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Scott Cowie, General Manager - Technical Services, PanAust: Write Up

In a changing market - delivering excellence in operations and project development

Industry interest was strong in Austmine’s most recent Smart Mining Networking Event in Brisbane, with a large and diverse group of attendees excited to hear from Scott Cowie, General Manager Technical Services, PanAust.  

Scott shared a range of insights that covered the successful approach taken by PanAust as an innovative leader in their field; their achievements in increasing development productivity in their operations in Laos; and how these innovative approaches to operational output and project development will be applied to the greenfield Frieda River Copper-Gold Project in Papua New Guinea.

Scott is responsible for technical support for the Frieda River studies (in PNG) and PanAust’s mining operations (in Laos), including progressing concepts to feasibility studies, continual operational improvement programs, tailings storage facility stewardship, environmental impact assessments, and life of mine planning.

Laos is a developing nation that has seen an expansion in the mining and hydro-power sectors in recent years, both of which have driven economic growth.  PanAust’s activities in Laos are centred on the Phu Kham Copper-Gold Operation and the Ban Houayxai Gold-Silver Operation.  Phu Kham is PanAust's flagship operation and the significant cash flow generated by the Phu Kham Operation has supported PanAust’s growth while contributing to a strong balance sheet.  The Operation comprises an open-pit mine feeding ore to a process plant with recovery of copper and precious metals into a saleable concentrate using conventional flotation technology. The concentrate contains between 23 and 25 per cent copper, 9 grams per tonne (g/t) gold and up to 60g/t silver.

Just back from a two week visit to the Phu Kham site, Scott indicated that, regardless of what the metal price is, the committed approach to continuous improvement is obvious on site.  Results speak for themselves, with a record year last year.  In 2016, Phu Kham recorded its best ever annual production of copper in concentrate of 89,187 tonnes (t) (2015: 78,449t); open-pit material mined of 57 million tonnes (Mt) (2015: 12.5Mt) and copper recovery rate of around 80 per cent (2015: 77.4 per cent).  While the necessity to survive was an underlying factor in this success, the commitment to continuous improvement is what ultimately drove the outcomes.

It’s well established within the management team that three things need to be in place to get results - having the right people in the right roles; having the right plant and equipment in place (Scott acknowledged the suppliers in the room that they rely on for this aspect); and having appropriate processes in place.  A focus on these three factors ensures an agile organisation that has the ability to respond quickly to changes in their operating environment.  While they’re grateful they’re not cash constrained or a large company weighed down by unnecessary governance, PanAust pride themselves on being a dynamic, value based organisation that consistently delivers on promises using a very simple approach.  This approach involves transparency around a brief plan established at a corporate level which then flows down through the various departments.  Scott indicated that expectations of their people are clear and this is a key factor in getting commitment to the plan and ultimately resulting in an innovation culture and pursuit of excellence.

On the back of the successful approach undertaken in operations in Lao, the PanAust management team are confident they have created something that can be rolled out to future projects.  Something not overly complex or difficult, but effective.  They will use this templated approach in the development of Frieda River.

Frieda River represents one of the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in the world.  They consider the optimum approach to this substantial Mineral Resource is via a multi-staged development that involves an initial project stage that forms the platform for subsequent phases of exploration, Mineral Resource definition and development.

The question was asked of Scott regarding how suppliers might connect with PanAust in relation to the Frieda River project.  Head of procurement and logistics sit in Brisbane, there is an open engagement policy in place and potential suppliers are welcomed.  PanAust is a company that likes to share the opportunity with others.  Initial engagement was encouraged via their website.  The company pride themselves on having a close working relationship with their suppliers, acknowledging they wouldn’t be able to achieve their productivity gains without these close working relationships.  

There was a question asked around how PanAust defines “innovation”.  Refreshingly, their approach is straightforward and simple.  The have recently revisited their approach to innovation and this has led to the formation of an ‘innovation committee’.  While the internal conversation on this topic will be ongoing, the PanAust team work on the premise that innovation shouldn’t be shrouded in complexity and hard to achieve.  Their definition is simply ‘how can things be done differently to create better outcomes’?  Innovative thinking is therefore directly linked to their culture of continuous improvement.  While they haven’t yet signed off on how it is defined in each of the jurisdictions (as each of the jurisdictions are different) it is obvious that technology and innovation go hand in hand with a direct relationship to their people, processes and plant.

A great example, of not only of how a smart Brisbane based mining company has developed innovative, best practice solutions, but how to apply those solutions, and generate impressive results, in some very challenging offshore locations.  The quality of the presentation and the willingness within the business to share their story is also an excellent example of the abundance mentality often seen in our leading mining companies.  This peer to peer support and openness in sharing experiences and lessons learnt with industry peers is a key factor in helping to create a stronger and more competitive mining industry.

If you are an Austmine Member you can access Scott's full presentation via your member portal HERE. If you would like to discuss how to become a member to gain access to this and other content please contact Megan.Edwards@Austmine.com.au.

This article was written but Austmine’s Business Facilitator, Anthony Holzwart who is a part of our Entrepreneurs’ Program. Anthony works closely with METS and Miners to build supplier improvement projects (SIP). To learn more about this program and to find out if your business can participate, please email Anthony.Holzwart@Austmine.com.au

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