Fri, 31/08/2018 - 05:50
Mining with Integrity
African Mining Services has blended Australian industry practices with a dedicated localisation focus to become one of West Africa’s primary sector operators.
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
To achieve long-term, sustainable and ethically-sound success in West Africa is no mean feat for some of the region’s leading industrial operators, so to do so as an indigenously international entity is all the more impressive. However, that’s exactly what African Mining Services has achieved since the Australian Company’s inception in Ghana nearly 30 years ago.
Leveraging an existing plethora of knowledgeable, innovative and ambitious Australian expats, a subsequent financial acumen and inner-belief entered the region with a faith that anything was possible. A host of niche mining industry practices, and unparalleled scope in the open cut contract mining arena later, and AMS continues to broaden its influence in West Africa as a now-trusted and reputed local provider.
Operations Manager for the Company’s Senegalese activities, Darran Twining further introduces the AMS model: “AMS predominantly performs exploration drilling, production drill and blast, grade control, hydraulic excavator and mechanical drive dump truck operations.
“The mining region here is rich with gold deposits and the mining contracting competition is strong. As a result, operating with continued success is highly complex and subject to a very dynamic political and socioeconomic scene. However, AMS has evolved from a small Ghana-based business and expanded into the regional, francophone countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast and here in Senegal.”
While the business’s aforementioned – and turnkey – array of services inevitably sets it apart from most competitors in the local market, to truly understand AMS’s success you need to delve into more personable attributes; Twining himself citing a family feel, complete trust and transparency, companionship, and an ability to work collaboratively to solve challenges among these core traits.
Such capabilities and values have aided the Company’s flexibility, adaptability and resilience amid fluctuating market trends; and upon the 2005 Ausdrill Ltd takeover of the organisation, AMS has been able to add an extra level of clout to its attractive ethos in order to further capitalise on regional opportunities.
“For me, there are some things we do really well, some things we do reasonably well, and some things I’d still like for us to improve upon,” Twining surmises. “However, our footprint expansion is testament to us doing something right in the industry, and – driven by our COO (John Kavangh) and GM (Darren Wheadon) – we know we have the necessary tools to continue improving our proposition in the future.
“These include our maintenance knowhow and asset management processes; our anti-bribery and corruption stance; our option to leverage off Ausdrill; and our ability to ingratiate ourselves locally and promote nationals.”
Empowering and uplifting
It is perhaps this final parameter which has and will continue to dictate AMS’s ultimate success in the long-term, in West Africa.
While the region’s rich gold deposits and lucrative commodity zones will continue to lure a carrot in front of budding contractors, it is imperative that the successful exponent tackles the complex industry climate and fragile socioeconomic scene head-on.
Twining’s primary concern in the present day is AMS’s Senegalese journey; a journey which began almost exactly two years ago in 2016 as part of the business’s ongoing footprint expansion strategy. AMS’s venture into the country has kicked-off with the Mako project in the southeast, and the (at least) six-and-a-half year gold project will lay the foundations for AMS to replicate the same model already successfully implemented across much of the rest of West Africa.
“For us, we needed to finally get into Senegal as part of our business strategy,” he opens. “Senegal is stable from a governance point of view – a relaxed and great place to work. Toro has tasked us with getting Mako up and running and to methodically develop the mines infrastructure as we look to showcase what we can do in Senegal moving forward.”
Africa Outlook (AfO): Please introduce me to the Mako project and what AMS’s ambitions are for it?
Darran Twining (DT): “Mako is in the Kedougou district of Senegal, bordering Mali, Gambia and Guinea. The gold mineral resource is proven for 6.3 years of mining and approximately seven years of processing should low grade and marginal grade ore remain economically viable – based on the gold price at the time. The goal of AMS is to show that we can offer the best value for PMC across the entire length of the venture and also for any additions to the resource or satellite resources.
AfO: What are the main characteristics of the mine that make this a valuable project and how much room is there for expansion?
DT: Mako offers a technically rich mining challenge for AMS. We need to demonstrate excellence in drill and blast practices, safe and efficient load and haul, and to monitor and manage all our environmental aspects and impacts given the proximity to the adjacent National Park (vibration, noise, dust, hydrocarbons, airborne diesel particulates etc); and as such we have a fantastic learning and upskilling opportunity for all our employees. There is scope, and exploration drilling is currently underway in ‘proximity to mine and infrastructure’ locations.
AfO: What stage are you at in terms of Mako’s development, and what challenges have you had to overcome in getting to this point?
DT: AMS Mako is in year one of the production phase. Prior to that we went through an extended 10-month period of pre-production. The mobilisation and establishment of fleet and facilities, as well as managing the recruitment has been particularly challenging but we are underway relatively incident free and about a month ahead of contract volumes.
AfO: Looking forward, what other projects are you targeting in Senegal and what is your strategy for growth in the country?
DT: AMS is actively targeting upcoming projects in the Kedougou region, those coming online in 2019 to 2020. AMS offers precisely what those ventures require but we also must take extra steps to have a breakthrough with clients that have traditionally done the mining themselves as owner-operator or have a long-term relationship with a competitor.
“There’s been huge changes in focus for national governments in the region over the years in terms of ‘what is good for living standards?’ or ‘what do we need international companies to bring to our country?’ and expectations can change from time to time,” Twining explains. “The trick to it all, from our perspective, has been the connections we have formed. Whether it’s a new country we’re entering like Senegal or the Ivory Coast, or a country where we’ve been operational for a decade like Mali; it’s all about making the right connections with people in decision-making positions and showcasing to them that our approach to mining will bring economic value to their nation and will put communities first at all times.”
He continues: “It’s actually one of the main reasons I enjoy working for AMS - you can’t always do it for money. You have to put forward a more wholesome proposition, get a foothold, and show you are a genuine company with integrity. We like to think we can do what we say we can do and that generates trust and a level of respect that continues to grow our reputation.”
By keeping lines of communication open, it has also helped the Company foresee industry or national challenges that other operators might walk blindly into. Working harmoniously to bridge cultures, objectives and even languages, a cycle of sustainability has had to be generated (often from very nascent beginnings) in each country.
Twining continues: “With the localisation process, in each case we have to initially utilise expats but we do so to train nationals, so that the ratio between the two shifts in favour of the latter over the years.
“Concurrently, we offer state-of-the-art training and development programmes to get people up to speed and to develop their skills; often using simulators so that they’re exposed to the complex conditions, hazards and challenges that they will eventually face when the time comes to be assigned onsite.
“Essentially everything is geared around empowering and uplifting our nationals.”
Reliability and consistency
By showing an aptitude for local enrichment and sustainable talent progression, AMS has understandably strengthened its appeal to national governments and potential clients. And this is epitomised by the vast portfolio of projects attained over the years across Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and more recently Ivory Coast.
Establishing, and then retaining, positive relationships with key clients in each case – Perseus, AngloGold Ashanti and Endeavour being prime examples – the sharing of information, skill-bases and resources that occurs consequently continues to breed new opportunities and fresh project leads.
“In each case, what we bring is a sense of reliability and consistency, and this is what sets us apart once we begin working on a project,” Twining says. “Even when things get out of control, or difficult, AMS can always stick it out with a financial, technical and consultancy footing which reduces risk across the board.
“Even where there are financial difficulties, we have the capacity to soldier on in full operational mode without diluting the strength of our employees, capital expenditures or overall operations.”
Once again, by demonstrating these characteristics and such business strength, its cachet among national governments escalates accordingly, and AMS’s values eventually get rewarded with the best projects, and, resultantly, strong revenue growth.
Twining elaborates: “This then puts us in a great position from an investment perspective, AMS now comprising one of the best fleets of equipment and machinery in the region. New technologies and innovations in the drill blast space find their way to West Africa via Ausdrill and ultimately means we can do things that our competitors can’t with more technically-advanced equipment.
“While many other market operators have the same excavators or vehicles as we do, we have the ability and scope to operate them better. This comes from a capacity to upgrade, maintain, train and develop to better meet clients’ needs; and, in turn, people, partners and companies gravitate towards us.”
Bucking trends and exceeding expectations
In Senegal, as has been the case in every other presence point before, AMS is already sowing seeds for future prevalence. The development of nationals, the formulation of positive business partnerships, the establishment of a collaborative forum with the Government, and a commitment to uplift the Kedougou region’s communities is already in full swing.
Ultimately, it’s about leaving every project site, and its surrounding area, in a better shape than when AMS entered it. Onsite, this revolves around health & safety, waste management, supplier network development, and – of course – personnel improvement. Externally, corporate social responsibility initiatives are tied into client objectives and an ongoing drive to improve the lives of local nationals.
“AMS is known as a good training and development company for national employees,” Twining affirms. “There is a massive focus on doing things to a high standard and integrating Australian standards into African mining. And AMS has a good reputation for treating nationals with respect and enabling them to succeed.
“I strongly believe an Australian culture and mining aptitude tends to reward us in terms of our national workforce’s attitude.”
Twining goes on to attribute applicable notions of honesty and integrity as two of the Company’s overriding differentiators as the business looks forward to continued success in West Africa in the years to come.
“We operate according to a five-year strategy and have high hopes for upcoming projects in 2019, especially in Senegal,” he concludes. “We want to continue to buck trends and exceed expectations through our model and how we conduct ourselves.
“I’m excited for the future, both here in Senegal and for AMS as a whole. We continue to align ourselves with opportunities that match with a kind of mining that revolves around honesty and integrity. And as such, it’s a good time to be wearing an AMS shirt.”