With its name derived from the Latin word
granatum, meaning pomegranate because of its resemblance to the
fruit’s red, shiny seeds, garnet, once
prized principally as a gemstone, has for a long time received
the bulk of its demand from more utilitarian
As a refractory mineral, garnet is
consumed in small amounts compared to other minerals in this
field, like magnesia and alumina. It is also used as an
abrasive and in high pressure abrasive water jet (AWJ) cutting
equipment by electronics manufacturers and the nuclear industry
to ensure smooth surface edges on cut metals and glass, and as
a filtration mineral.
|Cutting it: Garnets were
traditionally prized as gemstones but are now valued more
for their abrasive qualities (source: Mouser
These niche applications have helped
shield garnet from the worst effects of the slowdown in Chinese
industrial growth, but that does not mean that the garnet
business is free from challenges, as Raymond Ding, managing
director of Chinese mineral producer and trader, Wuxi Ding Long
Co. Ltd, explains.
Although its main business in garnets,
Wuxi Ding Long, based in China’s Jiangsu province,
exports various industrial minerals and mineral packaging
products from China through its industrial mineral products
The trading company specialises in
abrasive, refractory and foundry minerals, which aside from
garnet also include sillimanite,
ceramic foundry sand, ceramic proppants, chromites, mica, bentonite, manganese ore,
sand and high purity quartz.
It sources its materials mainly from the
Jiangsu, Inner Mongolia, Henan and Hebei regions in China as
well as importing minerals from Tamil Nadu in India and from
suppliers in the US and the Middle East. It exports its
products globally, to Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand
as well as to customers in Africa the Middle East.
For its imported minerals, Wuxi covers the
whole Chinese domestic market with more than 600 active
customers across China. The company has also established four
strategic logistics facilities along the China east coast area
at Dalian, Shanghai, Wuxi, Ningbo and Huangpu.
Although it has diversified supply and
customer bases, Ding says that having a strong position in a
number of niches is important to ensure the health of its
Where do you source your garnet
Garnet, a natural abrasive mineral, is our
most popular mineral. We focus on two types of garnet
– alluvial and beach. We are exclusive agent for the
Chinese market and the largest producer of this beach garnet
from India, which we source from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
India-based VV Mineral is the largest
producer of heavy mineral sands and we are the agent for them
for the Chinese market. We import around 9,000-10,000 tpa
garnet from this company a year.
Crushed hard rock garnet is produced in
China and we source this material domestically.
Which markets do you supply your
Our garnets are used in the applications
of sandblasting, water jet cutting and water filtration.
Abrasive water jet-cutting (AWJ)
technology is getting more popular worldwide. Therefore, global
demand for AWJ cutting-grade garnet is increasing steadily,
including in China’s domestic market.
Garnet is also widely used in multi-layer
water filtration and anti-skid in addition to the
environment-protection construction industry.
The major advantage of water jet lies in
the fact that the process is cold – there is no heat
affected zone. Traditional mechanical cutting methods such as
cropping and welding destroy the structural integrity of such
materials. Likewise, existing thermal processes such as laser
or plasma cutting deform the edges of cut composites and can
also create stress, microfissures and structural changes.
Water jet cutting doesn’t
exhibit these effects.
Where do you see new growth
The AWJ-cutting market is really one of
the strong growing applications for garnet. The nuclear
industry is also growing in China, as the country moves away
from coal power stations. Nuclear power operators tend to use
water jet cutting equipment to help manufacture their plants
and we see opportunities in this area.
How has the recent turmoil in the
Chinese stock market had any effect on your
The Shanghai stock market saw its biggest
fall in history [at the end of July]. Last year, the Chinese
government implemented a strategy to prop up the domestic share
market to help improve the Chinese economy and
China’s central bank reduced interest to get more
money into the system.
In recent times, everyone has wanted to
come to this market in order to make some money. The Chinese
stock market is like a casino with people gambling on it.
Many people were out to make quick money
and this has contributed to stocks tumbling. When some people
saw the market growing, they put money into it and then when it
failed, they felt scared and started to take their cash
The government has recently reported that
the second quarter GDP stood at 7% growth. The financial sector
makes up 1% of this figure – industry output and
profits are poor.
The stock market challenge and low
commodity prices are all negatively impacting on the
Over the past two decades, China has
pumped money into ports, airports, motorways and buildings.
These have generated significant demand in the past, but now
there is the problem of oversupply, so there is not enough
space for investors to make big investments.
The fastest growing sector was
China’s housing market – especially new
builds in Beijing. However, there are now too many empty houses
with nobody buying them. So, the property market has cooled
down as developers are finding it difficult to sell their
properties. Hence, there is a lack of investment in office and
|The word for garnet comes from
the Latin word for pomegranate, granatum, because of the
mineral's resemblance to the fruit's red, shiny seeds
This is important because the property
market is a driver for the construction and mining industries.
Materials such as steel, metals, concrete and glass depend on
this. All big commodities are dropping in price due to lack of
demand for these materials.
What about the refractories
Due to a lack of appetite for construction
materials and steel, demand for refractories is low. The
economies of Brazil, China and Indonesia, which are consumers
of Chinese products, have slowed down which has also impacted
on demand for our materials.
In addition to this, the US dollar is
strong and this affects all other currencies. As a consequence,
Chinese exports have also slowed down.
Many factories don’t have
enough jobs today so the purchases of our garnet products have
decreased. We have seen around a 5-10% reduction in
What is the Chinese government
doing to help mining companies?
China is hoping to develop an Asian
Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to help progression in
China and countries in the Asia-Pacific region. It aims to lend
money to build roads, ports, mobile phone towers and other
forms of infrastructure in our neighbour countries in Asia. The
organisation and regulation is ready and China is the largest
shareholder in this bank.
Chinese manufacturing will also provide
all the products to help these areas. This will help create a
new big market for Asian countries.
Wuxi supplies abrasives to Chinese
manufacturers. We can benefit from this new scheme if it is
successful and we can also get finance and lots of orders from
our neighbouring countries.
In Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, they
all have infrastructure that is still underdeveloped. China has
opportunities to provide these countries with their
Urbanisation is another strategy adopted
by the Chinese government. This will also bring opportunities
as demand grows for construction materials.
In the long term, I feel that China will
still be an important market for the global mineral industry,
despite all the economic problems, low commodity prices and low
demand for materials — especially with the
introduction the AIIB.