/
Analysis

Evolving Demands for Infrastructure on Mine Sites

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 11:44

Mining as an industry in Mexico dates back five centuries, but just as the techniques that are employed have developed and modernized over time, so have the ways that mines operate and the infrastructure that supports them. As such, a number of different structures are built to support mining operations throughout the various stages of a mine’s life, from living quarters and offices to laboratories and production plants. Nicholas Polit, former Director General of Williams Scotsman Mexico, a company which provides building solutions for mine sites, highlights the benefits of using temporary infrastructure to meet the very specific challenges of construction on mine sites. “Making permanent constructions is almost impossible in the mining industry, because of their locations in such remote areas,” he says. “Temporary structures can be built entirely in a factory before being taken to wherever they are needed so that they can be assembled, which is a very quick process. At Williams Scotsman we provide two building types: those that are planned to be flexible and can be moved around easily, and those that are more complex and built on a larger scale.”

Installing these temporary structures on a mine site, as opposed to something more permanent, brings financial as well as logistical benefits for the mine’s management team, because the relative speed with which they can be built prevents delays to the starting or continuation of a project, which in mining can incur very high costs. “Companies want to be sure that we will complete their project on time. As most of our products do not require foundation works to be carried out, we are able to drive onto a new site and – provided that it is leveled – install and get the project going quickly and easily,” Polit says. Building the mine site using temporary infrastructure also brings significant benefits due to the inherent flexibility in its design, which allows it to be enlarged or adapted to meet the changing requirements of the project. This is particularly useful in an industry like mining where the original outlook for a project can change dramatically according to the size and location of the deposits discovered on any one property.

Concerns that, by being temporary, the quality or lifetime of these structures might be compromised, should be assuaged by the fact that temporary structures can be designed to last anywhere from a matter of months to a number of years. What is more, as Polit argues, over time the needs of mining companies have become more complex, in part because of wider technological developments, and the capacity of temporary infrastructure to meet those needs has evolved along with it: “As time has passed our customers’ needs have evolved. People continue to need this product, and they will continue to demand better quality in the future. 20 years ago we would have seen engineers standing outside the mine with their blueprint lying on a table. But technology has changed, and computers are now needed to carry out the work. However, computers cannot be set up under a tent, without the appropriate electrical connections. Today mines depend on having entire offices set up at the mine site, with different equipment such as computers, plotters and printers.” According to Polit, mining companies have also radically improved the accommodation facilities they provide for their staff. This is in part as a result of a more developed labor culture that better protects workers’ rights and increases expectations in terms of living and working standards. “In the past, workers on mine sites used to sleep in their tents in sleeping bags, and these were the only things that the company provided them with,” Polit details. “Nowadays the comfort of the workers is one of the main concerns, and we look after that by designing spacious living areas, with air conditioning for example.”

At the same time as increasing and improving the features of its products, Williams Scotsman also sees value in maintaining the simplicity of their design, not only so that they continue to be quick to assemble, but also so that they can easily be maintained by the customers themselves. “We have been working in this industry for over 50 years and we adhere to very strict construction practices, called the North American Standard Codes,” Polit details. “Nevertheless, we are a low tech construction business, and most of the material we use to construct our buildings is available at any home improvement and construction store. From that point of view our clients do not have to continue working with us for the duration of their project if they do not wish to. We have a specialized crew that is willing to help, but unless they ask us to do the job specifically they are able to maintain the buildings themselves.” 

Temporary constructions can also help mining companies to keep their costs low in other ways. Mining operations use high levels of energy, and the industry is increasingly concerned about how to reduce its energy consumption and improve its environmental impact. In this way, temporary infrastructure can also complement mining companies in their broader environmental strategies. The biggest benefit is the fact that such structures are designed specifically so that they can be dissembled and removed from the mine site easily when they are no longer needed. This brings a practical advantage to an industry where mining companies are required to leave the mine sites they operate on in the same state as, if not better than, when they arrived there. In terms of environmental impact, companies like Williams Scotsman also offer structures that have environmental solutions for helping their customers to reduce their general consumption levels, which in turn reduces operating costs. This is something that Polit has observed the more sophisticated mining companies doing in order to control their energy consumption. For such companies, Williams Scotsman offers insulated roofs, walls and windows, as well as electrical features such as automatic switches and motion detectors, which help mining companies to reduce energy consumption on mining projects. The general objective of Williams Scotsman is to build temporary constructions for its customers that fulfill their requirements across these different areas, allowing them to focus on what they do best: building and operating mines. “These companies want to focus on building the mine itself, rather than the surrounding infrastructure. In every operation where a mining company needs temporary facilities for its workers, even if it is a project that will last many years, we can help them out,” adds Polit.