Until the barriers to investment and development in South Africa’s mining sector are resolved so that key opportunities can be realised, engineering companies need to ensure that their expertise and services are made indispensable to the market, says specialist engineering company Paterson & Cooke MD Dr Angus Paterson.
As a consulting company working primarily in the mining sector since 1991, Paterson & Cooke has observed that, while last year was an especially difficult year for the global minerals consulting industry, on the back of a brief surge in commodity prices this year, there is growing interest in projects in Africa and globally. However, Paterson stresses that the impact of the weak commodities cycle – which has affected global investment in mining – has been exacerbated in South Africa by the uneasy relationship between the Chamber of Mines and the Department of Mineral Resources.
“Despite South Africa’s mineral potential, we are, thus, seeing new mining projects being deferred or companies choosing to invest elsewhere. There is significant potential in South Africa for unlocking real wealth through job creation at all levels of society if the obstacles that impede new mining projects can be removed.”
He adds that, in a depressed commodities cycle, it is common for mining companies to defer capital investment, but to continue spending on ‘stay-in-business’ infrastructure. However, during the latest cycle, all expenditure has been curtailed, making its impact on the mining consulting industry even more severe.
The lack of large capital projects in South Africa is, moreover, resulting in many professional engineers leaving the industry or the country, which Paterson says is a “grave concern”, as previous depressed cycles have demonstrated that, once people leave the profession, they are unlikely to return. “This will aggravate the skills shortage when demand returns.”
Adapt or Die
To cement the company as a market leader in the local and global mining consultancy industry, Paterson & Cooke has positioned itself as a specialist in slurry pipeline engineering. The company is consequently working on numerous pipeline projects and deep-mine backfilling projects globally.
The company’s most significant project to date is the detailed design and engineering of the 187 km Jorf Lasfar phosphate pipeline, in Morocco, completed in 2015, where it continues to provide ongoing operator training and support.
Paterson & Cooke also received the award for best international project by a South African company at the 2015 South African Institute of Civil Engineering-South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors Awards for the design of this project. The project consists of a network of slurry pipelines, which transports milled phosphate rock from the mining areas near Khouribga to the port and the chemical processing facility at Jorf Lasfar, nearly 200 km away.
“It is one of the world’s largest slurry pipelines, the main section of which has a diameter of 900 mm . . . and can transport 4 400 t/h of dry phosphate. Owing to the scale of the project, the system included some of the largest slurry handling equipment yet produced and this presented many unique challenges to the engineering team, which required an innovative approach to solving the problems.”
Paterson & Cooke continually seeks to develop and incorporate its designs and innovative solutions for the minerals industry and, thus, offers a range of specially engineered products to customers. These include new designs for thickener feedwells in mining applications, which can be retrofitted to existing thickeners to improve performance, and a range of mining-specific equipment.