Process plant operator Minopex has achieved resounding success in the diamond sector by operating several diamond plants, writes Laura Cornish.

It has successfully operated Gem DiamondsLetšeng plant in Lesotho for 10 years, while also expanding into Botswana where the Lucara DiamondsKarowe project has delivered rare and large carats over the past six months.

Minopex has been involved operationally in every diamond plant in the diamond-rich Lesotho. So much so that companies Minopex Lesotho and Minopex Botswana were established to best support all activities to the diamond plants we work on in these two countries,” says Rafael Abela, Minopex business development director. “The result of our drive to deliver and the commitment from our operational staff has seen our diamond operations staff headcount grow significantly over the years. We currently employ over 300 people for our diamond operations alone.”

Radesh Sukhdeo, Minopex diamond operations director, admits that no project or operation is without its challenges. “In spite of this, Minopex has flourished and continues to deliver to clients’ expectations.”

Gem Diamonds

Letšeng’s location and associated climatic conditions pose the biggest operational challenge on-site, with temperatures varying constantly during the day, from -14⁰C to 30⁰C. Snow is a possibility all year round due to the altitude, which brings along issues like pipes freezing and more brittle structural materials. The lack of country infrastructure is another major challenge influencing the procurement of process consumables and spares logistics.”

Nonetheless, Minopex has recovered several large diamonds since the plant was first commissioned in 2003. Such diamonds include the Lesotho Promise, Letšeng Legacy, Star of Lesotho and the Leseli La Letšeng.

Lucara Diamonds

Looking at the Karowe project, it is the source of some of Minopex’s most recent successes. “It has been just over a year since the Karowe plant first became fully operational and already Minopex has surpassed the Karowe expectations in terms of contractual key performance indicators,” says Sukhdeo. Lucara has celebrated the recovery of a number of rare sky blue diamonds over the past six months and, more recently, a 239 carat stone.

Abela acknowledges that setting up a new company, Minopex Botswana, and operating in a new country (with its own legislation) was challenging. Further: “A new approach in Southern Africa in diamond recovery was adopted at the Karowe plant – using a SAG mill to liberate the diamonds from the host rock. This was the first milling exposure to Minopex in diamond processing. Given our experience in milling in general, however, we are able to operate and maintain this mill comfortably.” The Minopex Operational Readiness Programme was also implemented to assist with plant ramp-up and to smooth the commencement of operations. This programme requires Minopex to implement standard operating procedures across the spectrum of the operation and is adapted from country to country.

“That said, I can comfortably say that we have overcome our initial teething problems and are now positioned to further expand our diamond business in the country,” Abela adds.

Abela explains that like Lucara Diamonds, more diamond miners are looking for technologies and operational procedures to improve their overall recoveries. Particular attention is being paid to diamond breakage and new technologies are being investigated, including SAG milling, X-ray sorting on run-of-mine material as well as fully modular plants.

“Even though Minopex has been processing diamonds for over 10 years and continues to gain first-hand experience in all aspects of processing diamonds, we work closely with our clients and keep abreast of industry changes. Process optimisation projects are an ongoing element of our business.”

Growing the diamond business further

Like all other mining-related businesses, Minopex is feeding the effects of a struggling industry. The mining sector is currently facing numerous challenges such as skills shortages, labour relationships, commodity demands, volatile commodity prices and depressive financial conditions. As a result, the rate of new projects implementation is reducing.

Abela notes that while the company is pursuing a number of new diamond studies, it is also looking to diversify to secure growth targets in the Southern African region.

“Our vision is to ‘process the world’ – for all commodities. We want to be an operator of choice, which Minopex achieves by creating long-term mutually beneficial partnerships as opposed to being just a service provider. The strong bonds and relationships formed between Minopex, Lucara Diamonds and Gem Diamonds is the perfect example of this and has set the foundation for a strong long-term collaboration going forward, which we aim to replicate with all our clients, current and new.”

Sidebar: Minopex values include:

Accountability – If it has to be done, I will do it

Integrity – I will do it beyond reproach

Focus – The client’s success is my business

Safety – paramount for all operations, never compromised.

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