All mill-relining roads lead to Toowoomba


Richard Roberts

‘Being considered the Toyota of the mill relining industry is probably the biggest compliment’

All competition is good competition, right? The Dassler brothers of Herzogenaurach, Germany, ultimately validated that mantra but boy did they cause some ructions in their home town in the 1950s and 60s. Fast forward to Toowoomba, Queensland; to June 13, 2024.

One of the standout success stories of Australia’s $100 billion mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector, Russell Mineral Equipment (RME) launched a global campaign celebrating its “upcoming” 40-year anniversary.

RME has been a safety and productivity game-changer, internationally, in the mine mill re-lining business.

For many of its 40 years it has been a lone innovator in the field.

Fast, safe maintenance of often massive grinding mills is a pivotal copper, gold and base metal mine production and therefore profit driver.

RME has carved out a dominant share of a growing global market. Its biggest rival now, though, is not some multi-national firm wanting more of the action.

It’s a cross-town, 10-year-old company, GEARS Mining, formed by ex-RME people. On June 13 GEARS announced its launch of “the world’s largest mill relining machine”.

Co-founder and director Damon Frizzell said the launch was a major milestone in the 10-year journey of the company, its local suppliers and customers.

“Ben Dunlop and I started GEARS Mining as a way to feed our families,” Frizzell said.

“Now we have a team of over 50 people [67] with projects that span across every continent.

“This event is a celebration of not only GEARS Mining’s achievements but also the strong community and supplier partnerships that have supported this endeavour.”

Adolf and Rudolf Dassler’s vaunted split and ensuing fierce rivalry led to the creation of Adidas and Puma, giants of the shoe manufacturing business. The rivalry played out globally but it divided their home town in Bavaria, causing long-lasting rifts.

Is something similar playing out west of Brisbane? Not according to GEARS business development manager, Brett Morgan, who spent more than 13 years in senior management roles at RME after earlier working at Coca-Cola and Haliburton.

“There are zero opportunities for mill relining equipment in the streets of Toowoomba,” Morgan told InvestMETS.com.

“Both of us are primarily driven by exports and we see nothing better than two companies in the same town now being regarded as the high-quality mill relining solutions for the world and secure export dollars for the local Toowoomba economy.

“Many of us in GEARS have RME heritage and we are respectful of the people that we have worked with.

“We are quite happy carving out our niche in what is a global industry.”

GEARS started life as a service business and now has technicians in South and North America, Europe, CIS and is “soon to be set up in Africa”.

“Many of the current people at GEARS have been previous RME technicians and were qualified by RME as technicians,” Morgan says.

“Today, GEARS Mining supports mining clients all over the world with mill relining equipment reline support – attending the reline – for all brands of mill relining machines.

“We also support those clients with spare parts support and mill relining machine major rebuilds.

“We have two separate sites in Australia that we use for designing and manufacturing OEM equipment [and] parts.

“In the last three-to-four years GEARS Mining has actually been pulled into the OEM complete system supply of the relining industry because we have had people that wanted to support GEARS to become an original equipment manufacturer based off their experience with us as a service supplier.

“They knew that we had a wealth of experience in terms of how to make equipment more practical, easier to maintain and perform reliably and predictably in the high-pressure reline events.

“The industry were telling us that while it’s nice to have a Rolls Royce-type solution, they weren’t happy with the Rolls Royce price tag that came along with it.

“Many in the industry agree that the GEARS Solution is like a robust and reliable Toyota Landcruiser-type solution. They know what they will get, they know it is reliable and they know it is predictable.

“They continue to be pleasantly surprised by the performance because it equals, and in some instances exceeds, some of the highest quality solutions that are in the market today but is supplied at a more realistic price that represents real value to them.

“On top of this we have received feedback that contractually and technically, we are just easier to deal with.

“It is nice to be considered the new player but we are a 10-year overnight success.

“We are different to the other players in the market because the origins of GEARS Mining have come from around 20 years of servicing a variety of equipment, but primarily RME equipment, in the market and this has given us exposure to machines as they have evolved over time and clients that have owned the machines and typically owned several machines over time.

“So as a service-based company, servicing equipment that is not ours, the clients really open up about their concerns, frustrations and limitations of the current equipment they work with. They confide in us and ask us to make it better for them.

“The make it better is sometimes referring to making the service and support customer experience that they get from equipment suppliers better. For other clients it is about making the equipment easier to maintain in a high-pressure and remote environment.

“Some clients are pushing us to supply parts for them with shorter lead times and a lower price but still maintain the [ISO accredited] quality that the industry needs and expects to be able to perform a highly critical and extreme downtime value activity.

“Being considered the Toyota of the mill relining industry is probably the biggest compliment because true performance in our part of the industry comes from a reliable, predictable, high-value solution.”

Morgan says GEARS has delivered more than 30 of its mill-relining machines into the market and the pipeline is “healthy and growing every day”.

“Our pipeline for mill relining machines is 70%-80% full for the next two years,” he says.

“We have some spaces in the pipeline that allow us to fit in urgent or late opportunities.

“We are already at the point of repeat business for our mill relining machine solutions. Clients are coming back for the second time and already making us aware of future projects in the next 3-5 years that want us to be a part of when they come online.

“We are very busy.

“Nearly all of our growth and demand has been inbound via our network and contacts in the industry reaching out to us as individuals, knowing that something is brewing and wanting to know more. Once they understand that we are a high-quality solution without the Rolls Royce price tag they lean forward and become engaged. It’s been a very rewarding experience to understand that peoples’ relationships and reputations are still critical drivers in today’s market.

“To increase production output we are considering a number of levers to pull in terms of the amount of shifts we do per 24-hour period and a number of other factors to reduce the current lead time to manufacture our equipment.

“But at the same time, our key is our people so we are very much focused on staff wellbeing and their quality of life at home and at work so we all agree that we need to grow responsibly for both our people and our market.

“To be honest, we have been trying to manage the rate of growth to ensure that it is responsible to our clients and to our employees.

“GEARS are currently saying, not right now, to some very large opportunities in certain parts of the world. But importantly, when we sit down and explain our reasons, our potential clients appreciate our approach and perspective and it seems to almost make us more of an attractive proposition to them for GEARS to be a future partner because we have not said, no, we have just said, not right now.

“They seem to respect us and tell us they look forward to seeing us set up in their region.

“We are in the process of planning a move to a new facility that is approximately 20,000 square metres that will help us to expand and increase output.”

Morgan says the global mill relining market continues to evolve as high-pressure grinding roll (HPGR) mills and other alternatives to energy-intensive comminution plants gain ground.

“I think that the most significant development in the market is how the level of understanding from the market is changing,” he says.

“The value proposition of mill relining and safety now goes without saying for the majority of mine sites whereas 10 years ago it was still a battle to have people understand and acknowledge that.

“The average age of the people we are dealing with is reducing.

“As the criticality of comminution optimisation evolves so does the skillset of the people that are managing it.

“New and different technology, material science and the associated liner design, maintenance optimisations projects and theories of constraint are all changing the traditional landscape round relining.

“The trend of fully automated systems is not impossible but they are extremely expensive and yet to deliver the full gains that the client has expected.

“Ten ears ago the market expected that AI and robotics were going to take over the world, but the reality is that a significant amount of the market is still trying to understand what that actually looks like.

“Feedback from the market is saying that for the money required to go to a fully automated system, and the actual gains they can potentially realise, the investment is just not worth it at the moment. It’s almost like the argument for home batteries for solar systems.

“When I question the clients about the safety gains, they acknowledge that things like removing people from the mill is absolutely important but they also tell us that there are solutions coming onto the market from liner suppliers and bolt suppliers that make it a far more reasonable investment to get people out of the mill.

“This is allowing them to invest less in things like mill relining systems and invest more in the consumable items that they can try, change, swap or alter for a relatively low adoption cost because they can make changes at the next reline rather than having to depreciate the cost of a capital investment over 10-15 years.”

Morgan says GEARS is expanding into “non-traditional … and [maybe] a few left-field” areas.

“Through a joint venture partnership we are in the process of becoming a manufacturer of patented mineral processing equipment that means that our reliance on traditional mill relining maintenance equipment will be reduced,” he says.

The company was determined, though, to make mill relining equipment and service “one of the strong pillars” that will support its international expansion.

“We are happy to compete in the open market,” Morgan says.

“We focus on what we do. We swim in our lane and we look forward and listen to the market.

“We are not interested in looking behind us to see what our competitors are doing.”

 

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