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Karl Maslo | EXSA, Quantex and the innovation as an explosive core
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EXSA, Quantex and the innovation as an explosive core

Breca Group, an explosives company, reinvented their business with a technology that challenges the status quo, pollutes less and saves millions of dollars. Today makes innovation the natural state of your day to day. 

Breca Group, an explosives company, reinvented their business with a technology that challenges the status quo, pollutes less and saves millions of dollars. Today, it makes innovation the natural state of your day to day.

 

“A company that does not have the chip for innovation, in both the short and long term, will exit the market.” says Karl Maslo bluntly, the regional CEO of EXSA, the explosives company of the Breca Group. He knows what he’s doing. It is - or was, for him and the company that he leads - a matter of survival. Five years ago, EXSA decided to invest in the construction of a petrochemical plant to manufacture low density porous ammonium nitrate, a fundamental component of the explosives, which it imported and used in its products, and which had become more expensive due to the concentration of production in an international oligopoly. The problem is that there was no Camisea gas available for the plant and, when they found some, it was so expensive that the project lost its value. What does an explosives company do when it doesn’t have its primary component? Is there room for innovation in an industry that seems, literally, written on stone?

 

The “no” answer was supported by decades of history, from the 50’s of the 20th century, when an agricultural fertilizer, porous ammonium nitrate, began being used to produce anfo, and it replaced the dynamite in operations where it was more efficient and functional, like open pit mining. But what happened was unthinkable: EXSA challenged the status quo. Maslo created what he called the “Crazy Committee”, a multidisciplinary innovation team that, after 12 months of research, developed Quantex, an explosive mixture without the aforementioned component. It generates 18% less pollution and 30% more savings, between the cost of the same blasting and rock fragmentation. (That is) millions of dollars in the great mines of Peru. EXSA redefined itself and now aims to rewrite the industry. The lesson is clear: it’s not just about seeing what innovation is for, says Maslo, but “to understand where the shot is coming from, and to be prepared to dodge it or to look for solutions that may help you.”

 

Technology, savings and energy

 

The change was explosive. The first companies to bet on Quantex were Southern Peru - with Toquepala and Cuajone - and Yanacocha. One year after its launch, 33% of the Peruvian explosives market for rock fragmentation was theirs. Today that number is 43%, and it’s already tested in the Chilean and Colombian markets, with an eye for the entire region. But beyond the explosives, Quantex is a technology that can only be applied by trained technical personnel and special EXSA trucks, which also travel through Chinalco and Antapaccay since last year. The impact of its use is threefold: financial, technical and environmental, a joint effect that Maslo summarizes in a simple manner: “With the same amount of Quantex and traditional explosives, you produce more energy with Quantex,” he explains. More energy is more efficient in rock fragmentation., which transcends the explosion. EXSA is measuring the benefits of Quantex “downstream”, that is, in the excavation and crushing of a smaller and easier to process rock.

 

But what makes Quantex advance at that speed? “It has been so revolutionary that it has changed the way the industry looks at explosives,” says a convinced Dario Villalobos, head of technical assistance at EXSA. What EXSA did, he explains, was to change the low density porous ammonium nitrate to a high density one in a new formula - Quantex - and developed a gasified solution that enhances it. This increases its volume in the drills, those 15 meter deep holes in the ground, drilled by the machinery by the same name to be filled with the same mixture and, when flying (listen here to an explosion), dig up what will later be a pit. The greater volume generated by the gasification saves the mine explosives, but, in addition, has a greater energetic power. Math doesn’t lie: calculate a 2 digits amount in dollars and multiply that by the 7,000 drills that fill a large mine each year. Now add the amount, directly, to the last line of the income statement. That number can add up to US $10 million.

 

The mixture - prepared in situ, in the truck, and then poured into the drills - no longer uses 6% oil, but rather 3%, which makes it eco-friendly, since it eliminates the so-called “brown smoke”, which after the explosion (imagine the shots in the air from the drills) extends to the zones of influence. The environmental effect is a reduction of up to 18% of the greenhouse gases, according to an ISO certificate by the Swiss company, SGS. In the face of the subsequent processing of the rock, Quantex leaves a “finer granulometry”, but, beyond that, its technology adapts to the needs of the client: the mixture that the truck delivers will acquire the needed density, high or low, for a hard or soft rock, according to the gasified solution applied to it. It is a 360 degree change away from the classic heavy anfo, which reaches the mining operations in different products for each occasion. “This is the main advantage provided by Quantex technology. With a single product, we can work with rocks of different levels of hardness”, summarizes Villalobos.

 

The path of innovation

 

Facing another market three years ago, that of underground mining, EXSA decided to invest in a plant that manufactures a series of products that, until then, had been imported and makes up the initiation systems. Every explosive requires a detonator: before, it was a wick connected to a gunpowder line (imagine Wile E. Coyote and his box of TNT) and today it’s a computerized electronic system consisting of seven parts. Each one requires a different production process in a plant that has a calculated investment of $80 million. The initial investigation led two EXSA technicians to travel around the world - the majority specialized in a single component - from China to Russia, passing through countries in Europe as well as South Africa, the United States, Brazil and Chile. The Babel of technology resulted in Nazca, the plant that EXSA is about to inaugurate in Lurin. Maslo doesn’t call it innovation, but the fact that it is the first plant in the region and the second in the world with the automated assembly of detonators - and the sum of technology has reduced its investment to US $40 million - makes it impossible to snatch the title.

 

Innovation is in EXSA’s DNA, Maslo says. But it’s undeniable that Quantex put her back in the front row. That “crazy committee” that developed this technology is now officially the open innovation committee and, since April, has a senior manager at the helm, Valeria Bruno. Just a few months ago, the innovation hub of the Breca Group helped her and a group of executives from EXSA to define their reasons for innovation: the “evidence of cost reduction and efficiency” required by customers. That is what the committee is aiming for today, the committee which is made up of chemical R&D engineers, marketing professionals and new product management, continuous involvement, finance, knowledge management and the commercial department, which are not necessarily C-level. The removal of hierarchical systems is the base of the team that continues leading Maslo. And the proposal is clear: that innovation is independent even of itself, and transcends circumstances and needs. That, he insists, will be his legacy: “That the day I leave, this will continue on its own, and the future of the company is assured.”

 
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11 september, 2017

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