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Mining Elites in Africa 2020: African solutions for African problems

Established in 2016, METC Engineering has wasted no time in presenting the African mining sector with a cost effective, alternative engineering business model that has seen it quickly build a substantial footprint across various regions on the continent.

Low commodity price environments in recent years, and the consequential downturn for the mining industry saw mining companies looking for new engineering service offerings that delivered faster turnarounds and designs at the most cost competitive rates.

This article first appeared in Mining Elites in Africa 2021
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“While the sector today may be enjoying the benefits of higher prices, it has nonetheless not changed its expectations with regard to engineering service delivery and has come to expect a more hands-on, nimble approach and cost-effective engineering,” says Dr Steve Cathey, Business Development Director at METC.

“METC was founded on these very principles and over the last four years has cemented its position within the industry as a boutique engineering firm specialising in the design and construction of metallurgical plants – delivered using an extremely flexible operating model – with the skill sets to support our clients along the entire metallurgical value chain, starting with concept studies,” says Nick Tatalias, MD at METC.

Impressively, the company itself may still be in its infancy years, but the team makes up for that – between them they have designed, built and operated more than 75 metallurgical plants across the African continent.

“What our client base has come to respect is the value engineering proposition we provide, which has on every occasion reduced project execution cost – often by between 20% and 30%,” Tatalias highlights.

It is the company’s extensive expertise, and flexible and agile approach that enables it to consider a plant design and incorporate various changes to not only reduce the capital expenditure required to build, but through a smaller and more process efficient design, reduce operating expenditure as well.

“In some instances, this equates to returning unprofitable projects to profitability,” Cathey notes.

“And let us not forget the advantages we bring as an Africa-based firm, one that understands the nuances of working in Africa and how best to mitigate the associated risks,” says Ryan Illingworth, Business Development Manager at METC.

“The company is also very adept at partnering with local companies and forming alliances with suitable technology providers to deliver additional value.

“Very few global conglomerates have the appetite to work in many of the continent’s jurisdictions and escalate prices significantly to warrant that risk,” Illingworth further points out.

“In fact, in some instances, we’ve seen risk assessments undertaken for a country cost more than the engineering study work itself.”

And while METC’s value engineering proposition has quickly become a unique service offering to the industry, the company is looking to deliver this approach from the start, working on Greenfield projects and driving down construction costs from the onset.

“The techniques and methodologies we apply are as relevant to new builds as they are to existing design work that requires optimisation,” Tatalias points out.

Multi-jurisdiction, multi-commodity track record proven

MET’s design work has taken it across the African continent, ranging from South Africa to Niger, and its commodity experience extends just as far.

“We have been particularly successful in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),” Tatalias reveals.

The company has conducted engineering design work for execution of a Greenfields 50 000 tpa copper and 16 000 tpa cobalt project in Kolwezi in the Lualaba province.

Located about 60 km north-west of Lubumbashi, METC provided value engineering services to update a feasibility study for one of the larger copper producers in the area. Having implemented some fundamental changes to the process design and an entire revision of the new sulphide circuit, the company was able to reduce the cost of the project by 25%.

“We achieved similar results with the engineering design work for a new zinc concentrator in the DRC as well, bringing the project price down on the 120 tph plant by 29%,” Cathey reveals.

In South Africa METC delivered equally significant value on one of the country’s most eagerly anticipated project start-ups – Orion Minerals’ Prieska copper-zinc project.

A value engineering study conducted on the processing plant saw METC reduce the plant cost by around 20%, bringing it below R1 billion.

Within the country the company is preparing for a study to recover high-grade rare-earth material from gypsum dumps in Palaborwa, as well as PGM materials from the retreatment of tailings dam material in the North West Province.

Towards the end of 2020, METC was also conducting engineering feasibility study work for two uranium projects – one in Niger and the other in Tanzania.

A possible project on the horizon, which METC was bidding for towards the end of 2020, is the engineering study work for a European recycling company that would extract and recycle PGM material (palladium, platinum and rhodium) from catalytic converters.