The sustainability of managing the environmental process of agglomerating smelter by-products
This study was commissioned to examine the factors that affect the sustainability of businesses that manage the environmental process of agglomerating smelter fines in South Africa. Ores are produced from mines, crushed and screened and supplied to the smelters. These in turn produce alloys as final products through the furnace smelting method. The alloys are further crushed and screened to customer specifications. During this process, dust and fines are generated along the value chain. These fines are harvested and converted by the contract agglomerators into bigger sizes which are fed back to the smelters. This creates value and a closed loop. An extensive literature survey on sustainability centring on the PESTEL and SWOT techniques was done followed by a qualitative survey approach. The population included all smelters in South Africa [15 in total]. A sample of four smelters and their contract agglomerators were selected out of the fifteen. A total of eight top managers were selected for interviews. The interview was structured to extract details on the research topic. The interviews were transcribed and analysed. From both the literature survey and the interviews, it was concluded that the main factors affecting the long term sustainability of agglomerators were identified as § The uncertainties in the regulatory framework of the governing authorities puts pressure § Technology and development can wipe out the briquetting route especially the DC furnaces § Environmental solutions makes agglomerating very attractive and viable § Unstable global alloy market brings uncertainties § Agglomerators’ intellectual property § Good Product Quality § Inconsistent Quality of screened fines from the Smelter § High electricity costs and erratic supply § Cyclic demand/Client changing the strategic scope from the Smelter § Flexibility and adaptability of the contractors § Adequate and clear communication and exchange of information. These eleven factors were identified as critical in the long term sustainability of contract agglomerating businesses. It was recommended that the Smelter/Contractor should establish and maintain communication channels that allow uninterrupted exchange of information and data to allow either party to plan. In doing this, a lot of uncertainties will be managed. Furthermore, the combination of a volatile and cyclical state of the agglomerating market coupled with factors like smelter/client making short- and long-term strategic changes make it crucial for agglomeration firms to be flexible and adaptable to these changes in order to ensure its sustainability in the long term.