African Underground Mining Services: The underground mining partner of choice

African Underground Mining Services: The underground mining partner of choice

Since 2007, there has been a leader in providing mechanised underground mining services in Africa – African Mining Underground Services (AUMS). The company prides itself on its ability to outperform the owner-operator underground mining operations tonne for tonne, all the while improving the overall profitability of mining projects, with the first priority on the well-being of its personnel.

As the partner of choice to some of the world’s leading mining operators, including Roxgold Inc, AngloGold Ashanti and Newmont Ghana, delivering on that promise is essential.

The recently launched Subika Project, located in the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana, West Africa, is a highly significant gold project in which Newmont has partnered with AUMS to develop it into a mine that will ultimately see it rank as one of the highest producing underground operations on the continent.

Blair Sessions, AUMS’ Chief Operating Officer, is looking forward to delivering safe and efficient production at the Subika Operation, as the company has delivered on other projects and in different jurisdictions throughout continental Africa.

Sessions joined the company in 2014, having extensive experience in various mining operations across Australia, many while General Manager of one of AUMS’ parent companies, Barminco. Sessions believes that the key to the success of the AUMS business has and will continue to come from the transfer of skills, maintaining the high standards and experience from within the Australian underground mining sector.

“Our joint venture owners are two Australian contracting companies in Ausdrill and Barminco,” he says. “Essentially, what AUMS is accomplishing in Africa is effectively the same deliverables as what is being achieved in Australia, if not better in some areas. It’s about bringing every facet of operational excellence to the African continent, transferring and enhancing those necessary skills, aiming to leave a robust and positive company legacy.”

While it is admirable, and results have proven that it has been a successful integration, what is an effective and profitable model in Australia may not be the case in Africa. No mining operation is without it’s challenges, so to move from one geography to another and experience zero hurdles along the way is almost unheard of.

“In the quest to deliver the Australian safe production model into Africa, naturally we have a strong emphasis on the training and transfer of skills utilising technology wherever possible to our national workforce,” Sessions says. “A core foundation of our business plan is that AUMS has the right people and the right systems in place to consistently deliver a safe, high quality product to our business partners. AUMS prides itself that local businesses within the surrounding and broader communities that we operate in, will also benefit from our operations”.

This is something that Sessions feels is one of the many reasons that partners such as Newmont Ghana choose to work with AUMS.

AUMS’ strategy is to continue to develop its people in every country in which it operates with a view to generating long term success in knowledge transfer, personnel development and financial growth for individuals and the community.

The company is proud of its training success, both in Ghana and across Africa.

To date, AUMS has trained well in excess of 1,000 Ghanaians, and close to 3,000 Africans in its short history in the skills required for large scale mechanised, safe and productive underground mining.

“When we started with Subika, we had a core group of both Ghanaian operators and expatriates who were known to us and who we could rely on,” he says. “We have implemented training systems that are comprehensive and well developed as they have been established and further improved for over 25 years at Barminco”.

The purchasing of fit for purpose specialised equipment simulators is another area that AUMS has invested in for the growth and development of its employees.

AUMS recommenced work at the Subika Underground Project in May 2017, following the successful contract award which saw an initial five-year contract put in place to “effectively establish underground capital infrastructure, and continually drive for steady state production”.  The ultimate vision for the Subika Underground Project is a +20 year high-production underground mine with a robust business case for future growth, that has a long term production output delivering of over 2m tonnes per annum”.

“The Subika Underground Project is very exciting. It has plenty of scope for future expansion, and with further exploration drilling I am sure Newmont will see growth in their projected mine life and production continuing,” he says.

“We are fortunate to be involved with some fantastic projects within East and West Africa, all with expansion opportunities and we believe strongly in our business partnership with all our clients. AUMS aim to ensure a cohesive and aligned strategy in not only developing each operation, reaching its full potential, but also driving the benefits for the local communities and broader regions in which we operate”.

As a contracting company, it is essential that AUMS establishes key strategic relationships with all mine operators and continues to foster its existing and potential business relationships, not only to deliver on the project expectations, but exceed them.

All clients AUMS work with have exceptional CSR activities, and the company ensures that it makes a significant contribution towards them as well as establishing its own. Working with local communities, enriching the lives of those communities, providing infrastructure and investment to local areas are attitudes and beliefs that are at the very core of the company’s business strategy.

To this end, Sessions can point to the way in which AUMS truly exceeds what the commonplace expectations of what a business partner can be.

“AUMS has an extensive history of involvement in every community we operate in, investing in in schools, recreational facilities and organisations as well as charitable works. We drive local employment and transfer of business skills and opportunities by the sub-contracting and development of as many local businesses as possible. Our employment is obviously a key focus – in Ghana nearly 50% of our employees come from the immediate surrounding areas of operations, whereas another 40% comes from the surrounding mining areas within Ghana” says Sessions.

Since beginning work at the project in 2017, it didn’t take long before AUMS began to grow and success began to materialise.

“Within the first three months, we had 300 people working on site,” he says. “As an underground mining solutions provider, state of the art technology with our mining equipment is crucial in the delivery of a project.”

Historically, the mining industry has been recognised as one that lags behind others with regards to technological innovation, relying on traditional mining methods that has a strong history of proven success. But for AUMS, the company utilises advanced technologies in underground mining, technologies that are not spoken about as frequently as they should be.

AUMS has partnered with Sandvik Group and implemented an underground remote loading system. This is fully autonomous, controlled remotely and ultimately will be operated from the surface, which is the first of its kind in the African mining industry.

“We have a number of remote technologies and automatic production drilling technologies which will streamline production activities. In addition, AUMS has adopted machine learning and collision avoidance systems to further improve our critical safety systems – all of this being powered through underground wi-fi.”

This wi-fi connectivity in underground mines allows for a centralised control room that facilitates cross communication between the various automated machinery and equipment, providing Sessions and the onsite staff access to information and data “second-by-second” in real time.

Currently, as part of a wider African portfolio, the company works with Roxgold in Burkina Faso and Anglo Gold Ashanti in Tanzania. Across each of its projects, Sessions believes that AUMS focuses on delivering the safest, sustainable yet most productive outcomes and delivering that at a greater level than any potential competitors.

“We take the same systems of work and the same processes and training systems to all our operations, whether it's in Australia, Tanzania, Burkina Faso or Ghana,” he says.

“It's a matter of ensuring that we tailor our safety, operational and maintenance systems and optimise wherever possible to ensure that we provide our clients with the best end product.”

AUMS extends well beyond simply delivering a successful mining operation and profitability. Like any company, growth and a diverse sustainable portfolio are key business goals, but Sessions stresses that there is a legacy that AUMS wants to leave.

“An integral component of AUMS’ vision is to develop the national workforce to the level where we expand the foundations of our national skill base and essentially nationalise the workforce to the point where senior management and executive management roles are filled by that national workforce.

“We can ensure that we impart the necessary and required skills into the African underground mining community as a wider skill base and provide real value to that community as well, leaving a long lasting legacy.”

Blair Sessions