Established in South Africa back in 1896, AEL Mining Services has grown to be one of the world’s leading suppliers of explosives and initiating systems, with 58 plants and 34 sites in more than 20 countries – and more on the way.
For over a century, AEL Mining Services — a member of the JSE-listed AECI Group in South Africa — has been developing, producing and supplying commercial explosives and initiating systems for use in mining, quarrying and construction markets across Africa and Indonesia.
AECI comprises of 16 businesses, which are complemented by production facilities and offices across Africa, South East Asia, South America and Europe. Other companies in the group include Chemfit, Crest Chemicals, Acacia, and Akulu Marchon.
“AEL has established itself as a significant international supplier of explosives products and services on multiple continents,” says Francis Kasongo, Managing Director of AEL DRC.
“In our quest to remain relevant to our customers, AEL continually invests nearly 3% of its annual global revenues into cutting-edge research and development. Each year we deliver ground-breaking innovations that help us ensure mining safety, environmentally friendly solutions, and production efficiencies that result in numerous downstream benefits for our mining partners.”
Kasongo has been working with AEL DRC since 2002. Over that time, he has seen the company broaden its focus to markets outside of Africa.
“In terms of quality, environment and services, we aim to be an international leader in the mining solutions sector,” he tells us.
Putting money into research and development has paid off. AEL has, for some time, been the African leader in the development and introduction of electronics detonators for use in the blasting process.
“Our partnership with the world-renowned electronic blasting systems technology developer, Detnet, brings new technological advantages to the market on regular basis,” explains Kasongo.
“We put a high emphasis on sustainable development and the environment, which is demonstrated by our environmentally friendly eco-formulation explosives.”
AEL’s on-going research and testing has also led the company to develop an innovative way of using refined black oil instead of pure oil in its products.
“This will play a significant role in assisting us to conserve the oil reserves we currently have, as well as helping our customers reduce their carbon footprint by disposing of their used oil in a responsible manner,” he explains.
In the mining industry, used oil has become an integral ingredient in the production of bulk emulsions, which are utilised in the large-scale mining of minerals such as copper, cobalt and gold. While copper price is down by almost 50% since the beginning of the year — the lowest it’s been since the financial crisis — and with cobalt and gold also on the downtrend, the situation is putting AEL’s mining partners under considerable pressure.
“It is very difficult to say where the market is going, however we are conscious that the current situation is serious. At AEL, as we say, we partner with mining companies and the aim is accompanying them through this difficult time. We have taken and are taking serious initiatives to assist our partners to navigate this difficult path.”
This approach is driven by the company’s core values, known as BIGGER (Bold, Innovative, Going Green, Engaged, and Responsible).
“We see ourselves not as a commodity supplier, but as a value-added services provider,” says Kasongo.
“We have implemented AEL sites with dedicated staff within our mining partner’s sites.”
This allows AEL to permanently interact with its partners on the ground, making it easy for them to stay informed and understand their needs and requirements.
“Our success is based on our ability to adapt to challenging operating environments and be flexible to our customers’ needs. We achieve this by developing fit-for-purpose solutions in partnership with our customers. Our key aim is to seamlessly integrate into our customers’ operations,” he says.
Plans for a new plant in the DRC are in progress. AEL’s DRC entity was incorporated back in 2005, and the company had acquired all necessary permits to import, store, manufacture, transport and perform services throughout the DRC by 2006.
“AEL Mining Services has established and maintained a fully-fledged local entity, compliant notably to civil explosives, customs, environmental, mining and tax regulations,” he says.
Most of AEL’s operations in the DRC are located in Katanga, the copper cobalt segment. Here AEL has developed a breadth of experience and a wealth of knowledge where geology and logistics are concerned, as well as having forged strong relationships with local authorities and business bodies.
AEL’s operations in the DRC have been growing steadily over the last two decades, and today the country comprises a significant component of its business. As such, Kasongo tells us, the company is deeply committed to the DRC and its mining industry.
“We are the largest explosive organization in the DRC. Our local capability is unsurpassed, and is led by our 113 local permanent employees, including mining engineers, explosives engineers and licensed blasting operators,” he explains.
By partnering with some of the major international mining houses in the DRC, and by providing fit-for-purpose solutions to supply services in different segment commodities including copper, cobalt and gold, AEL is confident in its position here, despite the current commodity prices. However, the cyclical nature of these markets means that things are bound to pick up at some point. AEL’s rational and organised response to the current downturn is evidence of its experience in the sector.
“We are confident of the future of the DRC, and we see the political environment as stable. We have opened an office in Kinshasa with the aim of developing our footprint out of the former Katanga province,” he explains.
“We are busy establishing a bulk distribution site in the centre-East of the DRC. We will establish a new plant in the DRC, and will be looking more at the economic environment than political events in order to do so. “