Congo Equipment is the Caterpillar dealer for DRC and speaks to GBR about operating in that country.
Congo Equipment began as a JV between Barloworld Equipment and Tractafric, and serves as the exclusive Caterpillar dealership in the Katanga region. Can you highlight the company’s role in the mining sector and strategy for growth?
We provide machines, services, parts and after-sales support to most of the major players in the DRC mining industry. A significant part of our business is Customer Service Agreements (CSAs) whereby we have a presence on-site with the large customers to carry out maintenance of their equipment. From a growth perspective, we grow with our customers and also look to become involved with emerging players. Our key service offering is to look after our customers and ensure that their machines are continuously available, giving them the lowest operating costs through enhanced efficiency, technical knowledge and technology.
How does the market demand for Caterpillar products in the DRC differ from other regions and in what areas do you see an opportunity for growth?
Because of the high grades of copper in the DRC, you will find that mining equipment is smaller than in other parts of Africa. In Zambia you have massive operations moving large amounts of earth because of the lower grades, whereas here the relevant products tend to be articulated trucks and up to about 100 ton trucks.
On the energy side, our customers need to source a greater supply of power in some way and for us this represents a potential market because we have equipment in that range. In fact we have two customers in the DRC that are running power plants that are powered by Caterpillar equipment.
What innovations in technology can we expect to see beginning to play a greater role in the Caterpillar brand?
Caterpillar is always looking to make equipment less costly to operate and more durable, specifically through technology concerned with the monitoring of equipment. Through a centralized system, we can monitor the machines on behalf of the customer via either satellite or cellphone linkages.
For example, when we see a machine overheating or something going wrong, we can contact the control room and alert them to the issue in real time.
Driver safety systems are also beginning to play a greater role in this market. Technology mounted in the equipment monitors the driver, and if it senses that the operator is beginning to fall asleep, an audible alarm goes off and the chair begins to vibrate. If this is insufficient to wake the individual, an alert is sent to the control room. Caterpillar is also doing a lot of work on autonomous mining in both underground and surface mining applications. Going forward, better understanding of the safety aspects will be critical to recognizing the potential for driverless vehicles.
Optimization is not always related to technological innovation. What services does Congo Equipment offer to help their clients achieve greater efficiencies in their operations?
We can best assist our customers in reducing costs and achieving greater efficiency through the maintenance of their equipment. In certain cases, we lead comprehensive time and motion studies to examine how operations can be improved. By looking at the mining condition and analyzing the way they load or haul and the cycle times, we can discern where there are delays and what is causing them in order to improve productivity.
What sort of support infrastructure does Congo Equipment have in place in the DRC?
Our capabilities in-country play a significant role in our success. We currently employ around 900 people, and we are in the process of constructing completely new facilities near the Lubumbashi International Airport. We began building a few years ago, but stopped in 2016 because of the economic conditions. We recently restarted construction, and the new location will include an administration building, training facilities, parts warehouse, workshops, and testing facilities that will allow us to strip down machines and carry out major rebuilds. In Kolwezi we already have a component rebuild center that covers almost all of the equipment we have in the country, and we also have a component rebuild facility on-site for one of our large customers.
Besides our investment in facilities, it is also our mission to develop local people. We have expatriates working in the business, but in the long term our objective is to transfer knowledge and skills to the local employees. One of the challenges in DRC is the lack of formal technical training institutions for artisans, and we therefore have our own in-house facilities to provide this type of training.
How has the increased level of Chinese investment impacted Congo Equipment?
There is significant entry of Chinese customers into the market that are not necessarily involved with the products we supply. Although they often bring Chinese products into the country, there are certain ranges of equipment where they revert to us.
It is difficult to compete in that market for two reasons. Firstly, we do not have machines that can compete from a pricing perspective because we provide a top-quality product that attracts a premium price. Secondly, the way the deals are struck presents a challenge because many are done either government to government or directly in China. Although we have a presence in China, we are not always included in private tenders. Nevertheless, we do find that certain Caterpillar products attract Chinese customers because of the quality and output performance.
How you build a longterm business strategy in the DRC, and what is Congo Equipment’s vision for itself moving forward?
In the long-term you need to understand your purpose and strategy, and our goal is to ensure that our customers receive sustainable support and that we deliver results to our shareholders. Caterpillar stands for quality, innovation, and technology, and we pride ourselves in always being on the leading edge. That is what makes the brand sustainable. We as a company are here for the long-term, so people who want to work with us will find us here well into the future. The DRC has some of the richest copper and cobalt reserves in the world, and we believe that by properly managing the risk around perceived instability, there are fantastic opportunities for growth.