By Daniel Hunter

In the mining industry, the UK’s world-leading strengths in innovative solutions, skills and education and training provision are major benefits for countries wishing to develop their own indigenous mining capabilities.

UK companies are internationally renowned for delivering expertise across the entire span of the global mining sector.

Thanks to Britain’s world-famous mining heritage – forged in the heat of the Industrial Revolution – the UK has a long-established reputation for first-class engineering, construction and infrastructure capabilities. And, today, London is known as a global centre of mining finance, underpinned by recognised regulatory and legal frameworks, which provides liquidity to international projects of every size. In 2012, UK-listed mining companies had a total market capitalisation of $425bn – more than any other financial market in the world.

Yet mining is a complex, wide-ranging and high value opportunity industry with diverse needs – one that uses British innovation to deliver solutions across every part of the sector, from financing through to maintenance services.

This includes feasibility and development studies; legal, advisory, accountancy, tax and audit services; risk management, project management, best practice, environmental, logistics, legacy management and closure-planning services and communications strategies.

For example, a global team from UK-based professional services firm Deloitte provided strategical and tactical support to Rio Tinto’s Simandou Project and integrated infrastructure operations in Guinea. This included end business operating model design, programme planning, study coordination, contracting strategy, regional economic development and contracting management advice – as well as integrated communications to joint venture partners.

It is this ability to deliver cross-sector skills and services which has put UK firms at the forefront of the global mining industry.

Cost efficiency and effective cost management are key considerations in any mining development. UK company Turner & Townsend provides programme management, project services, project controls and contract services to the mining industry across the whole lifecycle of a project, from concept to execution and beyond.

The company, which has been working in the mining sector for 40 years, independently represents the commercial interests of its clients with a scalable, flexible consulting offer, from relatively small assignments through to large-scale teams.

“There are two principal challenges the mining industry faces at present,” says Mark Wainwright, MD Natural Resources, Turner & Townsend. “One is depressed commodity prices, as exemplified in the gold and coal sectors; the other and interlinked factor is a lack of capital to fund development programmes, leading to delays and/or cancellation of projects.

“What Turner & Townsend does, therefore, is offer a cost and schedule-focussed approach, minimising the risk which could lead to overspend and overrun.

“This is a sector which offers excellent opportunities for UK companies who can help organisations both improve the way in which they develop programmes and position themselves for the upturn when commodity prices bounce back and the global financial crisis eases.”

Atkins – one of the world’s leading engineering, design, planning, project management and consulting services companies – has long experience of working in the mining sector with particular strengths in mine infrastructure, road, rail, ports and harbours, materials handling, and energy supplies.

“The underlying challenge in the mining sector is one of commercial practicality,” says Tony Illes, Growth Director, Industry and Environment at Atkins. “For example, newer mines tend to be located in more remote places – which means supply lines will be longer and this can have a critical impact on the financial viability of the mine development.

“Part of our job, therefore, is to make infrastructure as cost-efficient as possible, while ensuring it is fit for purpose across the lifespan of the mine itself. This requires a breadth of skills, from experience of working in inhospitable landscapes right the way through to understanding the tax implications of individual countries.

“As a UK company, one of the most important things we offer is credibility. Because the UK is one of the main financial centres for supporting mining activity, we are part of a brand that stands for quality which is of paramount importance during the due diligence process. For example, if a pre-feasibility study is carried out by a UK company, that study carries a weight of authority and integrity.”

Projects Atkins has been involved with include the creation of a Holistic Plan for the United Arab Emirates in order to identify the region’s development requirements to 2030; plus strategic policy advice and other services to help a West African nation develop an iron ore mining operation. Atkins is currently delivering the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the Putu Mine in Liberia.

World-class British materials and solutions are also in demand by the mining industry.

In July, it was announced that Polypipe, the UK’s largest manufacturer of plastic piping systems, is set to expand its presence in the African market with a particular focus on the mining industry, having already secured contracts to supply pipework systems to major mining projects in Kenya and Sierra Leone.

It was after delivering to the Tonkilili mine in Sierra Leone that Polypipe fully realised the opportunity the mining sector offered the company. With its broad product portfolio, Polypipe offers pipework and water management systems to meet the needs of the mining operations themselves, which involve both pressurised pumping and gravity systems and mining process pipework as well as water supply and drainage systems for the construction of buildings, offices and accommodation complexes, together with drainage systems for the infrastructure required to support the mine.

“In territories where water is in short supply, and with processes that place high demands on water usage, effective water management in large-scale mining operations is essential,” says Polypipe Export Sales Manager, Philip Wood. “Mining companies and their contractors need to consider the environmental impact of their operations, so efficient re-cycling of water used in the various mineral extraction processes is vital.

“Similarly when considering the associated infrastructure, the effective re-use of water needs to be an integral part of their pipework design. Our British-made products are designed to meet today’s carbon and water challenges and we provide solutions for the total water management process, covering capture, treatment, re-use, attenuation and soakaway - along with drainage for buildings and infrastructure.”

The UK is also a world-leader in academic and corporate research, education provision and knowledge transfer, maximising local content for employment in communities and businesses.

Many of the UK’s universities have world-class geoscience, minerals and materials and engineering research centres that conduct pure and applied research into every facet of the mining industry, including low-carbon technologies, sustainability and biodiversity and water and waste resources management.

Camborne School of Mines at the UK-based University of Exeter is recognised by industry as one of the world’s leading mining schools. As a result it works with local, national and international business, providing a range of services to promote advances in sustainable mining, geological exploration and renewable energy; while universities including Derby, Imperial College and Leicester, provide company-specific blended learning courses to miners, mining support companies and the mining supply chain.

“Education provision across the mining sector is crucial,” says Tony Iles. “A company such as Atkins can support the development of local engineers to assist with construction, operation and maintenance activities.”

British company Dawnus, founded in 2001 and now the fastest-growing construction company in the UK, provides three main services to the mining industry: the construction of all civil engineering and building infrastructure needed for a mine’s development and operation including maintenance (port, rail, roads, dams, tailings dams, buildings, civil and structural work for mine process plants and quarrying services); contract mining; plus geotechnical services including ground investigation.

When African Minerals Ltd in Sierra Leone was looking for reliable contractors to deliver the infrastructure for its Tonkolili Iron Ore Project in 2010, Dawnus – which had never worked in the mining industry before – won the tender, based on its successful delivery of a liquid natural gas project in the UK.

“Africa was just the opening we required as mining can be a difficult sector to enter without a track record,” says Richard Davies, International Director at Dawnus. “Our clients invest large sums of capital and certainty of delivery in terms of safety, quality, time and budget is key. We have found that within the mining community track record and reputation to deliver is vital. We have seen the benefit.”

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