MACIG Connect Series
During the downturn, APT Processing benefitted from a rise in artisanal mining throughout the continent.
How did APT fare the downturn in the mining sector?
We suffered in the downturn as well, everybody did. But we suffered less so because we are very broadly based. Our clients go from artisanal miners to the majors. The smaller players pay less attention to economic trends, they are mostly concerned about growing their businesses. There are hundreds of people like these and you need only reach a small fraction of them. Therefore, we have a division within our business especially for smaller clients, not only because it is the right thing to do but because they are very loyal and they always come back to us whenever they need us. In this regard, we have found a very specific niche and it is what got us through the tough times. Therefore, we can say that we used the slump to consolidate our business.
What new products have been introduced to grow APT’s business?
On the R&D side of things, we have our own labs where we perform the studies that the client needs. When a client comes to us with a problem, we always find a solution. We also use our labs to develop new products. In 2016, we launched new products for flotation techniques, specifically, what we call TriFloat, in essence a triangular flotation cell. By this method, you get a lot more effective usage of volume. We already have an order from miners in Tanzania for graphite and enquiries from Patagonia for fluorspar.
In which countries are you more active?
We are very active throughout Africa and also have customers in the Middle East. In West Africa we are very strong, particularly in Senegal, Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana. South Africa is almost conspicuous by its absence in our portfolio because it is currently very conservative and non-explorative. We also have a broad client base from South American, Malaysian, European, Canadian and South American customers.
What is the strategy that you follow to reach out to smaller customers in new markets?
We receive a lot of enquiries from this sector and we have solutions to offer throughout. They often reach out to us with a problem and we find a tailored solution for them. The age of capital for mining development is dead but we offer the opportunity to grow the project internally through our systems and this is a great opportunity for them since once you kick-start the process, they are able to cover the expenditures from the resources that they have. Also, Europe is very important to us. The European Union has a vision for 2020 to have mining back in Europe and is allocating 90 billion euros to support mining. We just installed our first equipment in Scotland. Nobody knew there was a mine in Scotland but they have a gold mine. Initially, there was not enough capital for the project but the entrepreneurs reached out to us, an order was placed, and within three months they were already producing.
How have trends from APT’s bigger clients changed following the slump?
Almost all of the large projects are still on hold. A few are seeing the wisdom of targeting a more modest initial play, but by and large the search for capital is still the game plan, and this is not proving easy. I think we can say that the stall will extend for some time to come. We wish them all well through this difficult time and remain ready to assist them.
Have technical support and services fared better than new orders in recent years?
Not really, for a start, we design solutions that last, so support from the point of view of amelioration is not a big part of our business. What we lean on is on the growth of our clients’ businesses. To me, services and support are inherent, an initial duty. They are part of our ethos from the beginning of our relationships with clients. During the slump we actually experienced no drop in the number of enquiries. In fact, enquiries leading to quotes surpasses 400 last year.
Can you talk about the mining blog in APT’s website?
It was the idea of my daughter Lisa, who has a PR background. We use social media quite heavily and we have found it to be very useful. We have sold equipment to clients who reached us through Instagram. The blog is of topical interest. Every month I write an article on our products or the interests of our clients.
In which markets do you identify the greatest potential for your products?
The future belongs to the entrepreneurs. This is what is happening as the mining cycle shortens and investors react immediately to developments in the market. If the gold price goes up, our enquiries go up immediately as well. We therefore need to have a very rapid reaction time. This operational mechanism fits the entrepreneur as they are often fast-paced and want to get on the business before things change. There are a lot of European entrepreneurs coming into Africa. We are in touch with a lot of French and German entrepreneurs entering West Africa.
Can you provide some closing remarks for our readership?
2015 was the worst, 2016 was bad but 2017 is looking positive. We have now got rid of the elections that matter so the next year will be one of consolidation. At least one can plan ahead, which ultimately benefits the industry. Mining is risky but I believe that entrepreneurs will drive its growth.