Construction and Contracting

On the frontline in a remote world: The evolving role of contractors and construction firms

The challenges posed by Covid have complicated construction projects and presented logistical headaches for contractors with large workforces. For instance, Tom McCulley, CEO, of Anglo American Peru, revealed that the company has to do around 4,000 to 4,500 Covid tests per week at its Quellaveco operation, currently under construction in Moquegua. The industry response had been to transition, where possible, to remote operations, such as Las Bambas’ recently inaugurated Digital Operations Center (DOC) in Lima.

Where does this transition leave the frontline workers and how is their role evolving? Eduardo Bennett, CEO of South American mining contractor STRACON, elaborated on how collaboration between mining companies and service providers can benefit both parties.

“The capacity to load and haul materials is impossible to do remotely,” he said, continuing: “This may be our role in the future of mining, and I believe that in the next few years all of the in-person mining operations will be handled by service suppliers as partners of mining companies.”

Bennett mentioned that STRACON has been promoting its services in many different countries in Latin America, but has not seen any significant possibilities for major greenfield projects in the next few years. The company is therefore focused on brownfield projects, earth moving and dam construction services.

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“Remote operations improve the overall safety and accuracy of an operation. On the other hand, the capacity to load and haul materials is impossible to do remotely. This may be our role in the future of mining, and I believe that in the next few years all of the in-person mining operations will be handled by service suppliers as partners of mining companies.”

Eduardo Bennett, CEO, STRACON

Emphasizing the need for the industry to improve its process, Bennett stated: “The future of mining is related to two main aspects – technology and creativity. In my opinion, one of the challenges for the next few years will be how we can adopt and fully integrate new technologies into operations to be more efficient.”

In summary, he said that it is not about how many tons of ore can be moved, but rather about how an operation can be as productive as possible.

In the quest for greater productivity, Wilder Ruiz Conejo, general manager of JRC Ingeniería y Construcción, spoke of the work JRC has done with Buenaventura's innovation department: “In addition to remote control equipment, we have been working to incorporate multipurpose equipment with which we can carry out up to three activities almost simultaneously, ostensibly reducing the exposure of our workers and allowing us to cover key positions in any project where we currently have difficulties due to the pandemic.”

JRC has undergone a process of expansion and internationalization since 2019, when it entered the Mexican market with Fresnillo PLC, related Conejo, and is now looking at opportunities in countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and India to continue its growth.

Mining represents approximately 30% of OHL’s (Obrascón Huarte Lain) total sales each year, detailed Mariela Ramones, business manager of OHL Peru. The construction company has worked on large-scale projects for Las Bambas, Quellaveco and Antamina in recent years, and believes its tunnelling work has given it the necessary expertise to develop underground mining projects.

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“OHL has developed a tunnel under the tailings dam of Antamina of approximately 2 km, and has carried out collection works on the leaks under the dam, together with all the ancillary facilities of the tunnel itself,” explained Ramones.

Scaffolding specialist Layher has worked with Quellaveco, Mina Justa, Southern Copper and Toromocho on the construction phase, as well as the Talara refinery, detailed general manager Jorge Reátegui. He remarked that social distancing has restricted workforce capacity, but noted that Layher’s multi-directional Allround scaffolding system has the advantage of being the lightest solution in the market, allowing for better transportation and workforce management. “We are also using lifting solutions to reduce the need for personnel. The impact of Covid has favored the introduction of these lifting systems, so clients have seen an increase in productivity,” he added.

Layher plans to move into new 20,000-square meter offices in Lima in 2022, as well as opening a warehouse which will triple capacity, revealed Reátegui, in addition to consolidating the company’s presence in Iquitos and introducing modern construction systems in remote areas. “Our purpose is to professionalize this segment,” he concluded.

Another service company in the construction space to have worked at Quellaveco and the Talara refinery is Perú Piping Spools (PPS), which specializes in fluid transmission lines, spool manufacturing, piping and engineering services. Eduardo Vera, PPS’ sales manager, affirmed that both greenfield and brownfield mining projects are important for PPS: “They require new pipelines for the transportation of fluids such as water, air, fuel, pulp, and minerals.”

Pedro Ipince, the company’s general manager, stated that PPS has managed to become the main manufacturer of spools in Peru in only five years, due to having the largest spool manufacturing plant in Latin America and focusing on technology. “PPS uses different types of software for the process of spool manufacture,” he said, explaining that the technology is chosen according to client needs how it can be incorporate into the welding processes. “For example, in order to create isometric plans in pdf, we use AutoCAD or Spoolgen.

Solidifying the foundations of the mining projects worked on by contractors and construction firms requires an array of construction materials, including calcium oxide, a dry powder commonly known as quicklime (lime). Calidra, founded by Mexican investors 120 years ago, is the biggest lime manufacturer in Latin America, with an annual production of 4.5 million tonnes.

Martín Barrios, Calidra’s executive director, discussed the company’s evolution in Peru: “We have broken two important paradigms in the Peruvian market; first, large mining companies are already considering having more than one supplier of lime as it is critical to an operation.” As a second point, Barrios added that Calidra has developed an advanced logistics system that has enabled the company to supply efficiently over long distances.

Image courtesy of STRACON