For the last three decades, SENET has been one of South Africa’s leading project management and engineering, procurement and construction management companies.
An apt description regarding the philosophy of the African continent can be found in the words of British writer A. A. Gill, who said, “You either get the point of Africa or you don’t.
What draws me back year after year is that it’s like seeing the world with the lid off”.
Africa’s diversity and untamed beauty have enthralled and captivated people and organisations for many centuries.
In the words of Rudyard Kipling: “one cannot resist the lure of Africa”. Both are very appropriate insights to acknowledge when referencing the mighty landmass that is Africa.
This article first appeared
in Mining Elites in Africa 2019
For the last three decades, SENET, one of South Africa’s leading project management and engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) companies, has certainly been unable to resist the lure of the African continent and the vast opportunities and knowledge that it has offered the business and its people.
To claim that any one person or business can be deemed a true specialist in Africa is a bold statement, which SENET implicitly appreciates.
And although SENET has delivered projects in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and South and Central America, it is largely focussed on Africa and specialises in project delivery excellence in gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, and iron ore throughout the continent.
Therefore, on the basis of an impressive and successful 30-year tenure of project execution and study work within the mineral and mining industry, spanning the African continent, SENET can boldly accept its role as a true project specialist within the African mining and minerals industry.
Darren Naylor, SENET’s MD, cannot be clearer in confirming SENET’s commitment and strategy.
“SENET is nimble, proactive and hands-on. Africa remains our core market and focus area. We will continue to excel in offering our services and bespoke solutions to clients who have African mining and materials handling projects.”
If there is any doubt regarding SENET’s role as a true project specialist, the following statistics highlight its impeccable track record:
- SENET has been carrying out projects in Africa since 1991, being one of the first South African engineering companies to venture north of its own borders.
- SENET has operated in approximately 20 countries on the African Continent, most notably the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zambia, Botswana; Namibia; Eritrea, Ethiopia; Sudan; Central African Republic; Egypt; Ghana, Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Senegal; Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
- SENET has adopted a ‘self-construct’ execution model and has successfully executed 19 projects on this basis within Africa.
- SENET has carried out in excess of 500 studies and projects based in Africa.
- SENET has executed more turnkey projects in Africa than most of its industry peers, a total of 19 projects.
- SENET has developed more copper mining projects in Africa than any other company, a total of 18 projects since 2007.
- SENET has the largest and most advanced hydrometallurgical process engineering team in Africa (if not the world), amassing more than 120 years of combined African design experience.
- In the early 1990s, SENET pioneered African gold heap leach projects and developed a range of proprietary heap leach equipment.
- SENET was the first engineering company to develop a full-scale mineral processing plant in Eritrea.
- On the new initiatives front, SENET officially launched SENERGY Africa – its clean energy solutions business structured along three business lines, namely energy efficiency, power project delivery, and power provisioning.
“We do not claim to know everything about Africa, but we are not afraid of immersing ourselves into a continent that we have managed to successfully navigate for many decades to the benefit of our clients. We will continue this journey, Naylor states.
SENET’s origins – The Golden Age
SENET has been providing specialist project management, multidisciplinary engineering, procurement, logistics management, and construction services to the African minerals beneficiation sector since 1989.
Its core focus is on base metals and precious metals processing, predominantly for clients on the African continent, but also in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Central and South America.
SENET’s core skill set is specifically on the development of gold, and copper and cobalt processing facilities, utilising specialist hydrometallurgical and flotation processing techniques.
Such is SENET’s depth of knowledge in hydrometallurgy and flotation that it boasts the largest hydrometallurgical process team of any projects firm in Africa, as well as the equally impressive record of having developed the greatest number of hydrometallurgical copper and/or cobalt facilities in the African Copperbelt.
SENET’s origins are more modest, however, having developed from a family undertaking providing bulk materials handling and heap leach equipment mainly to the gold processing sector.
In the early nineties, SENET developed proprietary heap leach stacking and agglomeration equipment that earned it a reputation as a specialist in heap leach projects in Africa and globally – a reputation and skill set that SENET still retains.
Following several successful heap leach projects, such as the Ayanfuri, Iduapriem and Teberebie gold projects in Ghana, the Siguiri Phase 1 project in Guinea-Conakry, as well as the Yatela project in Mali, SENET’s skill set evolved to cover the full range of metallurgical extractive expertise.
Initially, this early capability was focussed on carbon-in-leach (CIL), carbon-in-pulp (CIP) and carbon-in-solution (CIS) gold projects in West and East Africa.
These included the successful implementation of the three subsequent phases of the Siguiri gold CIP project (up to 10 Mtpa throughput), two phases of the Tasiast gold project (up to 2.5 Mtpa CIL), the Loulo gold CIL expansion project in Mali, the Tongon 3.6 Mtpa gold CIL project in Côte d’Ivoire, the Twangiza 1.3 Mtpa gold CIL project in the DRC, as well as the first phase of the Bisha 2 Mtpa gold CIL project in Eritrea.
“The Bisha project, in particular, was the first commercial mining project in the history of Eritrea and provided unique logistical and skills challenges never before encountered by any other projects firm,” says Pieter Theron, SENET’s Projects Director.
“Notwithstanding these unique challenges, the project was completed well within budget and time and subsequently led to SENET undertaking a further phase of the Bisha project: the concentrator development.”
In addition to its prowess in CIL/CIP and CIS technologies, largely applied to extractive technologies of free milling ores, SENET has since begun to hone its skills in the design and implementation of process plants to treat more complex sulphide and refractory ores.
“To this end, SENET has undertaken a number of complex studies and designs in refractory ore process plants that take into account the need to balance environmental responsibilities with the technological pragmatism necessitated by the remote locations in which these plants operate,” remarks Phil Bundo, SENET’s Process Engineering Director.
To date, SENET is investing an additional focus on developing solutions for refractory gold ores, which entail the following explicitly:
- Bacterial oxidation (BIOX®) – using bacteria to oxidise minerals
- Pressure oxidation – using a combination of high heat and pressure to oxidise the gold-bearing ores
- Albion Process™ – using ultrafine grinding with atmospheric oxidation
“It is somewhat ironic that SENET’s origins are rooted in gold projects – the golden age, as the expression goes, is a period defined by outstanding excellence, quality, and prosperity,” says Mpho Nkgodi, general manager of Business Development.
“Today, those same principles continue to underpin SENET’s success and the trust bestowed on it by its clients on current projects such as the 1.4Mt/a upgrade of the Yanfolila gold project in Mali.”
SENET’s copper-cobalt expertise – The beginning of an anchored relationship
Around the same time as the development of the first phase of the Bisha project, SENET was approached by a junior copper mining client in the DRC to design and implement a 20 000 tpa London Metals Exchange (LME) grade copper cathode project, including appreciable amounts of cobalt hydroxide.
The project in question was acquired, during its first phase, by a major international copper mining company, who continued to develop, with SENET, three subsequent phases of the project.
In 2013, this project culminated in one of the largest solvent extraction (SX)/electrowinning (EW) plants in Africa with a capacity to produce more than 200 000 tpa of LME copper cathode (again with cobalt hydroxide). Such was the success of this project that it would spawn a long-standing client relationship with SENET.
Since that initial project, SENET went on to design and implement almost all of this client’s major copper projects in the African Copperbelt, thus earning SENET its reputation as a leading supplier of copper-cobalt SX/EW plants globally.
“The importance of a solid relationship with our clients cannot be overstated,” says Hugo Swart, SENET’s Operations Director.
“If someone had told me at the time that what began as a small project in the Congo with a junior, would end up accounting for nearly 70% of our core business, I would simply not have believed it.
"The strong relationship SENET has with its clients, which results in repeat business, is by far our largest and most prized asset. It also speaks firmly to our project delivery focus and has served to carry us through the toughest of economic times,” asserts Swart.
"The relationship between SENET and the copper major continues as strongly as when it started and is currently underpinned by significant project activity, such as the development of a whole ore leach copper-cobalt project in the DRC, an acid plant development for the same whole ore leach project, as well as the design and installation of a large copper concentrator in Zambia.
To date, SENET has completed over 18 copper and copper-cobalt projects in Africa alone, almost all of them in the African Copperbelt.
“SENET is now as well known in copper and cobalt as it is in gold. In the African Copperbelt, SENET stands head and shoulders above its peers. No one else has SENET’s track record,” adds Naylor.
As a consequence of its copper-cobalt track record, SENET now boasts a highly technical and competent team of hydrometallurgical experts and, as noted above, the largest of any EPCM project house in Africa.
On the back of its decades-long success with various hydro-metallurgical processing techniques, SENET has also refined a process ideally suited to copper processing – milling in raffinate.
“Milling in raffinate replaces the raw water used to grind ore to a slurry state with recovered acidic effluent from acidic tailings and from raffinate bleed to acidic tailings.
"Raffinate is an acidic barren solution normally produced after copper extraction in solvent extraction. It contains acid and residual copper.
"The milling in raffinate technique improves efficiencies and reduces overall operating costs by reducing fresh acid consumption and has been applied to great effect on our projects in the Congo,” says Phil Bundo.
SENET’s close client cooperation, hands-on project management ethos, logistical and construction excellence – A foundation for projects success
Originating from a family-owned business, SENET’s corporate culture is characterised by its flat and unbureaucratic management style.
At any point in the execution of its projects, all the directors (shareholders) and senior management (department general managers) are actively engaged in the day-to-day running of projects, which means that decisions are made expeditiously in all project-related matters.
It is SENET’s strict project management philosophy to appoint a director as a project sponsor to guarantee that all projects receive the highest decision-making authority, and SENET also recommends that a client representative be present in SENET’s offices during project execution.
Over the years, this formula has ensured that clients have direct access to project information while SENET maintains a pragmatic and dynamic approach to project management – a necessity for the remote locations where SENET executes projects.
Another attribute of SENET’s operational philosophy is to actively maintain a certain size of company.
“It has been our experience that a business of around 200 to 350 personnel allows us to maintain the requisite hands-on approach with our clients, and it is for this reason that we have actively maintained the business at these levels in spite of the opportunities to grow over the years,” Naylor affirms.
“Furthermore, we have found that the same approach benefits SENET with the ability to mitigate the effects of the commodity cycles on its staff. To that end, SENET has a higher proportion of skilled staff with deep institutional memory when compared to junior staff,” he adds.
The higher ratio of skilled staff to junior staff, combined with hands-on management by its directors also means that SENET’s projects receive the most rigorous attention and scrutiny that the company can offer. Consequently, SENET boasts an extremely high success rate respect of delivering projects on time and within budget.
“Notwithstanding the necessities of change in our industry, which one cannot predict, it is certainly our aim to always maintain our way of executing projects,”adds Nkgodi.
In addition to the aforementioned project management approach, SENET also leverages the well-honed skills of its supply chain department (procurement and logistics).
The department comprises individuals with intimate knowledge of the countries in which SENET operates, along with the ability to maximise its international procurement expertise and global supplier networks to provide the best value for its clients’ investments.
SENET’s procurement professionals contribute to execution excellence using both stand-alone and integrated engineering, construction, and maintenance service platforms.
Its supply chain department has managed an annual global spend of approximately US$1 billion in equipment and project materials (including mechanical equipment, electrical equipment, instrumentation, structural steel and plate work, and construction equipment and materials), and approximately US$750 million in service contracts (including civils, earthworks, roadworks and third-party consultants and design) through strategic sourcing, material management, contract management, and logistics functions.
Lastly, another reason for SENET’s success lies in its construction management expertise. Over the last three decades, SENET has done extensive construction work in remote parts of Africa either based on an EPCM basis or EPC basis.
In the early years of SENET’s existence, not many construction companies were prepared to take the risk of venturing into these areas. Due to a lack of resources, SENET procured its own workforce to perform construction activities on site, often on a reimbursable basis – a process known as the “self-perform” construction method.
This method has allowed SENET to save its clients substantial costs on the project since the workforce is often only charged at cost to the client; whereas a subcontractor requires a premium to cover profit and risk.
When SENET undertakes construction projects on a self-perform basis, it appoints a team of skilled construction management staff to oversee all site-based activities. SENET will then hire skilled labour such as artisans and all the general labour from local communities at cost, for and on behalf of the client, and all the general labour from local communities.
SENET has also learned through the self-perform experience that when operating in the more remote locations, it is beneficial to the client to specify and supply all the necessary construction equipment, vehicles and tooling to equip the construction teams.
This approach has led to substantial overall construction cost savings and greater control thereof, as well as vastly improved quality control, and health and safety standards.
SENET’s overall construction management prowess, whether on a self-perform basis or otherwise, has resulted in the African project expertise that now underlies the basis of its unique selling proposition and has become a central focus of its skills.