Maurice Jones interviews Cedric Leturcq of Belgium-based plant distributor BIA Overseas that deals with Africa for the BIA Group
The 18 or so nations and territories that can be described loosely as West Africa contain a broad range operational types. These range from artisan alluvial and illegal activities, through open pits both huge and small, to some deep underground mines. Infrastructure for ore/product transport ranges from ancient to non-existent but planned for. Despite current comparative stability, a few areas still face security threats.
Although traditionally gold mining has dominated the region since antiquity, large iron ore mining has equivalent economic importance in some areas.
Cedric Leturcq is the marketing manager for African operations for Belgium-based plant distributor BIA Overseas that deals with Africa for the BIA Group. BIA Overseas represents Komatsu (www.komatsu.com), Terex Cranes, Cummins Engines, Michelin tyres, and more recently Sandvik Mining & Construction and Italy-based Tecnogen generators, in most countries there. BIA has a presence in 18 West and central African countries.
Leturcq confirmed the dominant position of open-pit mining. “We only service open pit mines so far,” he said. “but there are some underground projects due to start in coming months, such as in Burkina Faso to exploit orebodies below and too deep for existing open pits.”
"While it’s a very stable market overall at the moment, the recent slow down has affected mainly new and planned projects,” Leturcq reports. “In some cases we have been talking to the same new projects for two years. Even iron is very quiet despite large project announcements, now mainly on hold due pending more secure development arrangements.”
So what does BIA offer and what is required by the miners?
Sandvik sales, which BIA has been handling for about two years, have been nearly all for open-pit drill-rigs, but Cedric Leturcq reports great interest in crusher and breaker purchasing as well. “The use of regional distributors to represent sales and service has been a big move for Sandvik”, commented Leturcq.
An important aspect of the business is maximum service support including rapid parts supply, on-site service infrastructure within service contract arrangements, and training to make maximum use of indigenous resources.
BIA has to employ expatriate engineers and artisans to fulfil customer needs but also recognises the need to utilise local resources whenever possible. It has an artisans’ school established in Dakar, Senegal, and is participating in a project of United Nations to operate another school in Liberia. In conjunction with the manufacturers it represents, BIA arranges for high-level training, in electronics components for instance, in Germany, Japan, Scandinavia and the USA, with the intention of those leading students passing on the knowledge to others locally.
All service contract customers have an on-site service infrastructure provided by BIA, commensurate with the size of the mining operation. While such service cannot compete on price with ‘do-it-yourself’ arrangements customers have the ‘added value’ of qualified service personnel always available, and a high inventory of genuine OEM service parts on site and in the country.
Outside of service contracts, and in common with many manufacturers, BIA has to face the major problem of non-genuine parts use, especially consumables. “Some of the independent parts sales people are ‘clever’ in that they mix relatively good units with inferior parts and consumables bought on the ‘grey’ market, complains Leturcq. “ It can be difficult for users to notice the difference until there is failure.”
Video 1: AcelorMittal corporate video shown on LiberianTV about the recent mining redevelopment in Nimba country near Yekepa involving the refurbishment of a 250-km railway after the civil wars
Video 2: Small scale mining in Ghana, West Africa by Njabulo Angelfire. Small-scale, or ‘artisan’ mining is common in West Africa for alluvial and other near-surface deposits, but there is often little consideration of safety, workers’ ages or the environment