"10 years ago it took three years to approve a project and five years to build. Today it takes at least 10 years to get approval and 3-4 years to build, and this is a global phenomenon."
What would you say are the most noticeable trends in Chile's mining suppliers sector in 2022?
Firstly, the role of mining suppliers has become more of a partnership than before, given the scarcity of labor and tools as well as supply chain disruptions. Miners understand that they cannot do everything themselves and thus need to partner with complementing companies. Secondly, accelerated by the pandemic, most large corporations, including Weir, adopted digital tools to make services and supplies more effective. This also forms part of the sustainability agenda, and given the new government in Chile, there is an even stronger focus on sustainability and ESG. Mining companies are using less water and energy, and although they are ahead of the curve, community requests related to the environment are stronger than before.
Can you provide examples of how Weir Minerals helps mining companies optimize their operations and become more sustainable?
In terms of comminution, Weir has developed and improved a technology called High Pressure Grinding Rolls (HPGR), which reduces or eliminates the use of big sag mills, resulting in a much more efficient process and saving approximately 40% energy in rock comminution. In terms of pumps, to make our slurry pumps more efficient, our team does audits to optimize the use of this equipment in plants to achieve greater productivity and energy savings. Finally, with our GEHO ZPM Piston Diaphragm pumps, instead of having, as an example, 100 trucks a day transporting concentrate from the mine to a port, our solution uses several pumps in series which can transport slurry through a pipeline to the port, eliminating the need for truck transport.
To what extent has the issue of water management evolved in Chile’s mining sector?
There continues to be a conflict between water needed for human consumption, agricultural needs, and mining. Today, any mining player in the country looking to attain environmental approvals needs to use seawater. Weir supplied water pumping systems to Quebrada Blanca to take water from the sea to the plant through 16 pumps at approximately 500 liters per second.
Mines are also becoming more efficient in the use and recycling of water. Water can be saved in the tailings process and, using Weir equipment, a mine can transport tailings to the dam in a paste form, already reducing the water requirement, and then recover almost 85% of the water used to be recycled. The amount of water recovered today is tenfold what it used to be 30 years ago.
Can you elaborate how Weir Minerals' Synertrex platform works and what are its benefits?
Mines are a dynamic body that keep changing and therefore automated adjustment is critical for optimal efficiency. The Weir Group recently acquired Motion Metrics, through our partner division ESCO, which has a tremendous scanning tool that can size and identify what you are feeding onto a track and what is going into the crushing plant. Through AI, particle sizes or sharpness are identified and machines can then self-adjust accordingly. Additionally, the Synertrex platform allows mines to sense, analyze and act through AI, eliminating the need to wait for human interaction to adjust equipment.
There are currently many large brownfield investments in Chile. Do you expect there to be more greenfield developments in the years ahead?
10 years ago it took three years to approve a project and five years to build. Today it takes at least 10 years to get approval and 3-4 years to build, and this is a global phenomenon. We are in a situation where not enough new production is coming online to meet demand. This results in increased metals prices, which could be a way for more projects to become viable. However, with inflation at almost 9% all over the world and interest rates rising, this makes the capex required for large projects complicated.
How are you dealing with the challenge of attracting and retaining talent?
Weir has a strong graduate program and continues to foster great relationships with universities. We recently launched a Minerals Leadership Program at Utah University where twice a year we send 25 emerging leaders for a 10 day training course. The challenge today is that many of this generation prefer to work from home. However, Weir’s focus on innovation and technology has helped us in this regard, and we have some excellent young talent coming through.