Tuesday, 4 March 2014

In praise of SMEs

Last month's Society of Mining Engineers (SME) meeting in Salt Lake City, was a huge event, with around 6700 delegates and 800 exhibit booths. Many of the exhibitors and sponsors also participate in MEI Conferences, notably the big boys such as FLSmidth, Outotec and Metso.
But among the major companies exhibiting their wares were many Small and Medium Enterprises, and it is these SMEs that I sing the praises of in this posting.
Two of these small companies, Starkey & Associates, and RSG Inc. are regular exhibitors at the SME events, as well as MEI's Comminution conferences, Starkey & Associates also being sponsors of Comminution '14 and Comminution '12.

John and Donna Starkey at SME 2014

With Chris Martin in Salt Lake City
With 5 full time employees and a rotating co-op student position, Starkey & Associates (S&A) is a small business by conventional definition but with a worldwide reach of a big business through its working relationships with a consortium of 10 ore testing laboratories that are positioned around the globe to provide their suite of laboratory test services to clients in the mining and mineral processing industry.  S&A was founded in 2000 by John Starkey and is now a recognized global leader in ore hardness measurement, grinding circuit design and optimization, and general process engineering design and consulting services.  S&A is now introducing new testing methods that will provide more rapid, cost effective and accurate testing of SAG and ball mill hardness for geo-metallurgical testing programs than have previously been available. In addition, S&A is expanding its design and consulting expertise into fine grinding applications beyond traditional ball milling through the provision of access to testing facilities using other fine grinding technologies.
Starkey & Associates' Veroljub Mihalovic, John Starkey,Nancy Lepore,
Kingsley Larbi, Jenna Hedderson and Michel Brissette
Chris Martin, a 1980 graduate of UMIST, UK, formed RSG Inc. in 1991, having identified a need for more efficient classification in the kaolin and marble industries specifically for vertical roller mills. He worked on mechanical designs and applied for a USA patent during 1991 and early 1992. The first order was taken in early 1992 for one MCS-500 High Efficiency Air classifier to be retrofitted on a vertical roller mill, at this time the company having no office, no plant, no employees. The first installation was an enormous success and during the period 1992 to 1995 the company sold a further 12 systems (still without office or employees) and in 1994 the USA Patent was granted. In 1995 the  office and pilot plant was built in Sylacauga Alabama and the first employee joined. In 1999 RSG invented, designed and built the first ever mill for dry ultrafine grinding of calcium carbonate, and today the company has 12 employees and a 3000m2 pilot plant and test facility.
Chris Martin (4th left) and staff with large machine ready for shipment to Canada
It is interesting to see how a huge event such as SME compares to a relatively small but focused event such as an MEI Conference in the eyes of such small companies. Chris Martin explains "SME offers exposure to over 6000 attendees, Comminution '14 around 200; naturally the cost to the small exhibitor cannot be based upon a head count alone. Ultimately participation at a show or conference must yield results to the small manufacturer, this is not an abstract branding exercise. Comminution '14 offers a high concentration of potential clients as well as contact with former colleagues and friends within the industry. The coffee breaks, lunches and social functions are an extremely important part of the event. The client contact is normally in terms of hours rather than a few minutes as on a booth at SME. At the end of the event you have had chance to meet with every attendee. SME offers a broader audience, although not an out and out trade show experience it offers a less intimate feel to marketing. The exhibitor may not necessarily make contact with all of the leads he would like to. Both events serve the small manufacturer effectively if part of a long term marketing plan".

As a partner in a very small business it is great to see SMEs such as S&A and RSG thriving in a world of companies of ever increasing size.

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