Tranter Rock Drills

Eye to the future

Jack Liebenberg,managing director of Tranter Rock Drills, talks to Jayne Alverca about leading the company through the latest phase of its evolution.

Tranter Rock Drills may be a relatively new commercial entity, but it has an industrial legacy that stretches back more than half a century. The Rock Drills division of Boart Longyear, known throughout the South African mining industry by the acronym SECO, was originally founded in 1934 and has honed its expertise in rock drills and airlegs since the 1950s.

The business, consisting of Boart Longyear’s percussive rock drills and hard rock tool product lines and all associated manufacturing operations, including the site at Roodepoort, was acquired by Tranter Energy and Mining Services (TEMS) in 2009. This black-owned and black-managed company, part of Tranter Holdings, is one of the most dynamic forces in the contemporary mining and energy industry in Southern Africa. 

Tranter has already taken a lead role in a number of new broad-based groupings, including women, communities and employees, and can point to an outstanding track record in operational business skills and technical expertise. Founder Joshua Ngoma believes that Southern Africa’s mineral assets have the potential to transform the regional economy and improve the lives of millions of people who continue to live in poverty.

In line with this vision, the managing director of Tranter Rock Drills, Jack Liebenberg, is now tasked with overseeing the next phase of evolution of the business. The SECO range of percussive rock drills and hard rock tools will be marketed far more extensively in both South Africa and other sub-Saharan African countries. Tranter Rock Drills also markets a range of its products via Boart Longyear to the rest of the world.

His immediate priority is to completely reinvigorate the aged plant legacy to create a solid foundation and springboard for future growth. “Some of our current plant dates back as far as the 1950s and for at least 15 years before Tranter acquired the business, there was no new capital investment. Now we need to increase capacity and productivity and we are making a quantum leap by investing in a total of 15 new machines simultaneously, rather than by dripping investment slowly into the company.”

Over the last year, the management team has carefully examined all the bottlenecks and Liebenberg is now convinced that a programme of investment across all operational areas, which includes milling, turning and grinding, as well as some specialised processes, can generate an increase in productivity of at least 70 per cent, as well as leading to all-round quality improvements.

Another tranche of investment will see Tranter Rock Drills move much closer to its customers. “Our major markets in the South African mining belt are all at least 250 kilometres in distance from our headquarters; and some are 450 kilometres away from us,” he explains. “We intend to move much closer, with distribution warehouses located directly in the area of the mines. This will also give us the scope to become much more involved in the routine maintenance that all rock drills require for optimum performance. After 30 or 35 shifts a rock drill must be taken out for maintenance, but this is not the mine’s core business. It has far more synergy with our own activities and is a service we are capable of undertaking to the highest OEM standards, rather than the sub-standard service which many smaller operators are currently offering.”

Liebenberg is keen to stress that the focus of the business is growing by listening carefully to what mine operators want from the equipment they purchase. “As an OEM supplier at the top of the chain, we know that this industry is extremely safety-conscious. Despite the huge improvements that we have seen in recent decades, too many people are still killed and maimed in mining accidents and it is an absolute priority for us to collaborate with mine operators to reduce these incidents to an absolute minimum.

“Here at Tranter, we look at our products on a feature-by-feature basis