The mining industry has been one of the hardest hit by the recession. Mines across the country have seen massive retrenchments, capital expenditure budget cuts and the implementation of across-the-board cost-cutting measures.
All of this has had a knock-on effect on businesses that supply the industry. In short, it’s not the best market to be in at the moment. Unless you are Natalie Killassy, that is. In the past year the CEO of Stitch Wise has received international recognition for her contribution to economic development in Africa and has perfected a new product that will save mines money, and improve their safety performance.
The company first came to prominence in the local mining industry by perfecting a geotextile material used in what is known as back fill bags. Killassy explains how they work: “When rock is extracted from underground it comes to the surface and is processed to extract the gold. The waste left over is pumped into back fill bags which release water but retain particles. The filling solidifies and becomes an active support mechanism, reducing the magnitude of earth vibrations and rockfalls and improving ventilation in the tunnels.”
The bags have been in use since the 1980s but Stitch Wise perfected the material out of which they are made. “Previously,a lot of the waste leaked out but our material allows only the ultra-fine waste and the water to escape. This makes for a stronger, safer product,” she explains.
It’s a product that put the company on the international mining map, and the past year saw it being further perfected. Killassy’s latest innovation means back fill bags can be filled with layers of earth and steel meshing known as reinforced earth, rather than mining material waste.
It’s safer, can withstand greater pressure underground and enables mines to continue to recover gold ore left over in waste material. “It will also save mines money on electricity costs because the new system is less dependent on cars for waste material transport.
The development was driven by our desire to come up with more cost-effective products for an industry that is under the financial whip,”Killassy adds. This year Killassy also bagged the international Veuve Clicquot Business Women of the Year award for Economic Development, a recognition for innovation, sustainability and social impact.Uplifting disabled people and providing them with opportunities is important to the company and some 50% of its workforce is disabled.