As the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its grip, thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions is assisting customers to maintain operational efficiencies through sustainable service delivery and innovative technologies.

“The global economic crisis, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, has put the drive for efficiency into top gear,” says Philipp Nellessen, CEO of thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions Sub Sahara Africa. “Fundamental to this drive is cutting-edge technology. Through our ongoing investment in people and R&D and our over 200 years of expertise, we are able to develop advanced technologies to assist mining and other industries in achieving maximum operational efficiencies.”

The engineering powerhouse has also applied its technology prowess to assist the general public in the fight against the spread of the virus with the development of a Sodium Hypochlorite mobile trailer for spraying disinfectant onto the streets in COVID-19 hotspot areas. “Our easily portable Sodium Hypochlorite disinfection trailer unit is designed to efficiently spray a diluted (0.5%) Hypochlorite concentration over large street, pavement and vertical surfaces to limit the spread of the virus,” says Neville Eve, GM Chemical Process Technology. He adds that the prototype of this robust, modular and cost-effective unit is already available and multiple units can be manufactured with very short lead times.

thyssenkrupp IS multi disciplined approach against COVID 19

Philipp Nellessen and Neville Eve with thyssenkrupp’s Sodium Hypochlorite trailer.

Two of the company’s leading technologies are solar thermal heat coupled with biomass-fired plant solutions for sugar plants – from the boiler to the integrated sugar plant. This technology is new and significant in the market since operating costs are optimised with low capital investment. Wilfred Barkhuizen, thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions Sub Sahara Africa GM Mining, explains that sugar plants use biomass residue from sugar cane (Bagasse) to produce process steam and electrical power, which is primarily used to drive sugar plant machinery with surplus power fed to the power grid.

Sugar plants are typically operational for only a portion of the year and the amount of raw material is only sufficient to produce power for roughly six months. Subsequently, high CAPEX equipment (boiler, turbine, generator, etc.) stand idle for the remainder of the year.

“Taking our innovation capabilities a step further, we can combine our technologies to offer customers unsurpassed and highly cost-effective solutions. By integrating, for example, solar thermal heat technology systems with the biomass power plant, customers can extend their power production by a few months as well as their use of limited resources, thereby reducing their O&M and monthly expenditure,” says Barkhuizen.

Although the South African mining industry was not operational during the Level 5 national lockdown, critical repairs were still permitted. As an essential service provider, thyssenkrupp has been delivering maintenance and repair as well as rebuild work to local mines.

The company assisted a platinum mine in Limpopo Province with a roll change on one of their flagship products, a High Pressure Grinding Roll (HPGR). “The scope of work required a rebuild on the HPGR set as well as the installation of the hardware on the mine site, making this our largest project in the national lockdown period,” says Nico Erasmus, thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions Sub Sahara Africa Head of Service Operations. “We are very pleased that even in a complete lock-down situation, we were able to complete the project in a healthy and safe manner, in excellent co-operation with our customer,” says Erasmus.

“Our customer had excellent controls in place and we complemented the risk mitigation with our own additional preventative protocols,” explains Erasmus. Procedures included pre-selection of a team that falls inside the recommended age and health categories, pre-screening at both thyssenkrupp and customer sites, limiting the amount of people on shifts and in spaces, adhering to stringent hygiene measures (hand sanitising, wearing face masks, social distancing, cleaning of surfaces, tools and equipment), and implementing special transport and accommodation measures.

According to Erasmus, despite several challenges, the team adapted quickly to all the controls while still being responsive enough to get the work done safely and within the scheduled timelines. “The transport of super loads (two trucks with 120 t loads each) was a real challenge but our logistics team rose to the occasion and got the loads on site in time and ready for installation,” says Erasmus.

In order to remain operational and continue seamless service delivery to customers, thyssenkrupp has implemented all necessary policies in line with Government COVID-19 regulations. These include possession of all essential services permits and strict entry control protocols for employees, visitors and suppliers at all premises.

Employees are required to attend mandatory training sessions conducted by the OSH department, wear all necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), sanitise regularly and maintain social distancing. A dedicated COVID-19 committee has been set up to assess changing regulations and risks associated with office and site working environments.

“With the majority of employees working from home, we have faced our fair share of challenges but the process was very well organised with IT managing it all incredibly well ensuring that everybody was equipped in time,” notes Erasmus.

“We only had one day of downtime at our essential service workshop site. The pandemic has significantly changed the working landscape but thanks to our flexibility, employees will be able to carry on doing the majority of their work from home as we continue to offer the same high levels of service our customers have come to expect,” adds Erasmus.

Wrapping up, an optimistic Nellessen says that he is in no doubt that South Africa/Sub-Sahara Africa will recover. “The people here are incredibly brave and innovative and companies will find their way out of the crisis. We have seen a significant decline in order intake in the last few months, especially in our chemical business with some of our customers having been dealt a double blow - COVID-19 and an unpreceded decline in commodity prices in the oil & gas sector of the global economy.

“As industry partners, we are here to offer our support. Despite tough times ahead for some industries, the mining sector continues to show growth and here I foresee a restart and a good recovery, depending on mining commodities probably taking anything between three to twelve months to reach previous and required pricing levels.”

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