Contractor learns lockdown lessons

29th January 2021 By: Darren Parker

Contractor learns lockdown lessons

BIG PLANS Basil Read Mining aims to diversify beyond the commodities it currently works in, while expanding its geographical footprint

The main lesson learned over the past year is that, regardless of the challenges and new limitations brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, good relationships are key to keeping businesses well-enthused and optimistic, says mining services company Basil Read Mining CEO Nathan Williams.

“Even with the impact it has had on our operations, our team has handled it very well,” he claims, adding that the Covid-19 ‘new normal' has confirmed that collaborations and a social compact are the strongest pillars of any partnership looking to succeed or survive.

Williams states that the most difficult aspect of operating under Covid-19 conditions has been logistics.

“Getting supplies, spares and equipment across borders was hard. The operations on-site ran smoothly, considering the restrictions. However, our people are well-aligned on the operations front and it seems like logistics is slowly picking up, as borders are beginning to reopen,” he adds.

Moreover, Basil Read Mining is comfortable with difficult circumstances, Williams notes, as mining is a naturally challenging space to work in.

“It’s very competitive, especially in certain bulk commodities such as coal and iron-ore.”

He explains that the reason for this is because prices and exports to China have declined in recent years.

“There are also many challenges in terms of digitalisation,” he adds, noting the pressure for mining operations to invest heavily in technology, to improve on profit margins and efficiency.

However, there is also an argument that digitalisation can result in retrenchments and fewer employment opportunities, thereby negatively affecting surrounding communities.

Consequently, Williams has embarked on a PhD to research this concern in more detail.

Mining Differently

Basil Read Mining is involved in diversified operations as an established specialist surface contract mining partner. The company’s professional services include drilling and blasting, materials handling which includes excavating, loading and hauling, in-pit water management, as well as high-tech trackless mobile machine maintenance.

Basil Read Mining currently operates in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho. It works in various commodities, including diamonds, phosphates, zinc and copper.

“We believe in not waiting for opportunities but rather creating them and collaborating. Basil Read Mining will take on the toughest of projects, even when other contractors would long since have left,” Williams claims.

As an example, he refers to a mine flooding incident, which nearly collapsed the mine, having continued for about a year.

Williams claims that Basil Read Mining was the only contractor willing to support the mine through this challenge.

“We brought in our own pumping equipment just to keep it going,” he says.

Embracing Technology

The company’s ability to handle various challenges is made possible by its long-standing embrace of digitalisation and advanced technologies.

An example of this kind of technological advancement is the use of telematics on Basil Read Mining’s trackless machines, which makes it possible to learn more about the machines’ efficiency levels and behaviour. In addition, partially owing to Covid-19, Basil Read Mining has been doing an increasing amount of camera operation on its openpits.

“With Covid-19, it is really difficult to get on-site and into the mines, so we have been looking for the right technology to give us a view of the mine pit, equipment and operations as a whole,” says Williams.

He notes that the company’s target is to work completely remotely.

Further, Basil Read Mining intends to ensure that digital improvements do not result in economic retrenchments, adding hardship to surrounding communities. With this in mind, the company is currently working on a project involving the donation and supply of information technology equipment to the communities surrounding the operations.

“We see the future as digital and we want to take the communities around us on that journey towards equality,” says Basil Read Mining business improvement and supply chain director Sandile Masondo.

He adds that the company can make a large contribution by sharing its pre-owned hardware with communities so that they can start using it and exploring technological opportunities.

Over the coming year, Basil Read Mining aims to diversify beyond the commodities it currently works in, while expanding its geographical footprint. The company is currently seeking new work contracts throughout Africa and is extending its reach as far as the Middle East. Another aspect of its expansion strategy is to make an effective jump to using ultra-large equipment, which involves strategising how to be effective within that category.

“Ultimately, our vision is to be recognised as a world-class mining services partner, to be able to deliver on the toughest projects in a safe, productive and efficient manner, to value our people and technology and stay ahead of our competition,” Williams says.

Delegates from Basil Read Mining will attend the Investing in African Mining virtual event in February.