Tag Archives: Ralf Hennecke

Blasting’s role in making mining more sustainable

Blasting technology – alongside advanced low carbon emission emulsion explosives – is helping pave the way on mining’s sustainability journey, according to BME.

“The digital age has given us the opportunity to leverage the quality of our people, products and service – to optimise blast technology,” BME Managing Director, Ralf Hennecke, says. “Building on the flexibility and accuracy of electronic detonation, our digital tools can make mining more efficient and less carbon intensive.”

By collaborating with customers and technology partners, BME says it has developed solutions that can enhance output and are easily integrated – both between BME’s digital products and externally.

Hennecke emphasised that software platform integration was key to ensuring innovative digital tools could operate seamlessly with a mine’s existing systems.

An innovation that has received global attention is BME’s electronic detonation system, AXXIS. Developed by an in-house team of specialists, AXXIS improves the quality of blasts and mine productivity.

Tinus Brits, Global Product Manager for AXXIS, says: “The entire system was designed in South Africa and built by our own engineering department. All the support and maintenance on the system is conducted by our dedicated in-house technicians.”

Applied in conjunction with BME’s Blastmap blast planning software, AXXIS demonstrates the value of product integration, BME says. Complex blast designs can be easily and quickly transferred from the Blastmap planning platform to the AXXIS initiation platform. Brits noted that Blastmap can also export to third-party initiation systems that a mining customer might already be using.

Among the capabilities that BME has brought to the mining sector are longer blasting windows to allow for larger and more productive blasts.

“The increased firing window of AXXIS Titanium – the latest generation of the AXXIS system – gives mines the opportunity to conduct larger blasts,” Brits said.

The company can also design more complex blasts.

The quality of these blasts ensures better fragmentation, so that less energy is consumed in downstream stages like loading, hauling, crushing and milling. Less energy converts directly to lower carbon emissions when coal- or diesel-fired electricity is used. Larger blasts also mean fewer mine stoppages, facilitating a more streamlined mining process.

“Safety remains a key focus in mining, and a safe mine is a productive mine,” Brits said. “Our digital initiation systems innovate constantly to raise the level of safety in blasting – such as the dual basis of safety in our latest AXXIS Titanium system.”

These safety improvements build on the high-level safety of emulsions when compared with Class 1 explosives. Emulsions are inert until sensitised in the blast hole, so can be more safely transported and stored.

BME’s emulsions also contribute to environmental protection through their inclusion of used oil as a fuel agent. The company has developed a large collection network for used oil, which responsibly transports waste oil from users for its production process. After being incorporated into the emulsion, the used oil is safely disposed of when the emulsion explodes.

So extensive is this network that BME today collects around 20% of South Africa’s used oil, it says.

Sachin Govender, BME’s Used Oil Manager, said: “By using this waste oil in our emulsions, we are eliminating the use of diesel, which is a high carbon source. This plays a positive role in helping our mining customers achieve their ESG goals.”

Where customers have their used oil collected by BME, the initiative delivers a double benefit, according to Govender. On the one hand, it deals responsibly with a waste product that presents an environmental risk; on the other, it reduces the need for diesel as a fuel agent.

“There is also a positive social impact from our used oil initiative,” he said. “We engage small enterprises to collect the oil, which has an economic ripple effect in local communities.”

BME now has about a dozen approved suppliers across South Africa, according to Govender, which have created around 300 job opportunities.

“As we empower small businesses to create an income from this waste, we are conserving the environment while also promoting social upliftment,” he said.

Ralf Hennecke promoted to Managing Director at BME

Ralf Hennecke has been appointed as the Managing Director of BME, a division of the Omnia Group, with effect from December 1, 2021.

Hennecke started his career in 1987 at Rand Mines Limited and was employed at Johannesburg Consolidated Investments, following which he joined Omnia BME in 1995.

He has deep operational, marketing, sales, commercial and technical expertise, having been part of BME’s executive team for over 20 years and played a key role in BME’s recent global corporate development and strategy. In July 2021, Hennecke was promoted to the position of Managing Director for BME SADC.

BME, a leading manufacturer and supplier of explosives products, technology and blasting services to the mining sector, says it has a balanced presence in sectors that are essential to the sustainable use of the world’s finite resources and focuses on developing intellectual property to add value to the global mining sector.

Hennecke said: “It is an honour to accept this role, and with the support of my team, we are deeply committed to executing on BME’s growth plans across our global markets. We will achieve this through consistent product, technology and services delivery, close customer and stakeholder relationships and partnerships, whilst playing our part as a responsible and sustainable corporate citizen in the mining sector.”

The recent launch of AXXIS Titanium™, an advanced electronic blast detonation systems, will play a key role in driving growth, while the “Blast Alliance” approach will further entrench the division’s reputation as a collaborative partner, the company said.

Seelan Gobalsamy, CEO of the Omnia Group, said: “In line with Omnia’s growth strategy, it is vital to ensure that we have the leadership bench strength required to achieve our ambitions. It, thus, gives me great pleasure to welcome Ralf in his new role. Ralf’s wealth of experience and understanding of our group allows us to continue to execute on our growth strategy.”

BME keeps supply up amid lockdown as it prepares for COVID-19-related business changes

COVID-19 lockdown restrictions around Southern Africa have thrown the spotlight on mines’ supply security, with key inputs like explosives and blasting services among these.

According to Albie Visser, General Manager at blasting specialist BME, mines have relied heavily on the flexibility and ingenuity of service providers to keep the supply chain functioning.

“The first weeks of the lockdown were challenging, especially regarding the logistics of moving our emulsion product across national borders from South Africa into other southern African countries,” Visser said. “Different countries – and even different border posts – applied different rules, making it difficult to know what the exact compliance requirements were.”

Albie Visser, General Manager at BME

He noted the pandemic had caught most authorities unaware, leading to regulations being hurriedly developed and enforced.

“In some cases, the regulatory requirements were not practical,” he said. “At one border, for instance, drivers were required to have a COVID-19 test not older than three days – but in South Africa it took nine days to get results from a test through normal channels.”

This meant that innovative thinking was called for, and BME worked closely with its own suppliers and the mines themselves. While some deliveries were initially delayed by border issues, the company’s responsiveness and agility kept up its deliveries to site, it said.

National lockdowns in the region affected the mining sectors differently from country to country.

“South Africa’s lockdown saw demand for emulsion drop sharply at first, but this has almost returned to normal as mines ramped up to full production where possible,” he said. “While mining in Botswana has slowed, Namibia’s mining industry has been more resilient and our supplies to Zambia are almost unaffected.”

Site precautions

In South Africa, BME is working on many mine sites, with an average of three teams per site. By conducting risk assessments and adapting its existing safety systems, BME quickly developed its own COVID-19 protocols in line with national safety regulations – even before some of the mines finalised their own systems.

Among the measures BME has applied is to divide staff into small groups to keep closer control of movements and restrict infections. For example, each group will stay together for transport purposes, and will use only one specified bus.

“Each bus, which has a thermometer for daily testing, will collect staff from their homes,” Visser said. “We know exactly who they live with, for purposes of future contact tracing.”

It does mean more buses arriving at the work site, but any infection picked up can then be controlled and traced within that group. There is also another screening test at the mine site when staff arrive, and the necessary social distancing is observed.

“To date our measures have been very effective, with no COVID-19 infections at any of our operations,” he said.

Overcoming barriers

Outside of South Africa, there have been some notable achievements in the face of COVID-19 related lockdowns.

Joe Keenan, Managing Director of BME, relayed a few of these.

Joe Keenan, Managing Director of BME

“Among the logistical achievements, for instance, was the timeous shipping of resources to customers in Australia and West Africa – which was done in anticipation of the lockdown,” he said.

BME was also able to continue satisfying the requirements of one of Zambia’s largest copper producers, despite the difficulties of negotiating border regulations.

At the same time as this, the company is continuing to roll out large projects for major customers, while keeping most of its staff working remotely. This includes the recruitment of about 170 people for one key project, and the continuation of on-site testing.

Automation, remote optionality

From the manufacturing perspective, BME’s facilities are also well positioned to keep feeding the supply chain even under lockdown conditions, according to Ralf Hennecke, BME’s General Manager: Technology and Marketing.

“Most of our production plant processes are highly automated, so we can readily apply the necessary social distancing and minimise staff without affecting production,” Hennecke said. “This applies to our explosives facilities as well as our factories for non-electric and electronic detonators.”

Ralf Hennecke BME General Manager: Technology and Marketing

BME has put in considerable investment in the automation of its manufacturing plant at Delmas in Mpumalanga, South Africa, for instance. While the driver for this process was primarily the quality of its emulsion product, the effect has been to enhance security of supply while applying strict social distancing protocols, it said.

Keenan said: “At our facility in Losberg, Gauteng, where we manufacture our AXXIS™ equipment and non-electric detonation systems, there is also a high level of automation. We can therefore accommodate the COVID-19 regulations without affecting the value chain.”

Even the company’s remote bulk emulsion plants – often located on customer’s mine sites – can be operated with minimal staff.

Hennecke highlighted that BME’s technology, including planning and reporting platforms like BLASTMAP™ and XPLOLOG™, also assist mines to reduce opportunities for COVID-19 transmission.

“Our technological innovations allow data to be digitally captured, stored and transferred to the mine’s operational and administrative systems,” he said. “This can be done safely with only a few human touchpoints, and also in real time for greater efficiency.”

The future

While the current efforts are to keep mining operations running normally, the future will see considerable changes in how suppliers like BME support customers, according to Keenan.

“The leveraging of technological innovation to keep mine sites safe and efficient becomes an even more vital imperative for technology providers,” he said.

Operationally, there will be ongoing focus on social distancing and digital processes to reduce proximity between employees.

With strict requirements limiting face to face interaction, more communication with customers will also have to be conducted digitally.

These communication systems will also have to be adapted to streamline the sales process and keep contracts flowing, according to BME.

“Creative solutions will need to be found for how to manage tenders, for example, especially where site visits are required,” Kennan said. “There are still various practical issues to be resolved so that normal procurement can continue.”

In terms of further expediting the shift to non-contact interaction with customers, BME’s new enterprise resource planning system enhances its shared services capacity, allowing less paperwork and more electronic documentation and processing.

BME builds blasting connections in North America

BME says continued lethargy in the global economy – aggravated by the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus – did not dampen the enthusiasm of the South Africa-based blasting leader’s review of the recent Prospectors and Developers Association Conference (PDAC) in Toronto, Canada.

BME was at the show, which took place on March 1-4, showcasing its brand and global presence, including in North America.

BME General Manager Technology and Marketing, Ralf Hennecke, said: “This year was particularly exciting for us to be exhibiting, following the launch of BME Mining Canada Inc last year – our joint venture with Consbec, the largest civils drill and blast contractor in Canada.

“There was considerable excitement among the decision makers and businesses we met about the entry of another experienced player into the region’s explosives and blasting market.”

Hennecke said the mood at the Toronto gathering was buoyed by a gradual uptick in exploration projects and several mine expansions – even though the outlook for most base metals was conservative.

“It was pleasing to see that Canada was in the top three exploration performers globally, which bodes well for the country’s mining future,” he said.

He noted many of the mining companies represented at the event also had operations in BME strongholds like West Africa, even operating in other BME territories such as Southeast Asia. The company’s globalisation strategy was also paving the way for greater future involvement in global mining tenders, he said.

“Events like PDAC allow us to steadily build links in new territories like North America, leveraging the relationships we already have with majors and juniors in that market,” Hennecke said. “In addition to prospective mining customers, we also regularly meet a range of important service providers and contractors with whom we might work in future.”

Emphasising BME’s commitment to collaboration in the market – especially in the digital and technological space – he said these links were increasingly important to facilitate the integration of technologies in the interest of more productive mining.

“Mines are looking to synergise their supply chains to ensure they benefit optimally from the various services and product developments,” he said. “This means that technology providers must have the capacity to continuously integrate their offerings into customers’ systems – even collaborating with other technology providers to do so. This integration is vital to allow mines to harness the power of new innovations.”