Managing the downturn and some of its implications for Western Australian mining

AMC Director and Principal Mining Engineer, Martin Staples, sat down with Global Business Reports for an exclusive interview that featured in their Western Australian Mining Edition.

Global Business Reports: Early in the company’s history, the boom in gold mining provided a sustained demand for its services. Now that we are seeing a resurgence in gold prices, what role does it play in AMC Consultants’ current projects?

Martin Staples: We are observing more activity as the juniors start to source funding again and begin to develop projects, and obviously the resurgence in gold prices has been integral to that. However, we have been busy in gold even during the downturn, perhaps because we diversified out of WA. WA is important to us, but by no means is it the proportion of our business that it was 20 years ago. We have ridden the downturn in the gold price by staying busy in gold in other jurisdictions.

GBR: Given the cyclical nature of the industry, what strategy does AMC Consultants utilize in downturns?

MS: It is important to grow carefully during the booms — not too fast or without regard for the kind of growth you engage in. During the last boom, all of us in the industry got carried away and grew more than, with hindsight, was ideal. Come this downturn, AMC Consultants did have to lose a few people and make some adjustments to manage our operating expenses. We did not have to implement as drastic adjustments as some of our peers and we have learned some lessons and restructured so that we are better placed to manage our fixed costs when the next downturn inevitably arrives.

GBR: To what extent do market trends impact AMC Consultants’ strategic involvement in projects?

MS: We would not discriminate in favor of a commodity that we thought was going to do well against one that we thought might not. In fact, much of the work we do is with existing operations, and an operation that is feeling stress is often an opportunity to add value and help to alleviate some of that stress. In some ways, what happened with the iron ore price was good for the industry in that some people might have been spending money too freely. The efficiencies that were subsequently achieved came about because they were necessary after the downturn in prices. It implies there was an element of waste in what they were doing previously.

GBR: How has AMC Consultants seen automation and robotics play a role in improving the efficiency of the industry in WA?

MS: WA and the big iron ore players have been at the forefront of the automation of large trucks. When people think about the automation of vehicles, they think about savings in terms of labor costs. There is an element of that, but more significantly economically speaking are the gains in the productivity of the equipment through higher utilization: autonomous trucks do not have the shift change and meal time delays. The addition of the control components does add a maintenance load, but this is offset to an extent by a reduction in other areas of repair and maintenance. An autonomous truck drives more consistently and does not crash into things, and a well implemented system eliminates the issues that arise from fatigue and human error.

GBR: How does AMC Consultants’ Online Mining Intelligence service use big data to improve the efficiency of its clients?

MS: Mining companies collect an incredible amount of data. All of that information can be accumulated and in real-time be used to assess the productivity of activities in order to identify areas of excellence or inefficiencies. The online element means that once we establish the relationship with the data on site, we can manage and process it remotely to produce regular reports. Companies can subsequently have greater visibility of what is going on in their operations in a way that allows them to target and implement change more quickly and to then monitor the impact of those changes.

This interview first appeared in the Global Business Reports here: