There is “much discussion” in the global mining consulting industry around digitisation and safety in mines, says engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon client director for resources Dr Eduard Vorster.
The interrelation between digital advancements and safety is an important trend and lends itself to not just training people better and working more safely, but also creating a platform for positive discussion regarding safe and useful work environments, he says.
“In terms of digitisation, the focus is not only on the design and operation of a plant but also the future of how people work and interact with each other, the mine and communities.”
He notes that clients must also ensure that they remain digitally ready to stay “at least on par” with their peers and maximise opportunities and improve safety conditions. Further, agile mining consultants who can add value in these spaces are able to “win work and shine”, he points out.
Another significant trend emerging in the mining consulting industry is that consultancies do not have to work in isolation, Vorster comments. “Partnering to bring the best people and best solutions for the client, the environment and society, while holding economic prowess, is becoming the order of the day.”
Following the trend of partnership, consulting companies like Aurecon assists clients by helping them gauge their digital maturity and showing them their own maturity in relation to the industry as a whole, Vorster explains.
He states that, on project levels, Aurecon uses Building Information Management technologies, visualisation and integrated data management to ensure that, when their client takes ownership of the parts the company designs, the next phase of operation and maintenance is set up. This is done client- specifically and to the best practice, he adds.
“Digital is a challenge that requires the best of available ideas and technologies. In the spirit of partnership, and being a partner rather than a consultant to our clients, we also give our clients the benefits of our partners’ expert knowledge as and when it is needed.”
“The state of the local mining consulting industry is neither totally good nor totally bad,” Vorster mentions, adding though that it is “very different” from the industry of five years ago.
As there are currently few significant capital projects locally, consultants who have made it their primary business to deliver large projects are constrained by the lack of current major capital investment, he says.
“There is, however, an opportunity for mining consultants to work more closely with clients and add value where clients need it most. These value additions are often not in the core business of mining, but rather related to how mining consultants manage relationships with national government, local and municipal government, and societies they interact with.”
This is also where the most potential for growth lies for consulting engineers in mining, he says, suggesting that consultants “find the spaces where they can deliver value for clients on issues that are not necessarily their clients’ core business”. Aurecon does this by assisting its clients with interfacing ‘outside the fence of the mine’, Vorster comments.
“We have deep relationships with municipalities, government departments and other agencies that, for instance, in the case of transforming an asset into another business, are of immense value to clients. Aurecon assists them to speak to the right people, bring the right information and solve the applicable issues for their main project objectives to be fulfilled.”
Further, the digitisation of the entire mining value chain is an important aspect to start exploring for opportunities, as there is change and growth in the way that mines are designed and operated. There is also “enormous” demand for skills development in the local mining industry, as “the consulting engineering space has very much been dominated by white males in South Africa . . . and there is a big opportunity for women and black professionals to be active in this space as the mining industry continues along its transformation journey”, adds Vorster.
Transformation aspirations entail upskilling not only individuals, but are also about upskilling the consulting industry as a whole, he stresses. “Consulting companies are accustomed to working in partnership with emerging consulting firms, but there should also be a focus on developing these smaller partners to become future competitors.”
Aurecon strives to develop its smaller partners so that they can become significant players in the mining industry, he says.