RBM is highly competitive in world markets thanks to Rio Tinto's proprietary smelting technology and international marketing links through Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium.
We have distributors in most economically active countries in the world.
Our bulk products for export are transported 27 kilometres to the harbour by rail. The Richards Bay Harbour's multi-purpose, bulk-handling plant is one of the largest plants of its kind in the world and we are one of its major customers. The 26-kilometre long conveyor network, designed to handle a wide variety of products, is fully computerised and centrally controlled. There is adequate open storage for products as well as general-purpose sheds and bulk storage bins.
The close proximity to rail and harbour links makes the logistics of moving millions of tons of product throughout the world cost-effective.
At any one time, no fewer than 20 large ocean-going vessels are either at anchorage or on the high seas, transporting our products destined for customer markets across the globe.
Producing minerals and metals essential for modern life
Our operations commenced in 1977 with one dredge mining plant and two furnaces producing approximately 400,000 tons per year of titania slag. In 1986, an additional mining plant and furnace were added, increasing slag output to 750,000 tons per year.
RBM's titania slag capacity increased to one million tons per year and pig iron production went up to 550,000 tons per year during the early 1990s, when a fourth furnace and mining plant were installed.
We currently have the capacity to produce approximately two million tons of products annually, including approximately 100,000 tons per year of rutile and 250,000 tons per year of zircon. Of this, 95 per cent is exported, yielding a world market share of about 25 per cent of titanium feedstock (titania slag and rutile), 33 per cent of the world's zircon output and 25 per cent of the world's high purity pig iron.
Titania slag, which comes from ilmenite, contains 85 per cent titanium dioxide and is our primary product, while rutile contains 94 per cent titanium dioxide.
The largest application of titanium dioxide is as a white pigment representing between 95 and 98 per cent of worldwide TiO2 consumption. The remaining uses are as a flux for electric welding rods and in certain metallurgical and electronic applications.
Titanium dioxide is beneficiated by end-users to provide brilliance and opacity to products such as paints, plastics or paper. It imparts a luminescence to glossy white electronic products such as ultra-modern phones and tablets and kitchen appliances by reflecting and scattering light in the visible spectrum like thousands of tiny mirrors.
Being non-toxic and biologically passive, it is even used in sweets, cosmetics, toothpaste and in sunscreens to absorb ultraviolet rays from the sun. It impedes the weathering and fading action of the sun on products such as paints and plastics.
Manufacturers mainly use rutile in welding rod fluxes as it stabilises the arc and protects the molten metal from oxidation - forming a superior welding joint. In its titanium metal form, it is used extensively in the aerospace and aviation industries because of its lightness, strength, corrosion and heat resistance. These properties also make it ideal for use in artificial hip joints, pacemakers and spectacle frames.
Our high purity pig iron, a bi-product of the smelting operation, is used as a raw material in foundries for the production of ductile iron castings. Ductile iron is used extensively throughout the world for the production of safety critical automotive parts, such as brake callipers and steering knuckles in cars and trucks.
Zircon is used in the production of ceramic tiles and sanitary ware. Refined to zirconia, it is used in a wide range of advanced ceramics, refractories, jewellery, electronic applications and many other industrial and domestic products. Zircon sand is also used in the foundry industry.
Ilmenite, rutile and zircon are common minerals found all over the world, but not always in economic concentrations. One of the exceptions is the coastal area of northern KwaZulu-Natal on the Zululand coast.
The heavy minerals found in the dunes along the coast of northern KwaZulu-Natal originate from inland. Over the years, weathering of host rock has released the minerals, which, because of their durability, relatively high density, and high chemical stability, withstand the weathering process and are transported down rivers to the ocean.
It is from here that the minerals ilmenite, rutile, and zircon originate. Once in the sea, the sand is transported up the coast by currents and wave action. Wave action deposits the sand containing the heavy minerals onto the beaches. From here, the sand is then blown into dunes by the prevailing onshore winds.
From a geological point of view, the ore bodies are highly complex and the behaviour of the minerals in the plant may vary considerably across the ore body. Optimal performance of the separation processes carried out in the plant is thus dependent on investigating and characterising the behaviour of the minerals as they flow through the plant. Flow sheet specification and fine-tuning is achieved through extensive characterisation of the ore body through a series of laboratory and pilot-scale trials.