With its state-of-the-art mines and production plants located throughout the country, Compañía Minera Autlán leads Mexico in the mining and distribution of manganese mineral and ferroalloys. Rachel Hartman reports.
Though the word “manganese” may not frequent your dinner table conversations (unless you’re a chemist or related to one), the element is one of world’s most important metals. Manganese is “used in the production of every form of steel that is made,” says José Madero, general director of Compañía Minera Autlán S.A.B. de C.V. “It’s found virtually everywhere,” he adds, “from cars to household appliances to materials used in construction.” Though not everyone may be aware of its significance, manganese plays a vital role in the production of materials we use every day.
Manganese is the 12th most plentiful element found in the Earth’s crust. In terms of the amount extracted each year, it comes in fourth, right behind iron, aluminum and copper. Around the world, approximately 34 million tons of this ore are mined each year.
Minera Autlán is the “only company in Mexico that mines and distributes manganese,” says Madero. The company has three mines in Hidalgo, a state located in central Mexico. It also has two small mines in the state of Chihuahua. One of the company’s mines, known as Unidad Molango, stands out from the others. “Unidad Molango is located in Hidalgo and is very deep,” Madero notes. “It is the largest manganese mine in North America.” According to Madero, in 2007, the company produced approximately 900,000 tons of manganese from the mines.
Mining manganese is only the first process of many at Minera Autlán. “We are an integrated company,” explains Madero. “We extract manganese from our own mines. Then we use the mineral as a raw material for our plants.” The company has three different plants, located in the states of Puebla, Durango and Veracruz. “At our plants, we convert manganese into various ferroalloys, such as high carbon ferromanganese, medium carbon ferromanganese, and low carbon ferromanganese,” Madero adds. “We also make silicomanganese.” In terms of total production, Madero says, “Each year, our three plants produce between 225,000 and 235,000 tons of alloys of manganese.”
Different ferroalloys are needed for making steel, depending on the type and quality of steel that is being produced. “We focus between 90 and 95 percent of our business on the steel industry,” says Madero. “We also have a small percentage in the chemical industry.”
The company distributes manganese oxide, which is used in agricultural fertilizers. It also produces battery-grade natural manganese dioxide. “We get this from our mine known as Nonoalco,” says Madero. “It is used in dry cell batteries.” Minera Autlán is one of the few producers of this ore in the world. Another of its products, known as ceramic-grade natural manganese dioxide is used as a dye for clays. It is also used as a strengthener in the manufacturing process of bricks, roof tiles, and special clay products.
From the plants, Minera Autlán distributes its various products to regions all over Mexico. It also has customers located throughout the world. “In the ferroalloy sector, we have clients in the United States and Canada, as well as various parts of Europe, Central America and South America,” explains Madero. “Our manganese dioxide products, like the natural battery-grade manganese dioxide, are exported to Asia, Central America, South America, and North America.” The company conveniently has its own port, located in Tamaulipas, Mexico. This makes it easy to ship out materials.
MORE THAN 50 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
Minera Autlán is not a new player in the mining field. The company originated in 1953, when it began to extract manganese from a mine in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. “The mine was known as the ‘San Francisco’ mine,” notes Madero. It was very close to a small village, known as Autlán. “That’s where the company’s name came from,” Madero explains.
“When it had exhausted its reserves in Jalisco, the company began looking for other opportunities,” says Madero. In 1960, it moved operations to the state of Hidalgo. There it opened the Molango mine, which is home to the largest manganese deposit in North America and one of the largest in the world. In 1964, it opened the Nonoalco mine, also in Hidalgo. Through this mine, it began producing natural battery-grade manganese dioxide.
In the 1970s, the company widened its operations. It shifted from its position as purely a mining company to a producer of ferroalloys as well. This led to the construction of plants during the next years. While expanding its production levels, Minera Autlán also focused on quality controls. Over the years, it has acquired various standards of certification, including the ISO: 9001-2000 for all of its operating units in 2004.
Even with more than five decades of experience, the company continues to look for better methods and strategies in the mining industry. “The technology in mining moves at a slow pace,” says Madero. “We’re always looking for better methods regarding the production and the operation of furnaces. We’ve also invested quite a bit into research and development.” Currently, the company is working on improving conditions at the Molango mine in Hidalgo. “We’re changing the mining system there,” Madero explains. “We’re switching to a safer and more productive system.”
STRONG CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS
When manganese is added to steel, it makes the end product stronger. For this reason, steel manufacturers rely heavily on the component for the manufacturing process. In addition to providing its clients with this strengthening material, Minera Autlán works hard to fortify the client-customer relationship. “We want our clients in Mexico to know that they do not have to import manganese from other places,” says Madero. “They can get everything right from us.”
The company takes a number of steps to set itself apart from others in the industry. It provides technical support right along with its products, so clients can receive assistance right away. Its vertical structure also aids in production. By having control over the mining and manufacturing process, Minera Autlán can provide the best product possible to customers.
A DIVERSE FUTURE
In the mining business, nothing lasts forever. Even seemingly endless resources will eventually dry up. For this reason, Minera Autlán is always on the lookout for new projects. Company officials are currently creating plans to ensure a diverse future. “We want to diversify into different branches,” says Madero. “We have an exploration company in Canada. This company is not only looking for manganese, it’s also exploring for gold, silver and copper.”
In the future, “we want to continue growing under the same vertical structure that we have in place,” says Madero. “We want all of our current operations to continue to develop. We also want to diversify into other opportunities, whether those be in Mexico or in other parts of the world.”
Through all of its efforts, Minera Autlán’s mission is to “generate value for its shareholders,” says Madero. “We do this in our relationships with our clients, as well as in our products.” The company wants to continue to be a leader in the metallurgical sector. “We also want to become a leader in other areas,” Madero adds. “We’re looking into other products and technology for our future development.”