Tears were shed as Britain’s last remaining deep coal mine closed in North Yorkshire in December, bringing the curtain down on an industry that once dominated great swathes of the country.
Where there were once one million coal miners in the UK, that number has been decimated and is now limited to a small number of men working at opencast mines.
But despite this, the world’s largest independent lubricant manufacturer, FUCHS, has made the decision to keep its Centre of Excellence for underground mining in England.
FUCHS operates in six continents – every one bar Antarctica – and all overseen from FUCHS’ UK base in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.Far from scaling back its mining division, FUCHS has been able to expand and grow in countries like Australia, US, Russia and – in the last decade China – where both longwall underground and surface mining remain key sectors.
“FUCHS, having its mining headquarters here in Staffordshire, goes back to the days of Century Oils, which was a company that grew rapidly by supplying lubricants to the local mining industry in Stoke-on-Trent,” said Martyn Rushton, Head of Global Mining for the FUCHS Group.
“It’s an historic relationship which goes back well over 100 years. To still have the Centre of Excellence held here at FUCHS UK makes us all exceptionally proud.”
FUCHS acquired Century Oils in 1991 and set its sights on new territories.
Martyn said: “Throughout the 1980s, the UK longwall mining industry was declining rapidly. It was a horrendous period. During the strikes we had to make redundancies and, when the strike was in full flow, we couldn’t even get to the mines.”
“We had to make some deliveries because there was equipment which had to be maintained from a safety aspect. I remember crossing the picket lines and that wasn’t pleasant at all,” Martyn continued.
“But we came through that and when FUCHS took over Century Oils, the focus really switched to overseas, including non English-speaking countries. We went to Poland, Russia and the Ukraine where there was a huge amount of business to be won.”
Today FUCHS’ most significant markets include South America, South Asia and the Nordics.
Each of these present their own unique challenges. Martyn detailed: “Often these mines are in the middle of nowhere, which can be a logistical nightmare. And then each country is different. In Ukraine at the moment, for example, there is still conflict. All of the coal that heats the Ukraine comes from the Donets Basin. We are still managing to supply product, manufactured in the UK, to that area every week.”
“Some of the coal mines have been critically damaged and may never open again – but even during hard times it’s in everyone’s interests to keep some of the lights on.”
“Russia is a huge market for us”, Martyn explained, “but we’ve seen the devaluation of the Russian Rouble and Western products can be very difficult to sell – or impossible under an embargo. However, what we do have in Russia, is a newly-commissioned modern manufacturing plant, which has meant we’ve been able to maintain our sales. We supply the plant with some very special super concentrates made in the UK.”
“The Kuznetsk coal basin is in the middle of the Siberian Plain. The Siberian winter can be quite challenging. The coldest I’ve experienced is minus 38 Celsius. It was certainly a test for our Western clothing.”
He said the key to FUCHS’ success is respecting different cultures and offering personal service and expertise. “Our technical people are brought from within the industry – and that’s crucial.”
“We bring in mining engineers and FUCHS can train them in lubrication. Industry knowledge is key when you’re sitting there with a mining engineer. They recognise you know what you’re talking about.”
“Deep mining is very dangerous and our customers need to know they can trust us. In a deep mine, you stand on a lift and you might go 600 or 800 metres underground. The products have to stand up to the harsh conditions and they have to do their job.”
“We send out our people to countries to provide training seminars and show them how to maintain fluids and so on. We also bring people to the UK and use our fantastic facilities and labs dedicated to mining. We show our customers the benefits of the products and that is key.”
“Moreover, the members of our global mining division, from different subsidiaries, meet on a regular basis, particularly at large trade fairs, to exchange ideas.”
Martyn predicts difficult years ahead for the mining industry due to the plummeting price of coal, climate control issues and the continuing decline in the steel industry.
Martyn said that longwall coal mining will continue to grow in some developing countries as Industrial growth requires the continued use of coal – but he said FUCHS’ main focus is growing the non-longwall mining side of the business, particularly in South Africa, where in 2014 FUCHS acquired Lubritene.
“This year will be tough for all mining activities,” he said. “Will coal mining continue? Yes, and it will expand in certain countries. We are continuing to develop and supply specialised products, such as optimised coal froth flotation reagents for recovery of coal from mines. FUCHS has a specialist flotation facility in Poland with a dedicated laboratory, working with raw feed from the mines, formulations comprising Frothers and Collectors can be optimised. Flotation reduces the % of Ash in the coal making a valuable fuel for energy production which would otherwise be lost as waste”.
“In places like China, coal mining will diminish because it has to reduce its emissions. Going forward, our main aim is to grow the surface mining side of the business globally,” he explained. “The demand for minerals will increase. We’re going more and more electric so there will be an increase in the need for copper, for example."
And last but not least, Sustainability is a key strategy for the FUCHS Group. In a recent supplier evaluation programme published by EcoVadis for GlaxoSmithKline, FUCHS Lubricants UK were awarded a gold recognition level as one of the top 5% performers.
“There is huge potential for growth – worldwide there are still many opportunities for the team to pursue, and we’re delighted to be driving that forward from an area with such a rich mining heritage as Staffordshire,” concluded Martyn.
Edited from press release by Harleigh Hobbs
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcoal.com/product-news/05042016/uk-leading-the-way-for-mining-excellence-523/