Reagent experts spread wings through Africa and abroad.
Modern Mining June 2018
Reagent technology management specialist Axis House is taking its solution-finding expertise beyond its initial commodity focus in copper, and extending its footprint across Africa and into South and North America.
Starting in 2001 as a chemical supplier to the main copper mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Axis House transformed quickly from essentially a logistics company to a solutions-focused service provider with specialised expertise and facilities.
“The main change for us came in 2005, when the mining sector in the DRC saw an influx of new players and a range of brownfields and greenfields operations being developed,” said Justine Stubbs, Group General Manager of Axis House. “For us, this market shift called for a more value-added proposition from us, and we were well placed with a firm operational base in the DRC already. Clients needed more than a supply chain; they needed access to the latest developments in flotation technology.”
The company started a flotation laboratory in Cape Town, where founder and managing director Trevor McLean-Anderson is based; here, it employs minerals experts that could offer a high level of technical and scientific input to clients. This fully-equipped facility – which includes milling, flotation, sedimentation, leaching and analytical equipment – allows the accurate benchmarking of alternate reagent suites against each other, to find the optimal solution for a client’s particular metallurgical conditions.
“Mining projects in DRC forged ahead by 2009, despite the financial crash the year before, giving Axis House the opportunity to address the burning need for effective reagents, especially in the light of plummeting copper prices,” said Stubbs. “Later that year we also acquired a metallurgical laboratory in Sydney, Australia, and a R&D laboratory in Melbourne.”
Clients were urgently needing reagents that could float their minerals at a good return; the focus was therefore not just on an affordable price per tonne of chemicals, but on the actual impact those reagents would have on a mine’s bottom line.
The approach, she said, was to listen carefully to the problems that clients were describing; being located close enough to the client’s site, the company was able to visit frequently and develop a detailed understanding of clients’ process and challenges.
“After spending months and years on clients’ mines in various parts of the DRC, we realised that many sites were experiencing similar problems – which we addressed in our Cape Town laboratory,” she said. “We replicated our testwork with the chemicals that we had brought to the market, and went to plant trials – slowly growing this part of our business until it became one of our key focus areas.”
This is one of the aspects that has kept the business close to clients – as the relationship is based on problem-solving rather than solely chemical supply.
“This sets us apart from many of our competitors,” she said. “Not only can we do the research in our own laboratories with our own trusted experts, but we also have the manpower close to site who can walk the plants with clients and see first-hand the conditions that they face.”
Axis House has the capacity to introduce some novel chemistry where this is suitable, but also has other development work that can source similar products from other industries or from waste streams on site that are not being utilised.
“This can allow us to introduce a reduction in pricing, or even bring previously unaffordable chemicals more within reach of a mine’s budget,” she said.
As a result of its years of experience in the DRC and Zambia, the company specialises in the flotation of copper and cobalt; but other minerals have not been ignored.
“We are growing to become a global brand in areas that include commodities like gold and platinum – among a range of minerals that can be floated,” said Stubbs. “While constantly extending our product mix in our existing markets, we are also getting this mix into other regions – such as the gold segment in West Africa. Gold is a natural progression for us and we are busy leveraging our secure footprint in Africa – which is a market where our years of experience allow us to operate very comfortably.”
She highlighted that there were currently more flotation plants coming on stream in the gold sector than in any other mineral.
“Our testwork has indicated that much of our current product mix can be applied to other minerals such as gold,” she said. “Many mines would like to steer away from the expense and potential environmental hazard of cyanide in leaching, we are actively researching alternatives; we hope to have progress to roll out to the market in about six months.”
The research collaboration with mining companies allows an Axis House to work together with the mine’s technical team to decide which tests – and how many – will be conducted at the Cape Town laboratory.
“We then present an interim report to the client with our findings and proposals,” she says. “They then respond, giving feedback on issues such as their required grades, cut-off levels, or cost-effectiveness of the proposed solutions.”
This constant interaction with the client is the hallmark of Axis House, where R&D is conducted until a solution can be found that is mutually sustainable. This generally involves a pilot plant trial, following by trials on at least three different mine sites within a period of about three months – to generate sufficient data on which to base a roll-out.
“Only at this stage is the solution considered for a territorial or total market roll-out,” said Stubbs. “We don’t roll-out solutions based on one success; what works with one client may not work somewhere else.”
When conducting trials on site, Axis House sends in experts to collect data from the flotation tanks for two weeks to a month beforehand – using the client’s system or our own flotation matrix probe to set the parameters for the trial.
“Only by fully understanding and filtering out the ‘background noise’ in the plant operation can we be confident of any performance improvement that we predict,” she said. “Our aim is to propose a solution that raises recoveries 3-4% or more.”
Platinum is another important mineral in which Axis House will be exploring potential.
Geographically, it is also looking beyond Africa, to where there is also scope for expansion in the main copper-producing regions.
“We have already begun our growth into South America, where we have been active for over a year and a half – with an office in Peru,” said Stubbs. “Our next target is Chile, where we plan to open an office in a year or two. Our approach to customer service makes it important that we have an office presence in the countries where we are active.”
The Axis House range includes mining chemicals for flotation – including proprietary flotation technology, primary and secondary collectors, the Hydrofroth range of frothers, and sulphidising agents – as well as depressants, thickeners, hydrometallurgical reagents and laboratory chemicals.