Lubrication support for a gold mine in Laos.

Unusual travel destinations and adventurous conditions are part of Frank Hohlbaum’s everyday life as an application engineer who specializes in open-gear projects (large industrial facilities with open drives) around the world. He goes to the end of the world for his customers.

Frank Hohlbaum lands in Vientiane, the Laotian capital, late at night. He is on his way to a gold mine, where he will provide technical support to employees. A driver picks him up at the airport. After an adventurous six-hour ride with many bends and turns, he reaches his destination: a remote mountain region.

During his journey and at his destination, he eats at simple roadside restaurants. The food is delicious and varied, although some of the local delicacies – chicken feet, for instance – may take some getting used to for your average European. But Frank Hohlbaum is not your average European. As a BECHEM application engineer, he is responsible for open-gear projects in Asia and supports a gold mine together with the Thai partner company C.T.L. Interlube. Unusual destinations and difficult travel conditions are part of his everyday work, and extraordinary situations are an ordinary occurrence. Like all visitors, his accommodation is in the camp of the mine. Constant electricity is by no means a given here, and it is prudent to keep packaged bread or pastries around for a snack. The heating does not require electricity, however – for it does not exist. When the temperatures in this mountainous region fall to around 3 °C in the winter, the inhabitants wrap up in sleeping bags.

Laotian restaurants offer a true feast for the palate.

Suwin Pradabsuk and Frank Hohlbaum during a break on their way to the gold mine.

One of the largest gold mining projects in Asia is being realized here, in the east of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Once it is completed, the mine will span almost 2,000 square kilometers, making it one of the world’s largest extracting and processing open-pit gold mines. BECHEM lubricants play an important role in this project, as they ensure that the ore is crushed before it is processed. It is one of the largest industrial project in the Democratic Republic, a relatively young country. Laos carries out projects of this scale as an attempt to break free from its difficult economic situation and problematic dependence on contract manufacturing. Consequently, the Laotian government attaches great importance to the mine. A visit to the mine by the Laotian Prime Minister, accompanied by a high-ranking Laotian trade delegation, during Frank Hohlbaum’s last stay further emphasizes the importance of the gold mine to Laos.

Together with mine employees, Frank Hohlbaum examines the gear lubrication of the ball mill.

Contact to the mine operators was established by C.T.L. Interlube, BECHEM’s Thai partner firm. BECHEM already had a say in lubricant-related decisions during the planning phase of the mine. In cooperation with C.T.L. Interlube, engineers in the field of mineral processing were trained and educated about the technical aspects of the project. Thanks to CARL BECHEM Lubricants in Liaoning, China, BECHEM lubricants and their excellent performance were already a household name among the Chinese plant manufacturers. This helped Suwin Pradabsuk, Owner of C.T.L. Interlube, establish BECHEM lubricants as the OEM of the drives of the large mills. Today, he still ensures that the plant is supplied with high-performance lubricants during operation. And there is more: Only few employees of the plant manufacturer and members of the mine staff speak English, which tends to complicate technical discussions considerably. Suwin Pradabsuk acts as an interpreter. He translates from English into Lao, which is then translated into Chinese.

A new lubricant shipment has arrived at the mine.

“The ball and SAG mills areamong the largest of their kind today.”

In addition to the existing production lines with five mills, six new mineral processing lines with one ball mill and a SAG (semi-autogenous grinding) mill have been put into operation and four more are in their planning stage. The plants of these new production lines are from the Chinese plant manufacturers CITIC and NHI. Their ball and SAG mills are among the largest of their kind equipped with an open drive and only one pinion. The gear rim of the largest ball mill has a diameter of approx. 12.5 m; that of the largest SAG mill has a diameter of approx. 14.5 m. The face width ranges from 850 mm to 1010 mm, and the largest mills achieve an output of 750 t/h.

Despite the difficult travel conditions, Frank Hohlbaum and Suwin Pradabsuk enjoy their stays in Laos; they support the mine operators in commissioning and optimizing the plants. Not only have they become important, frequently sought points of contact for all tribological challenges over time, they are also trusted friends and welcome guests in the mine.

A flat tire in Laos. The tire must be changed at the side of a dusty highway in the oppressive Laotian humidity.

After two days at the gold mine, Frank Hohlbaum embarks on his journey back to Germany. The trip from door to door will take him 30 hours. But he is happy to endure this ordeal on a regular basis: after each journey, he returns home with renewed joie de vivre and vivid impressions from the land of a million elephants.

Suwin Pradabsuk during the formal acceptance of the mills, which was prepared at the facilities of the plant manufacturer, NHI, in cooperation with a delegation from the gold mine.

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Frank Hohlbaum
Senior Application Engineer
Heavy Duty Industry

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