DRA bolsters operations platform to gear for the mining industry’s digital transformation

Global engineering firm, DRA, has enhanced its operations platform to deliver on its ambitious growth strategy. Over the past 33 years the organisation has built a strong reputation of world-class project delivery, and with a focus on the future the organisation, is now also driving contract operations to provide world-class total solutions to its clients across the globe. DRA’s Global Contract Operations Executive ADELE O’CALLAGHAN tells LAURA CORNISH how this greater focus on operations management forms part of the organisation’s broader strategy to expand the business into new markets and geographies.

The mining industry is coming off a four-year period of cost cutting and productivity optimisations. While industry players remain cautiously optimistic, recent market pressures have highlighted the importance of operational efficiencies. Mining companies, worldwide, are rapidly beginning to shift their strategies to adopt new business and operating models to include new technologies.

The appointment of Wray Carvelas as CEO of DRA in 2016, has seen an accelerated adoption of such strategies for the organisation. With a key focus on delivering real value for clients, the organisation has recently adapted its operating model to grow its operations business across chosen geographies and markets. One notable modification to the organisation’s structure is the appointment of O’Callaghan as Executive Global Contract Operations, who becomes the first female executive in the company’s history.

DRA has identified O’Callaghan as a strong leader for the business and, as a member of the executive team, she will drive new areas of growth and development for the organisation. A key focus will be to ensure a seamless and enhanced client experience through project development and execution into operational readiness support and optimisation.

This newly created role within the organisation marks a clear step forward in its strategy to remain the operations and maintenance partner of choice for clients. As part of O’Callaghan’s new function she will implement digital technologies that optimise performance for DRA clients.

Under her governance is the Minopex business. DRA developed Minopex as an operations arm of the business in 1996 and it remains the leading contract operator of minerals processing facilities in Africa specialising in the commissioning, operation and maintenance of minerals processing plants. Minopex earned its reputation operating on behalf of juniors but now also operates on behalf of mining mid-tiers and majors.

Over the past 21 years Minopex has developed comprehensive controls and integrated computerised systems to ensure effective and highly efficient techniques for the management and control of mineral processing facilities. To add to this technical capability, O’Callaghan will now also focus on implementing new digital technologies across the operations business.

As the concept of the digital mine turns into execution, companies focus on how to develop a mine that is connected/inter-connected across all knowledge areas and how to use data in real time. O’Callaghan confirms that 90% of the data on a mine facility is not used. She adds that the real advance for DRA Operations involves real time enterprise optimisation, which is linking data collection and predictive and prescriptive analytics to the planning and execution in an integrated way.

“We must view the mine as one inter-connected business across all knowledge areas. Then we must move towards optimising the complete mine facility. Predictive maintenance is a good example of analytics being used to predict problems before they occur, avoiding interruptions in production,” advises O’Callaghan.

DRA has bolstered its expertise in the operations field with the on boarding of specialist skills to apply a focussed effort towards interpreting the huge amounts of data available on a mine site. The organisation aims to provide mine managers with tools to make quick, informed decisions that improve safety, profits, and the social license to operate.

The drive for new, innovative techniques and methodologies in managing big data is driven by three pillars of DRA’s growth strategy, namely: organic growth, growth through diversification and geographic growth. The organisation continues to make major inroads in this strategy, across Africa, through subsidiary Minopex.

“Clients are often unaware of the extensive value offering we deliver. Our specialist capabilities ensure we maximise the efficiency, cost effectiveness and overall success of a plant.” In addition to building on its technical services division which is readily available to assist with technical difficulties on-site, and in turn reduce potential downtime and unscheduled production set-backs, the organisation is also rolling out its internally developed digitisation software – MOMs (Mine Operations Management System) – across its operations for no additional cash outlay.

In the current world economic environment, business strategies are to drive down costs, increase yields and margins while at the same time maintaining assets, all factors which influence operating expenditure. This is more prevalent in the mining industry as commodity prices are under severe pressure, and the cost per mined ton is ever increasing.

To this end DRA MOMS enables mining companies to maintain better control over their supply chain, improve control and management of their process plants and ensure that their assets are delivering maximum efficiencies. MOMS delivers the right information, at the right time, to the right people ensuring that pro-active decision making is possible for mine management. “We will build greater predictive maintenance capabilities into the software as we move forward and as MOMS is successfully incorporated into our plants.”

“Extending our service offering horizontally into new areas of the mining and processing value chain is another focus area and includes underground and surface mining contracting and well as tailings operations management.” Considering O’Callaghan has nearly a decade’s worth of experience in the tailings processing field, she brings considerable knowledge to the table in developing this new business focus.

In order to grow the operations business, O’Callaghan and her team will also prioritise the implementation of initiatives that increase and recreate its outsourced model value offering and value-add to its existing and new client base.

Significant growth in the pipeline

Minopex was awarded a new contract in November 2017 to operate a Brownfields copper tailings plant in Zambia. Considering this is the company’s largest contract to date, in terms of head count – approximately 700 – the company has concluded establishing and registering a local company in-country.

Further to this, the company hopes to secure an additional three contracts in South Africa, this will be supplemented on a global scale by a new coal operations contract in Australia. DRA has established its international operations capability in Australia and Saudi Arabia and O’Callaghan confirms that the brand is growing a real capability in these businesses.

“We are bidding on a number of projects across the globe and have noticed a remarkable increase in potential projects from Canada in particular. Like Africa, many Canadian projects are located in remote regions, and are being developed by the junior or mid-tier mining industry. DRA’s Operations business is well suited to cater to these markets and challenging conditions and looks forward to building our skills set further as we grow,” O’Callaghan concludes.