a history that dates back to the late 1950s, Senmin International of South Africa is a mining chemicals manufacturer and services provider. Senmin is a wholly-owned subsidiary of specialty chemicals and explosives specialist AECI International of South Africa.

Senmin maintains headquarters in Johannesburg and a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Sasolburg. With a workforce in the order of 400, the company services Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, DRC and Botswana in addition to South Africa, and is branching out into Morocco, Ghana, Tanzania and Madagascar.

Following a merger with Chemserve in 2005, Senmin was taken over by AECI and is now part of the parent company’s Chemical Cluster that provides materials and services across a broad spectrum. Senmin leads the way for AECI’s venture into mining chemicals.

“Our current main market is within Africa but our aspirations are beyond our borders to the big mining areas such as South America and Australasia,” says Technical Director Dr. Patrick Dicks, who holds a PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Port Elizabeth. Dr. Dicks came to Senmin in the merger with Chemserve after having previously worked in the company for ten years and prior to that at a mining research organisation, namely MINTEK; also for ten years.

Value of Relationships

Dr. Dicks cites Senmin’s long-tenured and deeply knowledgeable staff as a key element distinguishing the company from competitors. The company provides in-depth and on-going training in all operations to those coming straight from an academic environment. This constitutes part of its commitment to giving back to the community and to the mining industry at large.

“With longevity of service comes familiarity with product lines. There comes loyalty and an intimate knowledge of the industry from those who have been operating within it for a number of years. You develop a large base of application knowledge and of what the clients’ requirements are. And you develop an intimate relationship with senior management,” Dr. Dicks says.

“If a raw material skyrockets and/ or should a technical requirement come about, Senmin is always willing and able to assist. We are intimately involved with our clients as they progress and their requirements change,” the Technical Director explains.

Operations

Senmin operates on a full-service business model whereby it performs an initial safety audit and provides clients with value added services such as product and process management, product optimisation, benchmarking, statistical evaluation and data validation

Senmin’s products aid in the beneficiation of primarily platinum, diamonds, coal, gold, uranium and base metal ores. Most of its products are used in the froth flotation and tailings treatment sectors of the mining industry.

The company’s portfolio includes specialty liquid thio mineral collectors, mineral froth formation chemicals, unwanted gangue mineral depressants, polyacrylamide thickening polymers and tailings polymeric rheology modifiers. Froth flotation is the process for separating minerals away from gangue, the worthless material surrounding or mixed with the desired mineral. The flocculation process brings together small particles of the gangue and/or final concentrate thereby allowing for the recovery of one of the most valuable resources, namely water, for reuse in the flotation circuit.

Dr. Dicks says the company’s ambitious expansion scheme across three facilities in Sasolburg “is a massive throw of the dice designed to improve technology and capacity. It expresses not only Senmin/AECI’s commitment to the mining industry but a faith in the ever expanding requirements. In addition the technology is greener with the environment uppermost in our plans”.

“The AECI Group has a very strong tendency, like most companies, to go green albeit with an end product that is not necessarily a green product,” Dr. Dicks says. “The polyacrylamide plant is the first- time in the world on the industrial scale where biotechnology is being used in the manufacture of polyacrylamides. For all intense purposes, it’s a zero effluence plant with an energy consumption that is considerably lower than the current copper catalyst processes.”

In another example of environmental responsibility, the company made a technological change in the manufacturing process of an additional key raw material used in xanthate production:

“We’ve changed from a charcoal sulfur process to a methane process. Emissions and energy requirements have been greatly reduced. Currently Senmin is undertaking a LCA (Life-Cycle Assessment) pertaining to this particular process at the University of Cape Town.” says Dr.Dicks.

Senmin upholds ISO9000:2003 and 9001:2000 certifications for quality management systems, five-star accreditation with a NOSCAR award for safety in 2011 and ISO1400 and 1401accreditation for environmental management.

The company also maintains internal oversight of its supply chain with all purchasing and logistics management taking place in Sasolburg.

Forward Thinking

While the scope of the recent expansion projects will likely limit capital expenditure spending through the near future, Senmin seems certain to continue to seek out opportunities to expand its product lines to new markets in a measured manner.

“We will take it as it comes. The business is currently built around the platinum industry. We’ve expanded with one product form (xantahtes) into three forms, liquid, powder and pellet. The production of pellets is for the export market requirement – and that is where our growth will come from,” Dr. Dicks concludes.

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