Metix is making the most of its parent Group’s support and expertise in order to become a key industrial cog, both in South Africa and further afield
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
Metix (Pty) Ltd enjoys optimum backing in the mining industry courtesy of leading global plant and engineering service provider, SMS Group, and has leveraged such support to the full in South Africa across its turnkey ferrous and non-ferrous operations.
Serving the pyrometallurgical industry, its team of passionate and skilled engineers have developed specialised patented equipment for all types of furnaces as a standalone business unit; subsequently entrenching its flat hierarchy into the fabric of national industry, and into the plants and facilities of numerous loyal customers.
“We are flexible, fast and straight-forward in our offering,” Managing Director, Andrew van Niekerk opens. “We focus on innovative strength, efficient metallurgical plants, cost competitiveness, sustainability and the development of high calibre employees.
“As a result, the German-based parent Group, having an annual order intake in excess of €3 billion and a global resource team of more than 13,500 employees, gives Metix the freedom to thrive in the South African market and globally with the most recent projects in Malaysia.”
All told, Metix’s one-stop shop remit caters for areas of ferrochrome, ferromanganese, silicon manganese, ferrosilicon, ferrovanadium, ferronickel, ferroniobium and pig iron; while non-ferrous activities entail copper matte, platinum matte, calcium carbide, ilmenite, silicon metal, precious metals, high purity alumina and fused magnesia.
And across each every strand, a host of bespoke, state-of-the-art technologies, ancillary systems and solutions are applied to complement a core equipment base that comprises everything from furnace electrode columns to power distribution, furnace roofs, charging bins, hydraulic power, furnace shells, refractory linings, DC furnace anodes, tap hole blocks, combustion ducts, safety devices, and much more besides.
Consequently, “Metix project formats include Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC), Engineering Procurement and Supply (EPS), EPCM, construction supervision, commissioning and plant optimisation, feasibility studies, export financing, consulting assignments, and a host of other value-add services”, van Niekerk continues.
“And all of this, along with the integration of the SMS Group’s technologies and financial backing has resulted in Metix being awarded an EPS contract for a copper smelter in Zambia, a $330 million EPC order in Malaysia for a complete new smelting plant, and an EPC order for a blast furnace stove.”
Reliable technical services
Now clearly a thriving industry operator, Metix’s origins go back 15 years to 2003 when an ex-team of Samancor Cr, Titaco and Bateman incepted the idea. Since then, the exposure to numerous ferrous projects has helped and allowed the Company to evolve its wide range of services and equipment, consequently making it a preferred supplier of such plants and equipment in South Africa.
“The Company has developed sound relationships with local clients, in-depth process knowhow of local industries, patented technological equipment, and the ability to execute big projects in various contracting formats,” van Niekerk says. “This track record is based on reliable technical services, local and abroad, for new and existing clients; and the ISO 9001:2008 Company now combines more than 140 years of experience with the knowhow of more than 700 smelter projects worldwide.”
Detailing the aptitude and achievements of each completed project would take longer than the 15 years that Metix has been in operation, such is the scope of its present day portfolio. One that stands out though has been the F4PS2 project completed for Hernic Ferrochrome back in 2005; a sign of what was to come from a quality and efficiency perspective.
Van Niekerk details: “The brownfield project consisted of a 350,000 tpa pelletising and sintering plant as well as a 78MVA submerged arc AC furnace with preheating, capable of producing 164,000 tpa HC FeCr. Metix performed the EPCM services for the project and supplied key equipment to the furnace core. The project was completed in a record time of 19 months due to a no-frills approach by the owner’s team, the use of refurbished second-hand equipment, and accelerated order placements.”
Subsequently, Metix has gone on to manage six of the seven pelletising and sintering projects in South Africa, building up to its flagship EPC achievement in 2016 - the Sakura Project - which was completed in conjunction with numerous market-leading partners and saw the business overcome numerous challenges across the expansive Greenfield plant.
“All the above projects have managed to achieve their performance parameters, with the Sakura furnaces exceeding theirs by more than 20 percent,” van Niekerk emphasises. “And although Metix has been fortunate to have continuity between large projects, the Company has also remained close to its customers and has completed various furnace upgrades and rebuilt projects in the process.”
Affirming Metix’s prevalence in today’s industrial domain, its latest projects include a 4,500 tpa high purity alumina plant in Johor; a new EPC execution for a stove on one of ArcelorMittal’s blast furnaces in consortium with Paul Wurth; involvement in a variety of feasibility studies; a role in numerous cooling liquid applications of ILTEC on behalf of its non-ferrous SMS subsidiary, PolyMet Solutions; and also work in Urban Gold in conjunction with the SMS Group and Mettop.
The latter encapsulates a recycling technique that uses metallurgy to recover rate elements and precious metals from electronic waste such as mobile phones; highlighting a pivotal value ingrained into Metix in the form of continuous improvement and a willingness to adapt to contemporary trends.
“Being a project house and an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Metix has continuously had to improve its services and technological prowess,” van Niekerk affirms. “Metix started in 2003 with some consulting work followed by some EPCM project services and recently the EPC execution of various projects to the value of billions of rand.
“In a competitive environment with low commodity markets and very little projects, the Company’s main strategy was to do things more economically, safer, faster and with less resources while not sacrificing on quality. We have embedded philosophies of carrying lessons learned from project to project, focusing on design for construction and utilising the latest advancements in Building Information Management (BIM).”
And this has all been achieved in the face of fluctuating industry requirements and copious challenges relating to labour costs and equipment specifications. Metix has therefore responded by improving its plant designs through optimising modularisation and the use of appropriate fabrication materials and techniques.
“To design and construct plants faster with fewer resources Metix had to take a step back and revisit all project execution tools. Through extensive training the Company now applies a whole suite of software packages that promote BIM and allows for a multi-disciplinary workflow, 3D design interfacing, clash detection, transparency and 4D planning,” the MD continues. “The Company has sound Project Management Professional (PMP) principles and controls in place backed by proven contract formats that can be customised according to clients’ needs.”
Being a competitive OEM requires continuous improvement of designs but more importantly an ability to listen to its ever-growing list of clients. Resultantly, Metix equipment has now operated successfully for more than a decade in very harsh furnace conditions, performing well above its guarantees; and the Company now plans to capitalise on its combined experiences and references to improve the equipment even further for the next campaign.
“Our biggest improvement strategy was the sustainable incorporation of the SMS Group’s ‘tool box’ since 2011,” van Niekerk says. “This is an ongoing process enacted to ensure that Metix would not just become a post box for other global technologies within the Group.
“We had to apply “extreme ownership” in order to execute the projects with authority and to assist clients with quick decision making. Various SMS Group technologies have now been tropicalised for local conditions and other continents.”
A sustainable, growing company
An advantage for Metix in compounding its commitment to diversification and expansion has been the fact that it has grown simultaneously to many of the requirements of the industry, especially in the realm of sustainability. The Company has a strong focus on resource-efficient technologies, energy saving, recycling and recovery to epitomise these ambitions.
“Besides ongoing optimisation requirements of plants and processes, Industry 4.0 activities with digitalisation and additive manufacturing are the key words of the current trends in the industry,” van Niekerk aptly adds, “and Metix is profiting from the SMS Group, which has already introduced various processes like additive manufacturing or printing of various parts, mainly spare parts, which resulted in optimised design for specific applications.
“The Group is also in the position to provide entire lines for additive manufacturing starting from production of the powder, required for 3D-printing, and the printing lines with all transport and handling facilities as well.”
Metix has full access to SMS Group’s never-ending generation and usage of modern technologies, subsequently tailoring each one in alignment with the needs of its own local customers. And facilitating each example is a workforce that is equally innovative, equally dynamic, and - most importantly - equally local.
Van Niekerk continues: “The Company strives to provide the leadership, resources and training to its staff necessary to create an environment in which every member of the Company can contribute towards the efficient delivery of customer projects with the highest possible quality.
“We believe in sharing the success of the Company and we are very proud of our last decade in terms of personnel retention and consistency.”
The MD concludes, looking to how such stability will aid Metix in its goals for the future: “We have forged Metix through intensive project execution and involvement with our clients. We do not back down or give up.
“Metix is a sustainable, growing company with enthusiastic people managing and owning the company. We now have access to the full technical knowhow as well as the financial and sourcing support of the SMS Group; and in the next three-five years Metix will provide its services worldwide and will be executing two to three more multibillion rand projects.”