"Within the DRC mining industry, the demand for technology-based products has grown rapidly; up until last year, the market was settling for the simplest equipment, while today it asks for the ‘full package.’"
Epiroc has developed a very strong technology focus across its leading portfolio of mining and construction equipment. Could you elaborate on the company’s agenda, particularly in terms of automation?
Automation and digitalization are Epiroc’s global areas of focus. Looking forward, we are emphasizing clean energies, electric batteries and efficiency in our products and equipment. Incorporating automation processes brings a series of challenges, one of them being proper training of the local workforce. As an enterprise operating in more than 150 countries, we can rely on a global structure with a network of international experts who can transfer knowledge and know-how to our local employees. Meanwhile, we are also investing in local solutions because we are aware that having skilled people able to work with automation will soon become a necessity. Within the DRC mining industry, the demand for technology-based products has grown rapidly; up until last year, the market was settling for the simplest equipment, while today it asks for the ‘full package.’
Traditionally, mining has been a rather conservative industry when it comes to implementing new technology. Which factors do you believe have led to this market shift in the DRC?
The market shift with respect to technology in the DRC happened very swiftly. In large part, the recent evolution of market behavior at large is due to the pressure from global competition: companies suddenly realized that, if they want to compete worldwide, they need to be at least as advanced as other foreign companies, both in terms of mining technologies and innovative approaches, which directly feeds into operational efficiency and safety standards. Epiroc’s world-class customers, whether in the DRC or elsewhere, strive to be at least at the same level of operational efficiency and safety as any other leading mining companies in the global market.
Are there any factors that impose limitations on Epiroc’s offering in the DRC?
We offer most of our global solutions in the DRC, such as the Mobilaris Mining Intelligence support system. There are some limitations, however, such as power – the lack of power availability makes our range of battery-powered equipment unfeasible in the DRC, for example. In the future, we expect to add network solutions to our offering, but the bandwidth is also currently restrictive. Especially because of infrastructure challenges, operational efficiency is even more essential, because operating, production and transport costs are much higher than in other jurisdictions in the first place. It is very telling, for example, that despite much higher grades in the DRC across many minerals, production costs tend to be roughly on par with other parts of the world.
We always attempt to go as far as possible given the infrastructure at hand. For example, we have just brought to the market the first intelligent Pit Viper, which has very high capacity and is fully automated. Furthermore, by the end of the third quarter of 2019, our world-class workshop in Kolwezi will be fully operational, while the whole project will be completed by early 2021. This has been a massive investment for us.
In the quest for battery-operated vehicles, the full cycle of emissions and environmental damage is sometimes overlooked. To what extent can the potentially counteracting impact of the mining process be minimized?
We see substantial market growth for electric vehicles, and we want to be part of the process in increasing operational efficiency for both environmental and financial reasons. As a Swedish company, efficiency is very important to us, as is the reduction of the environmental footprint of our operations – this is why we focus greatly on the development of battery-powered equipment. However, we are aware that not all contexts allow for the same level of innovation and thus we tend to adopt a country-tailored approach.
How do you perceive the impact of Chinese brands and service providers on the market in the DRC?
China’s presence in the DRC and in Africa more generally is likely to grow even stronger in the long run. Epiroc itself works with most Chinese-managed mines and contractors, which form a large part of our customer base. It is very difficult to make a generalization on the Chinese business attitude in Africa since there are as many approaches as there are management teams. In terms of the approach towards operational efficiency and lowering costs, there are very focused and proactive Chinese companies that care about the overall cost of the operations, and equally others that only have a short-term vision and care more about the immediate cost and advantages.
Could you elaborate on Epiroc’s strategy in DRC and the main opportunities going forward?
As with any other equipment company, our strategy is strictly bound to our customers’ needs. Nowadays, our clients seek to reach the lowest production cost, while keeping high safety standards. To achieve this, we are currently attempting to move our customer base to high-tech machines and build an ongoing aftersales support. In the meanwhile, we are largely investing in Kolwezi, which is a highly prospective location and will enable us to be closer to our customers. We also see rising opportunities in Western DRC. At the same time, we are continuing to look at the Eastern side, where there are ongoing prospects in the construction and mining sector, one of Epiroc’s traditional areas of business focus.