Our focus at this year’s Electra Mining was to showcase the new products we are developing for the future. SEW is present in all major industries, from mining to food-and-beverage and automotive, to name a few. Hence it is always a challenge for us when it comes to Electra Mining: What do we focus on? Which products do we push aggressively? It is an interesting challenge, because it implies we have a range of solutions for different industries.
The biggest industry for us is mining. How do we approach the issue of providing solutions? We deal mainly with project houses, as these are actively involved in many new mining projects. We also deal with OEMs who tender to produce solutions.
A full portfolio of solutions
As in previous years, we had our full mining product portfolio on our stand, including our large geared and industrial gear (IG) units. These are vital for applications such as conveying and hoisting, which require large heavy-duty units. However, mining operations consume a lot of energy, so we also demonstrated our energy-saving initiatives.
These included the application of VSDs for motor control, and we even had specialised products such as our LTP-B Eco HVAC drive. This can extract dust or circulate clean air in a shaft. It can pump out slurry water, or even pump in water for cooling applications. It is a new product for us, which is why it was at the forefront at Electra Mining Africa 2018.
We even had specific products for materials handling in mining, such as our AGV system. This is used to automate in-house material flows, or can serve as the basis for flexible assembly operations. The track-guided inductive heavy-load AGVS allows for a barrier-free factory, for example.
SEW’s total AGV system solution covers the individual vehicles, energy supply and the WLAN communication, as well as the navigation and vehicle coordination itself.
Yes, mining tends to shy away from sophisticated technology, and has always relied on manual labour. The uptake of automation has been slow because it is such a difficult operating environment. Any equipment installed has to be sufficiently rugged and durable to withstand these conditions. This is why we also focus on solutions specifically for mineral-processing plants, which has a greater demand for new technology.
A showcase for competency
Electra Mining Africa is an important opportunity for us to showcase our competencies. We have always perceived the exhibition as a major platform to realise this goal, and to reach a far bigger audience to communicate our product portfolio to. We are also able to inform this audience how we have evolved, not only from a product point of view, but also in terms of the ancillary services we have added to the business.
For us, it is one platform we never miss. We always look forward to it. It gives us an opportunity to engage with our customers, and to learn about the market – not only to benefit our customers, but also for us to learn about the competition, and what is happening at the coalface, so to speak. It is a perfect platform for networking, for promoting technology, and showcasing the evolution of our company, as an innovator, a solutions provider, and as an essential partner to the mining industry.
For instance, an emerging trend is our mechatronic industrial gear (MIG) units. These represent the convergence of gears, motors, and decentralised inverters in a single handy package. This is an exciting future technology for the mining industry, especially with the increasing trend towards automation to cut costs and boost productivity.
This is the ‘future of mining’ as SEW sees it developing. The message we put out is that we were there to listen to our customers and develop products in response to their needs, from energy-saving to automation.
Clearly the mining environment needs to play catch-up, and we were able to inform the industry of the quickest and most practical means of doing this. However, it is always a two-way street. For me, one of the most exciting aspects of the exhibition was to be able to interact with delegates who asked questions and presented us with their specific problems or issues. Some of these questions we might not otherwise have thought of, or they highlight different application requirements.
This is the kind of information that is invaluable to us as a supplier. It allows our research and development department to develop products to solve a problem or to meet a need. You have to understand your customers and their challenges? Even though you might have come up with a solution, how effective is it in the field? Such feedback is invaluable.
A platform for interaction and discussion
So for us Electra Mining Africa is not only a product showcase, it is a platform for interaction and discussion. Not only does it serve South Africans, but it sees delegates attend from all over the world, and from different mining environments or application areas. This is an invaluable source of feedback from a broad spectrum of end users. Our aim is to spark a discussion, debate, or a conversation around our products. In so doing, we better understand their requirements, how to service them better and, ultimately, how best to improve our products.
It is difficult to sell technology from a brochure. If customers cannot see it, then they cannot comprehend the practical benefits and advantages. Seeing our broader product portfolio on the stand made customers aware of what else we can offer, and the possibilities of integrating new technology and solutions into existing operations. So if somebody asks me if there is value in participating in Electra Mining Africa, my answer is of course. Some of the opportunities might not be realised immediately, but it does mean we can sow the seeds that will lead to future orders. Our product portfolio has grown to include mechatronics with automation, electronics, geared units, motors. For us it is a problem to describe everything and convey a distinct message. What visitors got from our stand is an understanding of what SEW-Eurodrive can do for them.
Now that customers understand our value proposition better, maybe we will take two stands at the next Electra Mining exhibition. Once you have a clear layout, it is easier for customers to see the bigger picture. We also need to promote our service capability, which is critical at a time when the mining industry is faced with an ongoing downturn. This is not a new concept, but we need to showcase it to customers so they understand it. It is not sufficient to say we offer service support; in future, we also need to showcase our Drive Academy.
SEW Germany goes as far as to include HR on its stand at major exhibitions, and even to talk about internal systems and processes, highlighting what happens to your order once it is inputted. What happens behind the scenes? That is vital to know. How can our customers use online tracking to keep tabs on their orders? That is the power of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT. For example, SEW Germany had an entire factory cell mock-up at Hannover specifically to showcase these trends. This is the beauty of exhibiting at shows like Electra Mining Africa – it is the perfect platform for our future in mining.
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