Despite the severe disruption of the global movement of goods during the early stages of Covid-19, most countries and companies were able to introduce mechanisms to allow for activity to resume, notes independent consulting firm of engineers and scientists SRK Consulting principal consultant Lisl Pullinger.
“Among the lessons learnt was to more fully harness the communication and data technologies that were already used in daily operations. Certainly, for consulting companies, virtual engagement with clients became the norm. We learnt that we could accomplish a great deal over the traditional and new communication platforms – and indeed rapidly returned to a ‘new normal’ level of productivity,” comments SRK director and principal consultant Andrew van Zyl.
Nevertheless, many procurement risks were highlighted by the pandemic, and as a result, there could be more interest in supply chain integration among mines – especially between those that operate on adjacent licences or relatively close to one another, notes Pullinger.
“Rather than procuring purely for themselves, a procurement hub could enable mines to share deliveries of the same products for greater efficiency. Technology now allows for the mapping of supply chains, as well as the closer tracking of where products are produced. Applying these systems in a transparent way could enable a cluster of mines to source more collaboratively,” she adds.
“Volatile commodity price trends will also potentially make supply chains more complex, as mines will need to adapt quickly to changes in production targets and inputs. On the upside, technology is catering to these new requirements with the development of systems to manage more complex procurement,” Van Zyl notes.
SRK constantly innovates its services in line with the growing demands of the mining industry and, as a consequence of supply chains being challenged, mines are looking for ways of improving the resilience of their procurement function, Pullinger comments.
“Our detailed understanding of on-mine processes, as well as environmental and social impacts and expectations, can assist in driving an urgent focus on effective local procurement options.”
The future of supply chains is not limited to efforts towards optimisation, she adds, noting that there is a growing element of environmental, social and governance (ESG) good practice that mine procurement needs to address.
Growing ESG demands, through international good practice and national regulations, have led to SRK partnering with Mining Shared Value, a project of Engineers Without Borders Canada.
The partnership enables SRK to assist clients in applying the Mining Local Procurement Reporting Mechanism – a set of disclosures that aims to standardise how the global mining industry and host countries create policies, as well as implement, measure and engage in local procurement.
“A mine’s supply chain can be a powerful aspect of achieving shared value and community resilience, primarily through local procurement, supplier development and enterprise support,” Pullinger states.
“For more than 45 years, we’ve worked across many jurisdictions and have extensive practical experience in dealing with the local conditions of important mining regions. This enables us to now provide remote support, along with in-person services, to efficiently assist clients with specialist project and operational support,” says Van Zyl.
The enhancements in our way of working remotely and the virtual engagement with clients enables us, more than ever, to offer them expertise using SRK’s global network, overcoming the complexity and cost of travel, adds Pullinger.
“We can even enhance the skills-sharing element of projects, by ‘twinning’ our consultants with site personnel for ongoing mentoring and technical guidance.”
With SRK’s services extending across the life cycle of mining projects – from exploration to operation and closure – many of its studies rely on large volumes of data, which ensures that SRK is continually improving its data storage and sharing capacity.
“Simultaneously, we are innovating strategies to gather data from sites when access is difficult. This includes the use of GPS and imaging technologies, and leveraging the power of geo-tagged images to help analyse geotechnical properties on rock-faces. Drones are also being used to gather high-quality images in openpits. These technologies can assist in our work in rock engineering and slope stability,” Van Zyl concludes.