“2018 was a very successful year for Congo Equipment, with rebounding commodity prices and a significant amount of companies expanding their operations. Another milestone is the construction of our new facilities that will include a warehouse for spare parts, a workshop, component-rebuild center and paint shop.”
Can you tell us about any recent company milestones and the current trajectory of Congo Equipment?
One of the issues we face in the DRC is lack of formal education and training of technicians. Congo Equipment therefore spends a significant amount of effort, time and money on the education and training of employees in order to satisfy customer requirements. Approximately 10% of our workforce is expatriates, and we want to reduce this population over the next three to five years. We launched a specific training and localization plan in 2018, and already in 2019 there are 14 local employees who will fill positions previously occupied by expatriates. We see this as a crucial component in reducing our cost base, as well fulfilling our responsibility towards the upliftment of people in the country.
2018 was a very successful year for Congo Equipment, with rebounding commodity prices and a significant amount of companies expanding their operations. Another milestone is the construction of our new facilities that will include a warehouse for spare parts, a workshop, component-rebuild center and paint shop. It will also include all necessary equipment for engine and hydraulic testing, giving us the capability to deliver repaired components and equipment to customers with full Caterpillar warrantee.
In terms of diversification, Congo Equipment is looking to work with smaller companies in addition to the major players. Can you elaborate on your strategy?
Historically, Congo Equipment has been concentrating on the big mining houses, but we have realized the huge potential in doing business with emerging companies -- specifically Chinese entities. The company has hired Chinese nationals to assist our Chinese customers, which is a huge advantage from a sales and aftersales perspective. Chinese companies are not only different linguistically but also in terms of operational culture, and we need to provide the best service possible to them.
You mentioned the importance of transferring skills to locals. What is your perception of the overall availability of skilled labor in the DRC at present?
Unfortunately, the skilled labor force in the DRC is significantly smaller than in other Southern African countries. There is no accredited institution in the DRC to train technicians and provide them with proper qualifications. Congo Equipment has developed a program starting with basic training such as reading, writing and computer skills followed by Caterpillar-specific training programs. The three-year program does not provide the participants with institutional accreditation, but they will be certified to carry out work for customers on Caterpillar equipment.
The primary driver for automation is safety. How do you increase mine safety in the DRC where automation and technical innovation is less advanced than in mature mining jurisdictions?
Congo Equipment offers the full suite of MineStar products, including equipment aimed at increasing safety in mines through accident avoidance technology. We have been successful in implementing driver safety systems at mine sites by implementing our DSS systems. If the driver starts to fall asleep, the technology will pick it up and will alert the driver by vibrating the seat and an sounding an alarm. The frequency of these events are monitored remotely, and we will contact the mine’s control room should it persist to prevent an accident from occurring.
Smaller companies like junior explorers often lack the financial means to purchase heavy equipment. Does Congo Equipment have a leasing option?
Congo Equipment has a rental program, but due to its nature, it is often costlier than to buy. Some startup companies or local contractors will initially rent from us, but as soon as the operations become profitable they will buy the equipment.
Congo Equipment has managed to grow steadily despite downturns in the mining sector. What has been your strategy?
Congo Equipment is one of few, if not the only, supplier to the DRC’s mining industry that offers sufficient facilities and resource capacity. The company currently has about 900 employees in-country with facilities in Lubumbashi, Kolwezi and at various mine sites. We sell new as well as used machines, power systems and in addition we have a sizeable spare parts inventory in the country. We offer on-site maintenance services and have a component-rebuild center that allows us to return equipment with full Caterpillar warrantee. These factors combined have been key to our success.
Is Congo Equipment touched by the subcontracting laws in the company’s capacity?
Congo Equipment is impacted by subcontracting laws. However, there have been questions regarding the practical impact of the laws, and we are still in the process of attaining further advice regarding implementation.
What is Congo Equipment’s vision for the future?
Congo Equipment is excited to complete our new facility by December 2019. Our vision moving forward can be summarized as “let’s do the work.” We want to do whatever is required to satisfy our customers, and we achieve our goals through motivated, educated and trained employees.