Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Arron Rampling
The past year has seen several historical Company highlights for Mintek, with the successful completion of a new pilot plant smelting campaign for the recovery of gold from waste material leading the way.
Another notable output has been the development of a handheld version of Mintek’s Laboratory ‘Lab’ Cynoprobe, again epitomising the Company’s continuous efforts to stay at the forefront of innovation in the sector.
“Our Lab Cynoprobe was developed several years ago to broaden the impact of Mintek’s cyanide measurement technology,” explains Abiel Mngomezulu, Chief Executive Officer at Mintek. “The drawback of using the existing Lab Cynoprobe unit is the high cost associated with manufacturing the instrument. “A cost comparative study between the handheld version and its bulky counterpart indicates an expected manufacturing cost reduction of greater than 70 percent, between the old Lab Cynoprobe and new Cynoprobe.”
The core competencies that have made the Company such a success, are supported by world-class and unique laboratory, pilot and demonstration scale facilities catering for aspects of mineral value addition, mineral processing, smelting, heap leaching test-work, geo-mechanical and hydrodynamic testing, rare earth pilot plant and clean-room facilities.
Globally, and particularly in Africa there is a growing challenge of staving off the deterioration and decommission of testing facilities for the metallurgy landscape. With Mintek’s world-class facilities combined with its multidisciplinary expertise, the Company is responsible for making major contributions as a prime technology and service provider for the development of new mineral processing and value addition technologies for mineral resources across the rest of the African continent.
More than half of Mintek’s commercial revenue is sourced from outside the African continent, with North America leading the way at 21 percent. Other areas that the Company has branched into include Europe, Australia, Asia and South America. Mintek mainly showcases its wares and capabilities in relevant mining conferences and also state bilateral meetings as a springboard for new business opportunities.
Innovative products to clients worldwide
The Company serves as South Africa’s state-owned mineral research organisation and one of the world’s leading technology organisations across mineral processing, extractive metallurgy and value addition to minerals. Mintek’s mandate is to serve the national interest through carefully selected aspects, including research, development and technology transfer.
“In turn, all of these properties work together to promote mineral technology and to foster the establishment and expansion of industries in our field of minerals and products which are derived therefrom,” continues Mngomezulu. “Since inception in 1934, the Company has worked closely with other R&D institutions, providing them with service test-work, process development and optimisation, consulting and innovative products to clients worldwide.”
The technical programmes that Mintek undertake are aimed at generating high economic returns for the mining industry participants worldwide, placing a particular focus on national and regional economies whilst its social programmes focus on skills development and educational initiatives.
An important target for the Company is in regards to the nurturing of self-sustaining local economies in areas of South Africa where smaller mineral extraction and beneficiation enterprises have the capability to generate broad-based employment and wealth within communities.
The state-owned science council established by an act of Parliament – the Mineral Technology Act No.30 of 1989 – therefore deems the Company pivotal to the Minister of Mineral Resources. Subsequently, in line with global best practice, Mintek constantly endeavours to ensure that business processes, systems and controls adhere to governance principles while adhering to the needs of efficiency in business.
Mngomezulu clarifies: “With its title as a science council, Mintek has a critical role within the South African mining landscape in respect to research, innovation, service delivery, development and growth.”
Moving forwards, Mintek’s role as a business is captured in its Mintek 2030 vision document, named The Next Horizon, published in March, 2016
“We emphasise our role in the mining sector, envisioning ourselves as achieving a status as a one-stop shop for minerals and metallurgical research & development,” Mngomezulu elaborates. “The Company has to ensure that any innovations, products and services are created with the national priorities playing a major factor in determining our annual strategic direction.”
With regards to research & development and the emphasis it will have on Mintek’s decision making over the next decade, it is expected to be based on those commodities with the greatest economic and strategic importance to South Africa over the long-term: most notably the platinum group metals; gold, iron ore, chrome, uranium, titanium, manganese, base metals and rare earth elements.
Influencing the mineral sector
With such complexity within its projects, not to mention the responsibility that falls with being a state institution, Mintek attributes its achievements to its main asset, its employees. Actively encouraging workers is vitally important, engaging them in further studies to proactively play a meaningful role in influencing the direction the mineral sector is taking. Alongside this, there is also good succession planning for retirement out of the Company.
“Talent management within the Company takes a holistic approach. From a hiring perspective, we recruit both experienced and inexperienced scientists and engineers to work with us at such an exciting time for the Company,” continues Mngomezulu. “This ensures that experienced employees share their knowledge with recent graduates, both undergraduate and postgraduate, who join the organisation each year once they have completed their studies.”
With the skills required for scientists and engineers being scarce, retaining this talent is a top priority for Mintek. The Company stands by the theory that bright minds require stimulation; therefore it offers excellent projects for its employees to work on, demonstrating its commitment to developing staff.
“Further study is strongly encouraged at Mintek, with a large number of our staff making use of the staff bursary scheme we provide,” Mngomezulu affirms. “Training is also very high on our priority list, from both a technical and soft skills perspective.”
Mintek has played an important national role in the development of the industry, supporting a great number of students at local universities of technology, furthermore, the Company hosts various work integrated learner training programmes.
“Representatives of the major mining houses have attested to the effort that we have put into the training and development of our personnel, and some of those are now working for other mining houses,” Mngomezulu concludes. “This also enables us to build stronger partnerships within the industry, making achievements in strategic areas that will have a high impact on the sector.”