"An important challenge will be to ensure an appropriate transition from a conventional use of equipment and staffing of operations, into a more specialized and remote and automated operation."
To what extent has the implementation of technology at underground mine sites been accelerated by the pandemic?
The willingness to implement new technologies to achieve greater productivity is now much higher as a result of the pandemic. The obligated migration to remote work brought down important paradigms and opened up our minds to change. This, together with safety concerns regarding concentration of people, encouraged mining operators to reduce personnel footprint at the mine site. The migration of some of these positions out of the mine site started as a necessity, now mine operators are evaluating more aggressively the benefits that a migration of personnel out of the work front can produce by expanding productive hours in the mining cycle and increasing safety with the use of remote and/or automated equipment.
How does AESA prepare workers for the current business environment to ensure productivity while maintaining health and safety?
We used new virtual training tools and increased the use of diverse communications methods. We implemented more frequent, illustrative and emotional campaigns, and developed new communication channels and platforms like SMS, online video platforms and virtual reality. A detailed daily leadership routine was also key to have a closer and more effective leadership presence with our workforce.
What potential do you see for growth in Peru as more operations transition underground?
Peru has a huge untapped potential for new projects, as well as operations that can extend mine life through exploration or by transitioning from open-pit to underground. To fulfill this potential, we need a better alignment between citizens and the political establishment in order to value and understand the importance of mining to the national economy while generating national pride about our mining know-how and performance. We also see potential in achieving synergies by servicing both underground and surface mining needs.
One very important and anticipated project is Yanacocha Sulfides, in which AESA is participating in the bidding process to develop this project through a joint venture with Redpath Mining. In doing so, we are bringing to the table our capacity to develop projects safely in Peru and to generate economic development in the mining operators’ surrounding communities, with world class operational standards, new technologies and the capability to develop large scale projects. We believe this to be an attractive platform for potential clients and hope that it will leads us to more opportunities for world class projects in the region in the years ahead.
What would you say are the main long term challenges for underground contractors in Peru, and what could be done to mitigate or resolve them?
In the long term, I see two important challenges. One is to transition from a transactional relationship with customers into a strategic partnership that aligns both parties better to improve the management of risks and to work symbiotically in the best interest of the mine. For example, planning tends to be an area of opportunity to improve in underground mining, but when done correctly it can achieve much higher resource utilization rates and productivity.
Another important challenge will be to ensure an appropriate transition from a conventional use of equipment and staffing of operations, into a more specialized and remote and automated operation. Upskilling and reskilling of the workforce will be key, and we as contractors play a very important role in ensuring an effective implementation and proper transition.
What do you think are main themes that will shape the underground mining industry in 2021?
Drawing a parallel to what our priorities for 2021 are, health and safety remain clearly as the number one focus. Secondly, to perform on our contracts no matter what challenging external factors we may face. Thirdly, at AESA we intend to regain scale and recover the company’s growth path again. Last but not least, we need to search for productivity gains for us and for our clients’ benefit, which means reviewing and improving our processes, investing and adopting new tools, bringing down paradigms as it happened during the pandemic, and developing the communities within the area of influence in which we operate.