Weir Minerals is a specialist in delivering and supporting slurry equipment solutions for the mining industry. More than a decade ago, the Scottish company surged into the Brazilian market and is now the country’s leading manufacturer of slurry pumps, hydrocyclones and valves. Commercial Director Paulo Martos explains to Reuben Ford why business for Weir Minerals Brasil is on the upswing.
Founded in 1871, Weir is the world leader in slurry handling. The fluid mixture of pulverized minerals mixed with water is a convenient way of handling solids in bulk. Slurries have similar properties to thick fluids, flowing under gravity and being capable of being pumped and pipelined. Whether it is lining a grinding mill, pumping highly abrasive slurries, isolating slurry pipelines with heavy duty slurry valves, or using cyclones to carry out critical classification processes, Weir has it covered.
Wherever minerals are mined or dredged, washed and treated, Weir Minerals slurry pumps are at the heart of the process. The overriding global philosophy is to ensure that products provide the lowest possible ownership costs. That has made Weir – the company and its practices – a worldwide industry standard.
BIG IN BRAZIL
A budding economy, political stability and vast natural reserves all bode well for Brazil as a minerals powerhouse. Increased foreign direct investment and sustained levels of demand, coupled with the recovery of global economies, indicate steady future growth for the Brazilian mining industry. Brazil possesses rich natural mineral resources and is one of the largest mining industries in the world. The industry has also recently experienced a strong period of growth, fueled by a robust economy. The Brazilian mining industry is estimated to be worth approximately $23 billion, which makes the country an ideal choice for Weir Minerals to expand its empire.
Making it big in Brazil was the result of a careful selection of acquisitions. Warman and Envirotech, who had both been present in the local market since the 1970s, were purchased by Weir in the 1990s and restructured to fit the company’s global requirements. Weir Minerals Brasil was inaugurated in 1999, benefitting from the cumulative experience of the two companies and the worldwide expertise of the group. “We united the portfolios of the companies and capital to create an enterprise that attended to the needs of the Brazilian market,” says Commercial Director Paulo Martos.
Weir Minerals Brasil began with two factories in São Paulo and another facility in Minas Gerais state. The company manufactured slurry pumps and cyclones for the growing mining industry. “From the outset, our product portfolio addressed issues such a longevity, efficiency and maintenance. Thus, we also started producing rubber lining, and slurry valves, sieves and water pumps for customers,” Martos explains.
The success of the products in Brazil required larger premises and in 2010 Weir moved to a brand new factory in Jundiaí (São Paulo state). The 45,000-square-meter complex houses machinery, tooling and assembly plants as well as rubber treatment units and all administration departments for Weir Brasil. The Jundiai factory employs 330 plus another 110 at their four service centers located in Minas Gerais, Vitória, Belem and Parauapebas. “The service centers allow us to be closer to our clients and increase our national presence,” Martos comments.
COMPLETE MINING SOLUTIONS
The main product is the slurry pump, for which Weir is a leading global manufacturer. It specializes in the treatment and transport of ground minerals, mixed with water to form a solution (slurry), which can be pumped long distances before being separated.
Apart from the pumps, Weir Minerals Brasil produces equipment for the milling and grinding processes. It is also a major player in the Brazil market for rubber linings for milling equipment, which can be changed to increase the durability of machinery that handles abrasive minerals. “We enjoy a strong position in the Brazil market for linings, hydrocyclones and valves,” adds Martos.
With so many products for the treatment of slurries, Weir offers a complete range of equipment to its clients.
“Our newest product is a custom engineered a pump flotation system [barge] to meet clients’ specific requirements,” he continues. Whether diesel or electric drive, a simple float for a single pump or a barge to house multiple pumps, Weir’s in-house design group can provide the optimal solution.
At the forefront is investment in the extensive range of products to specific requirements, infrastructure and the personnel to produce them. Meanwhile, construction of the new factory in Jundiaí began in 2008 and the departments were gradually moved over until completion in 2010. “The factory was constructed with company capital and greatly increased productivity, through new machinery,” explains Martos. “Training programs for staff were organized to qualify employees to operate the new facility to its full potential.”
TEAMWORK AND TECHNOLOGY
Production at the Jundiai plant is governed by “Lean” principles. This reduces process times and increases performance. The new international standard manufacturing technology has been adapted to Weir’s systems of tooling and quality control. “We work with tooling experts to reduce production time and, also in conjunction with our suppliers, we ensure the efficiency of new components,” Martos says.
Developing new products is part of Weir’s DNA. Weir Minerals Brasil has a specific product development team, which works from the company DCOs (Design Centers of Origin). Here, new products for the global markets are discussed and projected, based on feedback from clients, suppliers and employees. “In Brazil, specific valves have been developed in Brazil, and new pumps at our center in Australia,” Martos points out.
Other innovations include metal alloys and pumps that are resistant to abrasion commonly caused by slurries. Abrasion-resistant, heavy duty slurry pumps have been patented by Weir Minerals Australia to various countries.
“Weir is a technology generator,” says Martos. “Our staff and experience guarantee quality and we have earned the reputation of solution providers for our clients.”
The company’s service centers and global design centers also provide a strong differential. Weir operates as a global team, sharing and creating technology to supply industrial solutions. Customers are also seen as part of the team. Weir Minerals Brasil works in the field with its clients to understand the relationship and the individual functions of each product. “Investing in our clients and customer service is important to our success. Many new products arise from client input.” Martos says. “Input is translated into a project, and the resulting product finished and finally tested for global consumption.”
STRONG BUSINESS PULSE
The efforts in Brazil translate into healthy statistics. Weir Minerals Brasil has doubled annual revenue in the last five years, despite the international economic crisis and a fall in exports. Sky-high taxes and environmental red tape left many regulators and mining companies stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place” and, as a large exporter of metals, Brazil’s mining industry suffered a blow. Weir however managed to maintain investments and performance.
Operating on a global scale certainly affords Weir the balance to keep up its high standards and results. Weir Minerals Brasil is also a major player in the manufacture of rubber linings for slurry equipment.
“We have invested in training, installations and application of Weir technology in Brazil and the success is clear,” concludes Martos.