Sandvik’s carbide recycling supports small business in SA

Sandvik’s solution combines years of technological development on specialised equipment for automated recycling.
Sandvik’s solution combines years of technological development on specialised equipment for automated recycling.

In pursuit of sustainability as well as ensuring local economic impact, Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions’ South African operation is recycling carbide through partnerships with two black-owned businesses. Business line manager – Rock Tools Southern Africa, Johan Blomerus says this project is also set to grow around the subcontinent.

The local initiative is part of a global strategy by the company to continuously improve the circularity of its manufacturing processes.

“Our solution combines years of technological development on specialised equipment for automated recycling, and a supplier development intervention to support two small black, youth-owned businesses,” says Blomerus. The businesses, located in the Gauteng and Free State provinces, are expanding to create up to 20 new employment opportunities in coming years.

He explains that the recycling of used drill bits contributes to the Sandvik group’s ambitious sustainability goals to halve its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. By embedding circularity across an essential component of mining, the group is supporting its customers’ drive to mine more sustainably.

“Making tools from recycled carbide requires 70 percent less energy and emits 64 percent less carbon dioxide,” he says. “It also reduces nitrous oxide emissions.”

The two South African SMMEs (small medium micro enterprises) appointed to undertake the carbide extraction from drill bits have been equipped with the necessary machinery to make the process safe and cost effective. Since 2016, Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions has invested nearly R5 million in developing carbide extraction equipment, notes Blomerus.

“The equipment has been installed and commissioned at their facilities, so they can extract the carbide buttons from the drill bits we deliver to them from our customers,” he says. “We then pay them for the carbide extracted, and they have the added benefit of earning income from the steel bits – which they can sell as scrap.”

As well as the capital equipment and financial support, the SMMEs have received extensive training to ensure safe operation of the dedicated machinery – which was initially developed in South Africa and further improved in Sweden. This automated equipment replaces what was a slow and laborious manual process, providing an efficient business model for the SMMEs. Extracting the carbide in-country means much less weight that has to be exported to Germany, where the highly specialised task of carbide recycling can be conducted.

“Our recycling initiative has been extracting over six tonnes of carbide material annually over the last three to four years,” he says. “And we are planning to ramp up this initiative to operate 24 hours a day, which will allow the recycling of about 22 tonnes a year by the end of 2024.”

Blomerus concludes that Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions will also be rolling out the project to neighbouring countries, including Botswana and Zimbabwe.


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