May 17, 2020

Masan Resources Nui Phao Mine: The World’s Largest Tungsten Mine

Masan Resources
Tungsten Mine
Nui Phao Mining
Vietnam Min
Admin
10 min
Masan Resources Nui Phao Mine: World's Largest Tungsten Mine
Masan Group, the listed parent company of Masan Resources, is one of Vietnams largest companies and has built leading businesses in the branded food and...

Masan Group, the listed parent company of Masan Resources, is one of Vietnam’s largest companies and has built leading businesses in the branded food and beverage sector and in the animal nutrition value chain. Its businesses include Masan Consumer Holdings, the producer of some of Vietnam’s most popular brands across many food and beverage categories, and Masan Nutri-Science, Vietnam’s largest local animal protein and feed company. Masan Group also is the largest shareholder in Techcombank, a leading joint stock commercial bank in Vietnam.  

In 2010, with a vision to put Vietnam on the map for transforming the global tungsten industry, the Vietnamese company established Masan Resources and acquired a controlling interest in Nui Phao, a world-class polymetallic project in northern Vietnam. Since then, Masan has focused on key areas to complete investment requirements for the project and support its successful development of the largest tungsten mine in the world.

Nui Phao Mining

Located in Thai Nguyen Province in northern Vietnam, Nui Phao is the world’s largest tungsten mine, with an estimated reserve of 66 million tons. As the flagship asset to Masan Resources’s portfolio, the polymetallic deposit also includes a rare combination of economic mineralalization of fluorspar, bismuth and copper occurring with the tungsten.

“I’m only aware of two or three polymetallic deposits in the world,” said Dominic Heaton, CEO of Masan Resources. “A project will typically have one, or maybe two recoverable minerals, but rarely anything like Nui Phao.”

According to Heaton, the project originated when a Canadian junior mining company, out exploring for tin prospects, hit on some tungsten anomalies. 

“By the end of 2004, the company had advanced the project through a feasibility study, including starting the engineering and permitting process, until it sold the project to a local private equity group in 2006.  The private equity group ran into trouble raising capital for the project and in 2008, the project went on to care and maintenance, until Masan Group acquired the project in 2010,” said Heaton.

According to Masan’s website, Nui Phao mine’s resource was initially estimated by AMEC and re-estimated in 2011 and 2014 by Cube Consulting, in accordance with the JORC Code. A total of 376 holes were used for resource estimation conducted by Cube Consulting in 2014, of these 78 holes, 8,762 meters were drilled since the previous re-estimation in 2011.

In terms of logistics, the project is well-situated as it stretches over an area of 9.21 kilometers in the Dai Tu District, accessible by road via Highway 37, railway via Vinarail railway system, and the Hai Phong port and the new Cai Lan port.

“From a project delivery point of view, the project has easy access to good people and resources, and great infrastructure for contractors as well as any imports that need to come into the country,” said Heaton. “Some further works are being done, including better access, but the logistics overall are pretty good.”

Nui Phao  is an open-pit mine with a low strip ratio, making it one of the lowest-cost long-life producers of tungsten in the world. There is also potential to extend the mining life of Nui Phao past the current plans of 20 years.

Nui Phao Management Team

Because execution is the key to success, Masan Resources set out to meticulously develop a team of international mining industry professionals with extensive regional experience in building and operating projects with international best practices, and tie this to a proven local execution team.

“For us, it wasn’t just about having the right people, but rather having the right people in the right role, at the right time,” said Heaton. “For Nui Phao, we needed to build an experienced team to execute our game plan."

Along with the hiring of Heaton, Mason Resources secured an instrumental element of the execution team when they retained Deputy General Vu Hong as part of the acquisition in 2010.

“Mr. Hong has an extensive background and experience with the project at hand — covering both the social and environmental side of things, including relationship with key people within the community,” said Heaton.

Responsible for all Compensation &Resettlement (C&R) activitiesand external relations, Hong has worked on the Nui Phao project since 2004, as well as managed resettlement efforts for over 3,000 families during his career.

Heaton brought in Dale Smith as Construction Director and Craig Bradshaw as General Director, adding key components to its team.

“Dale was a vital part in the construction aspect of Nui Phao. He created a plan on how we could do the project, as well as building contingency plans around that.” Heaton said. “Bringing on Craig allowed us to look forward into the project, while conducting all the necessary activities to get started. We needed someone with one eye on the long-term while being mindful of the decision making going in the heat of resettlement and construction.”

Next the company brought Russell Griffin as Sales & Marketing Director to start building the customer demand ahead of operations, then added former Finance Director with Glencore Xstrata, Wayne Apted, as CFO in 2014.

“We’ve assembled a world-class management team where everyone played a critical role in getting this project off the ground and into production,” Heaton said. “If you have a clear vision of goals, as well as of your weaknesses and strengths, you have the ability to bring others in and align them with your goals.”

Overcoming Challenges

The success of Nui Phao didn’t come easy for Masan Resources, as the key milestones included acquiring funding, resolving community resettlement activities and training its workforce correctly to run the most efficient operation possible.

Funding represented the first challenge for Masan. In 2011, US-based private equity group Mount Kellett Capital Management LP invested $100 million for a 20 percent stake in Masan Resources, including parent company Masan Group, committing over $125 million towards the development of the project. Other investments included $115 million from the Vietnam Development Bank, $90 million by a syndicate of local commercial banks and $80 million by the Standard Chartered Bank, all refinanced in 2015 with local currency bonds at lower costs with longer tenure

“Because of Masan Group’s track record and credibility with the private equity community and leading banks, we were able to obtain a hearing with some different groups to present our case and educate them on the project. The fact that we were able to raise debt capital for an unhedgeable commodity in a challenging global environment is a testament to the potential of Nui Phao.” said Heaton.

The second step in furthering the project was the Compensation & Resettlement (C&R) process, affecting seven communes and roughly 1,530 households in six project sectors. Because Masan was commencing a project that originally started in the early 2000s, the company chose to focus on rebuilding the relationships with the three layers of government and the community.

“Vu Hong’s understanding of what commitments have been made previously has been vital to ensuring we maintain our standards within this project,” said Heaton. “His relationships with all levels of community and government have been invaluable to us.”

Led by Hong, Masan utilized a progressive resettlement approach with three objectives in mind: minimize impact of land acquisition and other socially adverse impacts, ensure that affected people maintain or improve their economic standards, and ensure project benefits are shared with the people affected by the project as well as surrounding communities.

As part of its commitment, Masan created three resettlement sites:  Nam Song Cong, Hung Son 3 and Dong Bong, including an additional site, Hung Song 2 Site, to support the resettlement and economic restoration programs. In total, Masan will resettle 1,925 households over the life of the project, making it the largest resettlement project in the province and one of the largest in Vietnam.

Next, Masan undertook its training development works. To achieve this the company partnered with the provincial Department of Labor and Social Affairs to develop and deliver a 15-month paid vocational traineeship program for about 250 project-affected people.

“The training program was a great example of us stepping back to review the necessary requirements and then going about achieving it. Because the workforce was ready in advance, the delays in commissioning allowed us to further their training,” Heaton said.

The Nui Phao Mining Site

With all pieces in place, Masan Resources focused on accelerating the project into development — commencing the C&R process, signing Jacobs Engineering and awarding contracts.

Construction started in mid-2011 and was completed in less than two years, with commercial production starting during the first quarter of 2014. Since then, Masan Resources has focused on increasing production rates, resulting in more consistent processing throughput and recovery levels.

Now in production, Nui Phao is the largest producer of tungsten and among the largest producers of acid-grade fluorspar and bismuth in the world.

“We became the largest producing tungsten miner in the fourth quarter of 2014,” said Heaton. “Nui Phao accounts for 30 percent of the world total supply of tungsten and is also the largest single fluorite mine outside of China and Mexico, accounting for 6-7 percent of total global supply.”

Masan Resources has successfully secured the majority of its revenue stream by aligning with key players in each of its product sectors.  In 2012, Masan signed an offtake agreement with NYSE listed CMC Cometals to sell its acid-grade fluorspar to the global industry.  Similarly, bismuth is supplied to the world’s largest consumer of bismuth, 5NPlus under a multi-year supply agreement. In copper, Transamine has partnered for the sale and toll conversion of copper concentrates. 

“Both companies have been great partners to work with since we started the project,” said Heaton, adding, “They have worked with us and introduced out in the market place making sure we met with the right customers at the right time.”

Similarly, in 2014, Masan Resources signed a joint venture with H.C. Starck, a global manufacturer of technology metals, to both form a joint venture producing value added tungsten chemicals, as well as purchase a significant share of the tungsten production.

“These contracts all represent an interesting partnership play and customer relationship in tungsten, bismuth and fluorspar,” Heaton said.

By the end of 2020, Masan Resources aims to become a $2 billion company by achieving growth through mergers and acquisitions in the short term, and mineral exploration for the intermediate and long term.

“The Nui Phao project is the engine of Masan Resources,” said Heaton. “I expect big things to come in the next few years.”

Masan Resources/Nui Phao Management Team

Dominic Heaton, CEO

Dominic Heaton is responsible for developing the Nui Phao project, leading Masan Resources’ exploration activities and building Masan Resources into a globally significant tungsten player. Over the course of more than 27 year career in the mining industry, Dominic has managed projects in remote areas of Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Lao PDR. Prior to joining Masan Resources, he served a variety of management roles at Aurora Gold/Oxiana/OZ Minerals/MM Group, working as General Manager of Sepon Gold, Laos and General Manager of Operations of Martabe, Indonesia.

Dominic holds a Bachelor of Science from James Cook University, Townsville, Australia and a Post Graduate Diploma in Mineral Processing Technology from La Trobe University, Australia. He has also completed an Advanced Management Program with the Mt Eliza arm of the Melbourne Business School. Dominic is the member of Australian Institute of Mining & Metallurgy and Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Wayne Apted, CFO

Wayne Apted has over 20 years of finance experience in the mining industry. He was formerly a finance director in the mining industry across Europe, UAE and SE Asia with Glencore Xstrata plc, Normandy Mining Limited and Aurora Gold.

He is a member of Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand and graduated from Curtin University, Australia.

Craig Bradshaw, General Director (CEO) Nui Phao Mining Limited

Craig is responsible for general operations of Nui Phao Mine. Craig Bradshaw has over 23 years’ experience in the mining business, spanning mining and processing operations, logistics, and sales and marketing in Australia, Thailand and Lao PDR. Craig comes to Masan Resources from MMG LXML Sepon in Lao PDR, where was Senior Commercial Manager. He has also previously served as the Country General Manager for Thailand for Toll, Australasia’s largest fully integrated logistics service provider.

Craig holds a Bachelor of Business from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia and a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance & Investment from the Securities Institute of Australia. He is a Certified Practicing Accountant.

Source: Mining Global Company Report - http://www.miningglobal.com

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May 5, 2021

Mining 4.0: How innovation is shaping mines of the future

Bently Nevada
Baker Hughes
Digital Transformation
Industry 4.0
Benjamin Byrne & Chris Engdahl
8 min
How mining's place in the fourth industrial revolution holds the key to the world's carbon neutral future

Mining may be the gateway to the world’s carbon neutral future.  Green energy storage systems, for one, are largely dependent on minerals. According to the World Bank Group, clean energy needs will escalate demand for rare earth minerals by nearly 500% by 2050.

While this growing demand holds much promise for mining companies, it also creates new challenges. Mining operators must navigate the ever-present highly cyclical market conditions and capital-intense operations. Recent trends layer on additional challenges, such as the progressive retirement of the industry’s most experienced workers, increasing regulatory pressures, and rising energy costs. To proactively manage these multiple challenges and capitalize on rising demand, mining companies must innovate and lower operating costs to remain both profitable and viable. 

Why the urgent need for innovation?

Leading mining companies have shown that lower operating expense (OpEx) is a pre-requisite to on-going business success. This need is driven by the cyclical mining market and ever present,, hefty capital requirements, both of which are inherent in the mining industry. And, when demand is high, the OpEx cost component of unplanned downtime grows steeper. Data indicates that, in mining operations, the root cause of OpEx overages lies in maintenance issues that impede operating efficiencies and incur unnecessary costs. Left unaddressed, these gaps will prevent mining companies from fully capitalizing on increasing demand. 

According to McKinsey, mining companies have historically struggled with significant productivity declines, as shown below. In recent years, there is evidence that a slow recovery is underway, however, full resolution is in its’ infancy, primarily rooted in maintenance cost optimization.

Mining Productivity Index

Other data points on current mining operations underscore the urgent call for innovation and change:

  • 70%  operating efficiency due to breakdowns and stalled production, which translates to real potential for increased productivity and throughput
  • 30-50% of mining operations costs spent on maintaining plant, fleet and equipment, so, the magnitude of potential improvements on bottom-line profitability is significant
  • 3-5X cost for urgent repairs and corrective work requests versus planned maintenance, often made evident by tracking the percentage of work orders managed through the planning office.

While change is always difficult, the promise of technology (and Industry 4.0, Mining 4.0) is a welcome and required one for mining companies.  Digital technologies and automation, or Mining 4.0, is defined by smart equipment, drive data-driven (and thus better) decisions, catalyze connected communications and provide easier, more affordable maintenance. From there, mining companies will be able to speed up production, reduce downtime and boost employee safety – three pillars that have challenged mining operations for years.

The first step: Predictive maintenance via condition monitoring

As the first step to regain operational optimization and lower costs, mining companies must get “ahead of the curve” and prevent process interruptions and unplanned downtime. The key is predictive maintenance via condition monitoring systems.  By proactively assessing equipment health, mining operators can be alerted to developing failures before they occur and schedule planned repairs at the lowest possible cost and with minimal impact to production.

Condition monitoring systems are based on the principal that failure is a process, not an event. By monitoring asset characteristics, latent anomalies become apparent well before full failure, allowing for low-cost interventions, root-cause analysis and proactive planning for resolution, thereby mitigating process interruptions. Concurrent with deployment of well-engineered predictive maintenance strategy, a thorough rationalization review can minimize unnecessary or redundant maintenance tasks and, in many cases, eliminate human-induced failure modes.

Maintenance optimization is a powerful lever – and the first step -- to achieving and sustaining lower production costs in mining.

When 14% equals $8 million

Consider this PwC mining example, where predictive maintenance enabled a 14% reduction in maintenance spend by mitigating unplanned downtime to deliver US $8 million savings in operating expense (OpEx).

Goal: Reduce unplanned downtime

Solution: Condition monitoring system on critical equipment

Process:

  1. Condition monitoring insights provide operator alerts of potential failures.
  2. Proactive scheduling of repairs moves resolution to occur during planned maintenance, partial outage periods or normal equipment rotations.
  3. Asset availability and reliability increases, production interruptions are minimized and maintenance costs are reduced.

Result: 14% reduction in maintenance spend generates US $8 million in OpEx

PwC
Source: PwC “Balancing Uptime and Working Capital: Maintenance and Inventory Strategies in Mining”

Reliability and employee safety

The example above illustrates the dramatic improvements to operating expense as mining operators move from reactive / unplanned to proactive / planned maintenance. With decreased downtime, overall operational reliability also improves and with it, a metric of paramount importance in mining: employee safety.

Studies indicate that more reliable operations are safer operations. That’s because technology serves to reduce human-to-machine interaction and urgent, reactive work declines.  For one industrial company, as shown in the graph below, an OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) improvement of 52% delivered a safety improvement of 69% during a 10-year period. 

Reliability

 

Customer Case Study: Slurry pumps

Let’s look at specific mining applications ripe for optimization and maintenance cost savings.  The first is slurry pumps. In mining pumping stations, pump failures are responsible for 97% of unplanned maintenance costs. Pump reliability, however, is crucial in the areas of safety, environmental impact, and efficient transportation.

Key characteristics of slurry pumps can be monitored so that timely analysis of impending issues enable early detection of issues at inception and prior to failure. This avoids unplanned maintenance, unplanned downtime, and averts lost revenue.

In slurry pump applications, dynamic pressure sensors can be used to detect reciprocating diaphragm failures, providing a novel diagnostic to increase pump reliability. The solution is based on these design principles:

  • The hydraulic fluid flexes the diaphragm
  • When the diaphragm flexes, slurry is discharged
  • Abrasive, corrosive slurries prohibit pressure sensor installations in slurry valves
  • Thus, dynamic pressure monitoring of the hydraulic fluid assesses the effectiveness of slurry discharge

The result?  A savings of US $3 million per year, based on maintenance cost recovery and capacity increases for a 10-pump station.

Customer Case Study:  Haul Trucks

In mining operations, haul trucks are another critical asset, as they are relied upon to move raw materials.  Alignment of extraction speed to transportation speed is required to keep operations flowing smoothly.  Mining operators have invested in larger, automated haul trucks to facilitate this timing alignment and optimize logistics. Thus, haul trucks and their operational health is a key enabler of production reliability in mining operations.

Monitoring haul truck health to ensure reliability, however, presents unique challenges.  Because haul trucks are in constant motion, data collection at precise and crucial times with linkage to a monitoring center and diagnostics requires innovative thinking and design.

For one mining company, a custom engineered solution for the haul truck’s control system was designed and installed.  The system was devised to monitor haul truck health in two distinct operating states so that changes in the various failure mode characteristics could be accurately identified:

  1. Running and loaded. In this state, vibration data is collected while the truck is running, loaded and in reverse mode (braking the truck using the electric motor of the electric wheels).
  2. Unloading. During unloading, vibration monitoring data is collected when the haul truck dump or bucket is being raised.

The result?  An estimated savings of US $5 million per year, based on an iron mine fleet of 30 trucks operating at 80% capacity. 

Outcomes like the examples above are possible for mining operations via innovative condition monitoring systems. There are many other condition monitoring mining applications, such as wireless sensors for hoist systems and continuous monitoring for SAG (semi-autogenous grinding) mills that deliver transformational outcomes.  The ultimate payoff for mining companies occurs when these applications and systems scale and interconnect into an operation-wide solution, enabling more holistic optimization.

Benefits of condition monitoring

Condition monitoring is part of Mining 4.0, the transformation driven by the adoption of automation and digital technologies. Mining 4.0 inherently supports the infrastructure and process requirements for condition monitoring systems. Specifically, Mining 4.0 will facilitate capabilities such as digitization, automation, analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, establishing a powerful foundation for predictive maintenance solutions and innovation.

Technology and predictive maintenance benefits have the potential to transform mining operations, starting with condition monitoring. In addition to managing and minimizing the impact of failures, mitigating downtime and reducing maintenance costs, condition monitoring systems also help to increase worker safety, reduce energy consumption and meet environmental requirements.

These benefits unleash significant potential for radical and positive changes in mining operations. All condition monitoring systems, however, vary in scope and effectiveness, so proper selection of a design and enablement provider with full-scale capabilities and proven expertise can impact outcomes significantly.

Innovation beyond technology

While innovation and transformation hold great potential, mining companies must go beyond reducing maintenance costs and implementing technology solutions. Companies must work differently and work smarter to capitalize on the full potential of digital technologies and holistic data strategies that deliver operation-wide benefits. For successful adoption, overcoming internal organizational barriers and cultural challenges to digital adoption is equally essential.  

To reduce pressure on capital-intense mining operations, condition monitoring solutions can be “self-funding” initiatives on the journey toward Mining 4.0 as operational benefits of condition monitoring are realized progressively from the early stages of implementation.

The way forward for mining companies is clear -- and full of promise. As the world increasingly relies on mining to produce the minerals needed for green energy, innovative mining leaders will usher in an era of profound global transformation that ultimately benefits us all.

To learn more about condition monitoring systems in mining operations, please reach out to speak with one of us or another experienced professional at Baker Hughes.

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