Innovating excellence for the mining sector
Knight Piésold was established in 1921 when Dr. Francis Edgar Kanthack set up shop in Johannesburg, South Africa as an engineering consultant. Over the years, the company has developed into a major global consulting firm for the mining, power, water, transportation and construction sectors by delivering high quality specialty services with respect to social, environmental and economic responsibilities.
Today, the employee-owned company is comprised of over 800 experienced professionals, including consulting engineers and environmental scientists, and continues to carve out a name for itself through its inventive approach to client solutions and its knack for customer relations. “We have a global reach, but we function like a boutique provider at heart,” explained Bryan Ulrich, Senior Vice President of Knight Piésold’s USA division.
Pillars of strength
In terms of mining services, Knight Piésold specializes in the research, design and implementation of innovative solutions for waste management, tailings disposal, heap leach pads, rock mechanics, groundwater evaluation, water supply, water management and environmental services.
“As a global company, we’re quite small compared to our competitors,” said Ulrich. “Our competitive advantage is in our expertise and our client relationships. This means that even in an industry downturn, we are managing to stay relatively busy. For example, right now we are watching after a very large tailings dam construction job at Round Mountain in Nevada. It’s possibly 2015’s largest construction project at a mine site in Nevada.”
According to Ulrich, while consulting firms and their expertise can sometimes be deemed as a commodity during rough times, the real distinction for clients is how they’re treated by their consultants.
“We’ve all had good and bad experiences with customer service. At restaurants, for example, we’ve all had that one waiter who seems to disappear when we need the bill. For us, we put ourselves in our clients’ shoes and strive to understand as much as we can about their operations and their needs,” Ulrich said.
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“Because of our mentality towards customer service, we tend to get a lot of repeat business from previous clients. A lot of times when clients move on to other companies, they bring us on board at their new company. Customer service is one of our pillars of strength and it’s making a huge impact for us.”
Innovation continues to be another pillar of strength for the company.
“Engineers are taught to be linear and creative thinkers. Our innovation comes from making site-specific solutions for each project, and it can sometimes be very challenging and rewarding” said Ulrich.
“At the Rochester mine in Nevada, there is a general absence of clay for construction of heap leach facilities, so we’ve very carefully designed those facilities to use a geosynthetic clay layer product (GCL), rather than the traditional clay layer that goes along with the geomembrane,” said Ulrich.
Knight Piésold places a huge emphasis on disseminating knowledge.
“Internally, we hold training forums where several of our offices get together so we can exchange experiences and expertise on several topics. We just got back from Lima where we held a forum on tailings management. This is in addition to our normal mentoring and on-the-job-training,” Ulrich said.
In addition to traditional educational channels such as publishing papers and participating in industry conferences, the company also organizes an annual event called Elko Roundtable. Since 2005, the all-day, no-cost event has been key in sharing information with clients and strategic vendors.
Past topics have included heap leaching, tailings management, mine closure, sustainability, paste and filtered tailings, co-placement of mine waste, and several other themes.
“The purpose of the Roundtable is to exchange ideas and information pertaining to broad topics revolving around the day’s selected subject,” said Ulrich. “Compared to traditional conferences and symposia, the Roundtable tends to provide a much less inhibited format for discussion — lively discussions and helpful tangential departures are encouraged.”
Mining Engineering magazine publishes Knight Piésold’s reports from the Roundtable event on several occasions. Additionally, the event has its own web page where all presentations and publications are archived for easy reference.
The company has positioned itself as a leader in its fields, having been utilized on hundreds of projects around the world, including some of the biggest and most challenging surface and underground mining projects in the last century. One such project is the storied Yanacocha gold mine in Cajamarca, Peru.
South America’s largest gold mine — and the second largest in the world —Yanacocha stretches approximately 535 square miles and is comprised of four operations: Cerro Yanacocha, La Quinua, Carachugo and Maqui Maqui. Its heap leach pads and associated ponds include a tailings storage facility, process plants, treatment plants and several other facilities.
“In terms of size and production, Yanacocha is very impressive. We’re really proud to have been a minor partner in the project,” said Ulrich.
Since 1994, Knight Piésold has actively been involved with Yanacocha providing everything from conceptual to final designs, as well as construction management, quality control/quality assurance, support during permitting processes and operational support.
The company is responsible for designing the heap leach pads and associated structures including ponds, access roads and channels, as well as providing civil and geotechnical design for major infrastructures, technical support and water management technical support.
“The La Quinua tailings facility — which resides in an active heap leach facility — is one of a kind,” explained Ulrich. It functions as an innovation that was developed based on the needs of the project.
“The fluids in the two facilities don’t intermingle for obvious reasons, but it was a novel solution to a difficult problem of land constraints and minimizing our footprint. We designed a very similar facility for an operator in North America, which had an altogether different set of project needs and challenges.”
Ulrich and his teams are currently working on an array of projects scattered across the globe, including a variety in Saudi Arabia, Latin America and the United States.
While the success of Knight Piésold can be told through the effective completion of the projects it undertakes, the company continues to be recognized for a wide range of achievements and accolades. In the last few years, the company has earned several top honors for engineering excellence and project management as well as recognition as a Top Employer.
“We’re very appreciative of all the recognition and awards we’ve received in the past,” said Ulrich.
As a sign of things to come, the company continues to undertake some of the biggest projects in the mining industry. Upcoming and ongoing projects for Knight Piésold’s global practices include: the Fort Knox Mine in Alaska; the Kinsevere Copper Mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and the Palmaerejo Silver-Gold project in Mexico.
“A lot of the projects that were identified a long time ago, which at the time were too difficult to tackle, are starting to come up and become attractive again. Design-wise, those have been some really interesting projects,” said Ulrich.
“Recently, there have been some very large projects with some of the world’s big gold miners like AngloGold in Colombia, Hudbay in Peru and Rosemont in Arizona. In fact, we’re currently in the advanced design stages of creating a world-class filtered tailings facility for Rosemont in Arizona.”
Moving forward, Knight Piésold will continue to focus on providing innovative solutions to its clients, while maintaining the company’s vision and values in the process.
“Our goal is to have 15-20 years of rolling sustained growth and stability,” Ulrich concluded.
Global iron ore production to recover by 5.1% in 2021
Global iron ore production fell by 3% to 2.2bnt in 2020. Global production is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.7% to 2,663.4Mt between 2021 to 2025. The key contributors to this grow will be Brazil (6.2%), South Africa (4.1%), Australia (3.2%) and India (2.9%). Key upcoming projects expected to commence operations include South Flank in Australia (2021), Zulti in South Africa (H2 2021), Serrote Da Laje in Brazil (H2 2021) and Gudai-Darri (2022), according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
Vinneth Bajaj, Associate Project Manager at GlobalData, comments: “Declines from Brazil and India were major contributors to the reduced output in 2020. Combined production from these two countries fell from a collective 638.2Mt in 2019 to an estimated 591.1Mt in 2020. The reduced output from the iron ore giant, Vale, was the key factor behind Brazil’s reduced output, while delays in the auctioning of mines in Odisha affected India’s output in 2020.
“Miners in Australia were relatively unaffected by COVID-19 due to effective measures adopted by the Australian Government, while a speedy recovery in China led to a significant 10.4% increase in the country’s iron ore output.”
Looking ahead, the global iron ore production is expected to increase by 111.3Mt to 2,302.5Mt in 2021. Rio Tinto is expected to produce up to 340Mt of iron ore, while BHP has released production guidance of 245–255Mt, supported by the start of the Samarco project in December, which is expected to produce between 1–2Mt.The company has retained its guidance for Australian mines at 276–286Mt on a 100% basis, due to scheduled maintenance work at its ore handling plant and tie-in activity at the Area C mine and South-Flank mine.
Bajaj added: “The remaining companies are expected to produce more than 600Mt of iron ore, including FMG, whose production is expected to range between 175–180Mt supported by its Eliwana mine that commenced operations in late December 2020, and Anglo American, which is expecting to produce between 64–67Mt. Vale is expected to resume 40Mt of its production capacity, taking its overall production capacity to 350Mt in 2021, with production guidance of 315-335Mt.”