Hatch, the Canadian engineering and mining consultancy company, is said to be at the forefront of the construction phase of the much touted Lion Ore International Activox refinery at the Tati Nickel mine along the Francistown- Matsiloje road.
Hatch is a global engineering company that supplies, is involved in process and business consulting, information technology, engineering, project and construction management to the mining, metallurgical, manufacturing and energy and infrastructure industries throughout the globe. The company is not listed and it currently employs over 9500 employees all over the world and the numbers are swelling rapidly. They have over 50 years of experience in the industry, with 52 offices in 27 countries and major global projects under their belt, including current projects in South Africa, Botswana and Australia to name a few.
Lion Ore International was recently acquired by Russian giants, Norilsk Nickel, the holding company for Botswana Metal Refineries and Tati Nickel Mining Company. Lion Ore recently announced a P4 billion windfall in which they aimed to build not only the first ever Activox refinery that uses state of the art hydrometallurgical technology in the world but also Botswana’s first ever metals refinery. It was expected that the Activox refinery would not only extend the lifespan of Tati Nickel Mine to 2030 but would at the end of its completion be able to produce 22 000 tones of copper and 25 000 tones of highly refined nickel every year right at the BMR plant. The project is expected to enhance Botswana’s mining expertise base through skill exchange and also benefit local communities. More important, the P4 billion investment represents a 3 percent contribution to Botswana’s economic diversification, a 1.5 percent contribution to GDP and a 2.5 percent increase in export earnings.
In October last year, Lion Ore international appointed Hatch to manage the Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Management (EPCM) of their Activox refinery project and the company only started operations in January 2007.
Making a presentation on the procurement and employment status of the project so far, Floyd Botha of Hatch, who is the overall project manager of the Activox project, said that part of the project design is currently being handled by experts in Hatch’s branches in Brisbane Australian, Johannesburg, Sao Paolo, and Toronto, Canada. Sao Paolo, for example, will handle the piping design. Botha said that though it is important for the project to be on schedule, Hatch places a lot of emphasis on safety and adherence to quality standards.
”The Activox project is a world class project that should be set up by world class expertise so that it produces a world class product,” he emphasized.
Commenting on the earlier earthworks of the project, Botha said that they had to remove 300 000 m3 of material and then replace and compact it with 220 000 m3 of soil. The project will also include 9.5km of internal roads and 7-8 km of haulage roads from nearby Tati Nickel Mine. Also expected to be used in the project are 30 000m3 of concrete, 2950 tones of steel, 144km piping, and over 1900 items of mechanical equipment. The project will also need 144 tanks made of stainless steel or fiber glass, and the dilemma that the company faces at the moment is that the huge size of these tanks makes it physically impossible and economically imprudent to transport them by road. The tanks have to be fabricated on site, which is a very complicated process. But negotiations, to this end, are already in progress with a Chinese manufacturer.
At its peak, the BMR Activox refinery will employ 3500 people. There are currently 480 employees working on the site most of whom are from neighbouring Matsiloje (67), Matshelagabedi (160), Francistown (185) and other areas of Botswana while only 30 expatriates are currently employed in the plant.
Botha also announced that though only 30 percent of the procurement process has already been done to date, the project remains on track. Local companies currently operating in the project include Kalcon, CCB, G4S and Magic Web. All the construction of the camp residence has been reserved for local contractors and presently represents a P70ÔÇô100 million investment.
Other benefits that will eventually accrue to local companies will include supply of office furniture, cleaning materials, stationery and foodstuffs, medical services and others.
“We have a clause in our contracts with sub contractors that bind them to not only source from local suppliers as much as possible but also give residents of surrounding villages preference in employment,” he said.
One of the major challenges that pose a threat to the successful completion of the project is the lack of skilled manpower. Manager Capability Development, Peter Meswele, said that they decided to recruit very early because of the scarce skills in the hydrometallurgy industry. Internal training, which will include liaison with sister operations all over the world, is important if BMR hopes to produce world class staff that is competent to operate the world class Activox Technology. BMR has over 190 members of staff, up by 70 from the 120 that they had when it was commissioned in 2004. The objective is also to move towards ISO certification and BMR is currently in vigorous negotiations with the Botswana Bureau of Standards and initial assessment is expected any day now.
The emphasis has always been on skills development and there are currently negotiations going on with the Construction Industry Trust Fund to find means of how best to recruit personnel with a view to training them so that they become part of the construction works at the Activox plant.
Meswele also revealed that they have intensive training procedures that are expected to produce first class graduates and they have designed personalized training programs that are expected to take cognizance of trainees’ strengths and weaknesses so as to bring the best out of them. With assistance from Tati Nickel Mine’s artisan and technician development program BMR has managed to absorb students from vocational training centers in Palapye and give them internal exposure and training.
“These apprentices have now finished their training and one group recently graduated after testing with Madirelo Testing and Training Center and we expect to absorb them into our operations’ said Meswele. BMR has also made arrangements with other sister operations to expose their employees to outside operations and also provide exposure training.
The cold commissioning of the plant is expected to be in the first quarter of 2009 and the subsequent hot commissioning will be in the third quarter of the same year. The plant will then kick off with a production capacity of 22 000 tones by 2009 which is expected to elevate to 30 000 tones per annum by 2012.
BMR General Manager, Wayne Venter, said that it is important for management to interact with other stakeholders and open more channels of communication so that Batswana would be able to appreciate the gigantic size of the project and the tremendous impact it will have not only on the economy of the country but also on the face of Botswana’s mining industry. Venter also announced the takeover of Lion Ore International by Norilsk Nickel saying that the Russian company’s takeover of Lion Ore was and still remains the largest investment by a Russian company outside Russia.
”Norilsk’s investment was also inspired by the revolutionary Activox technology which was patented by Lion Ore and will for the first time ever be used in the BMR refinery,” he said.