"There is interest among mid-tiers and juniors to upgrade their technical studies – but we are not seeing a boom period mentality, and companies are looking to consolidate their current portfolios instead of expanding them aggressively."
Can you tell us about the footprint of Mining Plus in North America, and the types of projects the company works on?
Mining Plus is a leading mining technical services provider focused on practicality and innovation. Our principal North American office is in Vancouver, and we also have offices in Toronto and Denver. Overall, Canada and Australia have similar capital expenditures and represent two very important jurisdictions for Mining Plus: we offer our full suite of services in both countries. Our capabilities are in geology, mining engineering, and geotechnical engineering, involving boots on the ground on-site, or off-site in strategic mine planning. About 50% of our business is in technical studies, 25% on corporate advisory and 25% in operations, spread 60% on precious metal mines, 35% on base metal mines and 5% on rare earths.
Which of the services Mining Plus offers have been in high demand in the last couple of years?
Thanks to Toronto’s money markets we are seeing a growing demand for corporate due diligence services, particularly in precious metals. That trend is correlating closely with positive movements in the prices of gold and silver. In terms of operations, there has been a noticeable push for mine automation. North America is now fully embracing mine automation, especially with majors such as Barrick, Newmont, Rio Tinto and BHP being very active in this front. Our role is integrating these key learnings and taking them across for the benefit of our clients.
There is a lot of interest in speed and production optimization across majors and midsize companies. For example, we have been assisting Rio Tinto on this front, specifically in underground operations. We have also been assisting Newmont and Evolution Mining with the Red Lake acquisition, sending people to site to give precise support.
Prior to joining Mining Plus you worked on the budget planning aspect of mining. How are companies currently dealing with this considering the high metals prices?
The impact of the downturn is still in the industry’s memory, as a lot of value was destroyed during the previous boom cycle. As a sector, we are very happy with strong precious metal prices, but there is still an air of caution. There is interest among mid-tiers and juniors to upgrade their technical studies – but we are not seeing a boom period mentality, and companies are looking to consolidate their current portfolios instead of expanding them aggressively. Nevertheless, metal prices have certainly returned interest to some projects that were previously on pause. Mining is experiencing a positive period given the value creation and the interest from investors. We are seeing strong disposition from clients to invest in their assets and in long-term strategic planning, albeit in a conservative and rational way.
Do you think that mining companies are becoming more receptive to new technologies these days?
Adoption of new technologies has definitely accelerated. Mine automation is on the agenda of many mine operators and Mining Plus leans on its experience from Australian markets to guide and support miners in North America. Additionally, an embrace of electric and battery-operated vehicles in North America has been noteworthy. Product offerings such as those from Artisan quickly cemented themselves as real practical substitutes for diesel machinery. While the capex is higher for some of this equipment, the future savings companies can make will more than compensate.
In automation, production haulage over shift-change is an industry trend and focus that is providing a lot of value added, with 15% productivity improvements in tele-remote loaders, development and long-hole drilling. These factors are now being considered from the project stage, including communication technologies such as LTE which give automated equipment better leverage.
What trends have you noticed as particular areas of growth in the Ontario mining industry?
Ontario is a jurisdiction that embraces international mining practices and has an appetite for innovative equipment and solutions. The interest to develop projects here is a lot higher than it has been in the past, and we are witnessing more accommodating regulatory legislation to support this. Mine infrastructure planning is a strength for Ontario miners, and the jurisdiction is a leader in this area.
The mechanization of underground mining is a trend that has been strong for a while in Australia and is provoking interest in North America. For example, a number of Northern Ontario-based companies are investigating using jumbos for both boring and installations for ground support to achieve higher development rates. From a health and safety perspective, these technologies offer great upside because they require less personnel and provide an extra layer of protection for the operator with closed cabs.