"Currently, one of our workshops is dedicated to producing a new range of automated cranes to be launched next year in conjunction with a Flight Simulator. The simulator consists of a helicopter suspended from a crane, to be used to simulate rescue missions.Currently, one of our workshops is dedicated to producing a new range of automated cranes to be launched next year in conjunction with a Flight Simulator. The simulator consists of a helicopter suspended from a crane, to be used to simulate rescue missions."
What role does Condra play in the mining industry?
MK: Established in 1966 by Josef Kleiner, Condra initially focused on the lifting environment which then expanded to encompass engineering capacities to design and manufacture specialised cranes used in the exploration and production stages of any mining operation. In the beginning, the company offered design alone. Manufacturing was introduced later on. Depending on the ore being processed, the cranes are tailored to what the mining environment requires. To ensure the machines are maintained in an effective operational state, a Condra representative is stationed near the mining site.
The mining side of Condra’s business grew through exhibitions, which also facilitated our growth across Africa and the world. We now have service agents in Zambia, the DRC, Canada, South America and Bulgaria. Our presence in Zambia began when one of our South African customers began mining there for copper and needed support. To achieve this, a local Condra representative was assigned, leading to our expansion into other African countries.
How has Condra introduced more automation into its products?
KK: Condra was recently approached by an existing client with a very high volume of production who requested an overhead crane designed to incorporate a grabbing system. The challenge was that the design, manufacture and instalment phases had to be completed within four months as opposed to the eight months that we would have liked. The crane was delivered in record time thanks to Condra’s innovative team of engineers and world-class manufacturing facilities.
The introduction of automation into cranes reduces cost for the mines, which is a priority. In addition to delivering cost-savings, our machines are reliable and readily available, and maintained by our engineers around the world. This is our competitive edge. Currently, one of our workshops is dedicated to producing a new range of automated cranes to be launched next year in conjunction with a Flight Simulator. The simulator consists of a helicopter suspended from a crane, to be used to simulate rescue missions.
To what extent do you see the mining industry in Africa headed towards the installation of artificial intelligence technology (AI)?
MK: Personally, I do not see AI entering the African mining industry in the near future. The mining industry at the moment is embracing automation to improve safety and efficiency standards. Taking the African context into consideration, there is no infrastructure to support the rise of AI and it will have unintended, frowned-upon consequences such as job loss.
Does the volatile nature of metal prices resonate with your business and demand?
MK: When copper prices decreased, we saw a decrease in orders from copper-mining countries such as Zambia, Chile and Peru. However, at the same time the gold bull market led to increased orders from Canada. By working across multiple metals in the mining industry, we are fortunate in being able to spread our risk. As we supply the manufacturing and industrial sectors too, it decreases risk further if the mining industry faces difficulties. There is also agriculture, an upcoming market for our type of product which we would be willing to consider, particularly given the advent of vertical farming.
What was your experience with the pandemic and lockdowns in South Africa?
KK: The South African economy took a plunge, especially the service and hospitality industries. We were however classified as an essential business and therefore our operations were not shut down. Nonetheless, it was challenging to deliver spare parts to, for example, customers in Canada, because there were logistical delays.
MK: Another effect has been project postponement. There is a project in Botswana that we had confirmed and scheduled for next year, but it has been postponed. Commerce is going to have to adjust because it will take the global economy at least two years to get back to life pre-pandemic.
What are your future plans for Condra in the upcoming years?
KK: R&D will continue to be a major investment for us to provide engineering solutions to our clients. We have exciting projects ahead.
MK: Condra remains open-minded in terms of expansion into new markets. Politically, African countries across the whole continent are beginning to adopt policies that stop unwanted exploitation of their resources. We hope to continue to expand in Africa, depending on whether the regulatory frameworks allow us entry to the various markets on this continent. However, the markets in Canada, South America and Russia continue to carry great potential.