Hitting the sweet spot
CPC Engineering, thanks to its agile setup and full suite of engineering and drafting expertise, is able to support clients across continents throughout the entire life of a mining project
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Donovan Smith
Australia has long supported the African mining industry.
According to the Australia-Africa Minerals and Energy Group, there are more than 185 ASX-listed mining and other resource companies operating over 430 projects in 37 African countries.
This amounts to an estimated footprint of more than $40 billion based on current and potential future investment.
“At the moment there is no shortage of opportunities to work,” says Rod Davies, General Manager of CPC Project Design at Perth-based CPC Engineering, a company supporting a range of mining projects across multiple regions including Australia and Africa.
“Companies are always trying to progress projects and expand plants, although a slowing impact both in Africa and Australia has been the sourcing of financing for such plans. The world is becoming more risk averse, but by February after the Christmas shutdown we tend to see investment picking up and we are starting to see those green shoots again.”
The opportunity for Davies to join CPC, by his own admission, came out of the blue, but it was too good to turn down – the GM headhunted on recommendation from colleagues of his retiring predecessor.
It is an industry he has always held a passion for, stemming from a young age.
“I like big machines and how they do things, to put it simply,” says Davies. “I loved the idea of working in big processing plants and felt as if it would be like having a giant train set to play with. I actually started out in a metallurgy processing plant, rather than in engineering.”
CPC’s size and scope of expertise was a key draw for Davies, this being a key differentiator for the firm which has been in operation since setting up in Kambalda, Western Australia, in 1970.
Today the company employs over 350 qualified and skilled personnel split between design and engineering units, a combined team which is able to provide a full suite of services from studies and fabrication through to construction and maintenance.
These services are conducted from offices and workshops located in Perth, Kalgoorlie, Kambalda, Port Hedland, Ravensthrope and Esperance, perfectly positioned to serve Australian mining clients, many of which are based nearby.
“We’re one of few engineering houses that cover the entire discipline,” says Davies. “We have metallurgists and process engineers and can start right away with the design of a plant, taking it all the way through to mechanical and electrical phases, the full scope.
“We are also the perfect size for our clients and can react quickly to their requirements and are backed up by reliable systems. I like to call it a sweet spot that we are in – we are not a giant multinational and can move quickly. Our clients can also pick up the phone to our CEO.”
It is also from these Western Australian facilities that CPC supports its clients’ projects based in Africa, the company also ensuring staff are on the ground to oversee the work and provide crucial engineering and design support.
A diverse portfolio
Closer to home, the firm has a number of ongoing projects with clients covering numerous areas of mining and engineering.
Davies cites work with AngloGold Ashanti in WA, where CPC is supporting the study and design stage at the Boston Shaker underground mine supporting infrastructure at the Tropicana site, located nearly 330 kilometres east-northeast of the town of Kalgoorlie. Ground work on this is expected to begin by Q2 of 2019 after final investment decisions are taken.
“We are also on a project with Talison Lithium at its Greenbushes operations south of Perth,” continues Davies. “We have just finished the studies for a second new crushing plant and are now entering the detailed design phase for Talion’s main contractor MSP.
“This is a key part of the site’s expansion, and the first new plant CPC designed for the project is now approaching 80 percent through construction.”
In New Zealand’s Foulden Hills, CPC is engaged in a somewhat less conventional project involving diatomaceous earth that was discovered by gold prospectors in the early 1870s.
“Plaman Global’s operation, which we did the study work for, will entail digging up black diatomaceous earth, refining it and turning it into animal feed. The diatomaceous earth is a natural product formed from microscopic fossils and rich in natural organic matter, which helps with animals’ growth, digestion and reduces the need for antibiotics as well.
“I didn’t know you could feed diatomaceous earth to animals, and if you look carefully enough you can find this sort of product for people to eat as well.”
CPC’s work is not just limited to Africa, Australia and New Zealand, however.
Davies also points to a project with repeat customer First Quantum Minerals in Panama, a huge copper deposit spread over a concession that consists of four zones totalling 13,600 hectares. CPC assisted First Quantum with the design stage in Perth, the project now advancing into the commissioning phase.
Successful delivery of these projects all around the world would not be possible without an uncompromising stance on standards, both in terms of quality and HSE (health, safety and environment).
“Maintaining vigilance and continually refreshing our safety practices is absolutely essential,” says Davies. “When we start a new project and recruit blue collar workers or unskilled labour, we must make sure we not only choose the right people, but that our induction processes are spot on.
“Standards are routinely checked and kept fresh. We require everyone working on a job to go to a different area on a weekly basis and carry out an inspection on how other people are working. Talking about safety is so important. These peer reviews are a crucial part of our management philosophy for safety.”
Regarding CPC’s own employee base, Davies doesn’t deny that it is a challenge to find adequately skilled engineers to join the organisation. While the company’s cohort of engineers is made up of multiple nationalities, they are all Australian residence, and many have come through the ranks to become key assets having acquired valuable experience and training.
“We are a competitive payer and can offer tremendous experience,” Davies adds. “Four or five years ago we took on a lot of young engineers who are now in their early 30s and very good – we now need to promote them, offer more opportunities and retain them.
“It is about keeping the right balance between younger and more experienced engineers to ensure a continual passing on of knowledge.”
In terms of environmental stewardship, CPC has a detailed Environmental Management Plan structured to meet the requirements of the AS/NZS ISO 14001 (2004) Environmental Management Systems standard.
Executing projects to these exacting standards will also require CPC to stay abreast of key technological trends influencing the mining sphere.
“This sector is inherently conservative, and the development cycle of a project can be a number of years,” says Davies. “This means when something new comes along you have to be aware of it, otherwise it can be three or four years before you can actually implement it.
“We come across the saying that we need to be at the leading edge of technology, not the bleeding edge. By that I mean it’s a race to be first to second place, i.e. let someone try it first and make sure it works.
“There have been some fantastic developments that have made their way into the mining industry – we are extracting more at faster speeds than ever before.
“Further, connectivity in mines is massive and engineers like us are using bigger and bigger programmes. It is not unusual for supervisors to be walking around with iPads now, not paper and hard copy design drawings.”
Keeping a keen eye on developments like this will ensure CPC remains a relevant, reliable supporting partner to mining operations at home and abroad. And it is this continuation of the sweet spot position the company currently occupies that is a key priority for Davies moving forwards.
He concludes: “I want to consolidate the growth we have experienced over the past couple of years. That requires replacing projects we have finished with some new ones and keeping our team as strong as it is now. I am optimistic for the year ahead.”