Mining consultancy looks to increase footprint

26th April 2013 By: Gia Costella

Mining consultant VBKom reports that it has entered into two joint ventures (JVs) this year to expand its reach and expertise in the mining industry.

“Our approach is to integrate all aspects of the mining business, including technical, social, environmental and economic considerations, among others, in the development of a life-of-mine plan. “We predict a challenge for mines in recruiting and retaining technical mining-engineering skills.

“We regard the future of mine planning as shifting more towards the consulting industry, with mines focusing on production challenges,” says VBKom CEO and principal mining engineer Manie Kriel.

The first JV was launched last month and comprises VBKom and Australia-based mining enterprise optimisation company Whittle Consulting. The JV will trade as Inani and aims to improve the enterprise value of mining portfolios for multiple mines, processes and commodities.

“This will ensure that VBKom is involved in mining projects at an early strategic level, enhancing our project pipeline. “Following these strategic evaluations and mine optimisation studies, we will perform more detailed designs, scheduling and equipment studies that are VBKom’s core business.

“Through Inani, we will also provide training on the Whittle Consulting software in Africa,” says Kriel.

The second JV, Prodelko, which was launched in February at the Investing in African Mining Indaba, comprises VBKom and partners, including infrastructure development company Bigen Africa and Australia-based consulting engineering and project management firm Wave International.

“Prodelko focuses on project delivery and implementation and our partners add a wealth of experience to other engineering disciplines. This means we can service a much larger need, specifically in the infrastructure and materials handling space.

“When adding the three partners’ capacity, the combined team comprises more than 600 engineers. This will enable us to provide mining technical work for clients who need a full solution, which would not have come our way before,” says Kriel.

He notes that the company, which started out as a mining consultancy focusing on openpit and opencast mining projects, has grown over the past year into a consultancy providing underground mining engineering and specialist rehabilitation planning.

“We have also been fortunate enough to be involved in several exciting projects in the energy commodities sector, including coal mining company Coal of Africa’s Makhado coal project, the Vele coal project and the Greater Soutspanberg project, all in Limpopo, as well as Swakop Uranium’s significant Namibian project,” says Kriel.

He notes that although VBKom’s team of engineers are specialists in feasibility studies and longer-term strategic planning, the company has, during the past year, experienced a great demand for its operational and short-term
mine-planning skills.

“We have been able to assist mining company Kudumane Manganese Resources with short-term planning services and mining-contractor management. “Operational improvement studies and support are also increasing in an industry that is under siege from those in the social, environmental and political arenas.

“Investments in South Africa-based mining houses are significantly less than five years ago and many traditional South African mining houses are considering diversification operations outside the country,” states Kriel.

He notes that, as most of South Africa’s tier-one mining assets are aging, opportunities in this regard are more often found north of the border.

“The Southern African Devel-opment Community region is attractive and the West African region even more so. It is increas- ingly challenging to build a robust business case for new mining projects in South Africa, as our mining industry is mature,” says Kriel.

To remain relevant to developments in the mining world, VBKom must advise their clients on a strategic level and remain diversified, he notes.

“Therefore, it is also important for us to remain involved with the Mining Engineering Department at the University of Pretoria, where several exciting technological developments have been introduced since we became involved in 2008.

“The department has a well-balanced programme, where the technical and technological developments of students are world-class, with a focus on training and developing soft skills, such as thinking processes, team dynamics, mentoring and leadership,” he says.

Future Plans

Going forward, Kriel notes that the company has identified several growth areas.

“Apart from mining engineering technical planning, these include infrastructure planning, logistics, mine optimisation and operational support.

“We are currently in a good position with regard to the specialised mining of commodities such as iron-ore, coal, uranium, manganese, copper, nickel and diamonds; we are positioning ourselves for improvements in platinum and gold fundamentals,” he says.

Kriel adds that the company also has a team of five mining engineers who are learning French to make the most of opportunities in French-speaking mining destinations over the next five years.

“Continued training and development of the VBKom team in specific areas that management identifies will ensure that we not only stay relevant as mining consultants but also assume a leadership role in our industry going forward,” Kriel concludes.