Adapting to Smaller Spaces in Mexico’s Underground MinesMon, 10/22/2018 - 11:39
The hunt for ore is pushing the industry underground, particularly in Mexico, which is considered among the most important underground mining markets in the world, says Javier Prados, Managing Director of Normet, which specializes in providing advanced solutions for underground mining and tunneling. “Mexico is also one of the Top 3 countries for FDI in the sector, next to Canada and Peru. The country is experiencing a boom and it is a fresh market for the mining industry.”
Normet entered Mexico in 2012 and supports the industry with spare parts, machines and other products like concrete admixtures. Soon after entering, however, prices dropped, sending the market into a down cycle that Prados says was a blessing in disguise. The company collaborates with the most relevant players in the industry, including Fresnillo, Peñoles, Grupo México and Minera Frisco, and Prados attributes these strong relationships to Normet’s success during the downturn. “We have been through some tough years but fortunately the context is improving and the industry is benefiting.”
The company differentiates itself from its competitors by providing application services and training in some key processes like spraying concrete that Prados says no one else offers. “We want to make sure that companies know how to use our equipment and we offer technical advice for free,” Prados says. “More often than not, clients face problems with our machines when they do not know how to use it correctly. The company wants to fix this. We offer services not only for maintaining and operating machines but also in concrete technology and design.” The latter is vital, although Prados believes Mexico may take a few years to adapt to automated products. “In Latin America, some operators struggle to incorporate innovative machines as operators may not know how to use the technology,” he says. “This can cause problems related to operations and safety.” While he believes it may take time to adapt to these new processes, the industry can shorten the learning curve by focusing on training its people.
Considering the risks involved in underground mining, safety is a key priority. “Our company is designing safer machines that are more comfortable for operators,” he says. “But this is not always easy as contractors tell us they struggle with high rates of employee rotation, which implies a constant need for training.” Training helps optimize the use of machines so that operators can take full advantage of their benefits.
The underground mining specialist is also helping mines become more cost-effective by adapting its products to the varying needs of mine structures. “Mines in Mexico are smaller and have diameters that are on average 4mx4m to 5mx5m,” says Prados. “In effect, the company is adapting its portfolio by designing a complete new line of machines that are built for smaller underground mines. These machines will have better technology, take up less space and also reduce sales prices.” Aside from mining, Normet can also provide services for civil construction through its tunneling solutions.
Normet’s machines are manufactured in several locations around the world, including Finland, China, India and Chile. “We considered establishing a plant in Mexico but we decided to strengthen our manufacturing in India and China first,” he says. “After we solidify our position, we will consider opening a plant in Mexico to better meet the needs of the market. However, we do manufacture concrete and TBM admixtures in the country.”
Despite the challenges Normet has faced in the country, it remains positive about the future of mining in Mexico. “There are many projects in development and companies are looking for new projects,” he says. “Fortunately, the mining sector does not depend on government investments but we do sell our machines in dollars and euros. If the peso continues to inflate it will cause a problem for us and our customers.”