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First Quantum Minerals
First Quantum Minerals

First Quantum Minerals’ $2bn Sentinel copper mining project in Zambia’s north-western province is providing yet another example of the company’s unparalleled ability to deliver mine construction ahead of schedule and on-budget.

Work on Sentinel, the latest site in its Zambian Trident project, is currently 70 percent complete, months ahead of commissioning schedule and safely within its $2bn budget, a situation Project Manager Randy Findlay had never experienced before joining FQM. 

He said: “In every other project I’ve been on, and I’ve been doing this 35 years now, I’ve never seen a multi-billion dollar job that finished where they started on time and cost.

“FQM is delivering this; we’re pretty well spot on budget, and our original delivery date for being commercial was October 1, 2014 for chain one operations but we’re now on schedule to be commercial with chain one operations by July 1, 2014. That is a complete industry change, there’s nobody else that can say they’ve done that.” 

In-house solutions

It is a success Findlay attributes to FQM managing all phases in-house, including engineering, construction execution and commissioning, before turning things over to its operations team, allowing him in his role as Project Manager to optimise all processes for maximum efficiency.

 “We manage our crews by productivity and we’re very cognisant of keeping people fully engaged and keeping equipment and materials in front of them so they always have a place to go and something productive to do.

“FQM utilises all the basic building blocks expected from a first class contracting entity but we just pay an extremely high level of attention to planning and productivity. Those team efforts allow us to keep the plan fed with the fuel of man-power, equipment and materials. When you’ve got all that in front of the workforce, it makes it a lot more efficient, and that efficiency is what drives the schedule.”

This is something Findlay believes is unmatched by the larger mining companies with which he is familiar, having worked for several on projects around the world. Most other contractors, he said, typically are motivated to run up huge costs through sub-contracting construction elements.

“I’ve got experience in doing work the way bigger companies do work, larger companies that do mining jobs, and I was never happy with the way they were managing their projects. I knew there had to be a better way and working as part of the FQM team, I found it,” he said.

“There are very few multi-billion jobs that have all those facets under one hat. Typically, an Owner will go to a large contractor and a separate engineering firm which creates a huge infrastructure and divided interests. They’ll run in-direct labour (overheads) from 12 to as much as 16 percent; while our total in-directs on this project are less than 3.5 percent.”

The shortening of the date for Train One operations, is very welcome as the mine will then be able to begin production translating to a worth of around US$2.5m a day in revenue stream. The second train will complete and be operational January 1, 1014 with a capacity of 55 million tonnes per annum.

“When you consider that the revenue stream on this project will be nominally 20 percent of Zambia’s  GDP, our efficiency is significant,” Findlay commented.

Corporate social responsibility

While FQM is proud locals comprise more than 80 percent of its 4,600-strong workforce on Sentinel, it is not only through employment opportunities that the company is benefiting the lives of people in the vicinity. The company is creating a whole new affluent community around Sentinel with solid infrastructure and services.

Findlay explained: “The unique thing about the project is that FQM are providing full-on development of the north west region. Sentinel’s power infrastructure in coordination with ZESCO, will bring the north west region growth for what we believe will be the Zambian “Copper-belt”. It is a privilege to be a small part of this regional growth.”

With the new community, FQM is applying lessons learned from the previous developers of the Kansanshi project in Solwezi. The town rapidly grew up around the mine without much planning in what Findlay describes as a rather “haphazard” fashion.

This time round, being in a position to develop a new area, FQM was able to carefully plan all aspects in advance, including the power servitudes, plots of land up to a quarter of an acre and affordable quality housing of various sizes, with running water, sewage collection and waste disposal, robust roads, Medical clinics, police stations, a commercial market area and supermarkets as well as schools.

Perhaps even more importantly to the long-term prosperity of the north-western region, FQM is also bringing 600 km of power lines stretching from Lusaka and Solwezi to the site, bringing reliable energy to the entire region for years to come.

Add to this the anti-Malaria work FQM performs in the townships that are home to many of its workers and it is clear that the company is fully committed socially to neighbouring communities.

Dynamic and different

Looking ahead to future projects, First Quantum is keen to replicate the successful practices engaged at Sentinel. Findlay’s position as Project Manager for the upcoming Cobre Project in Panama, will provide consistency of strategy come July next year, after Sentinel’s first train is commissioned.

“FQM is a dynamic company,” he said. “It looks forward to making positive changes and adopts new ways of thinking and doing things. They’ve been a joy to work with because of the support the team receives from our corporate team. First Quantum has the ability to embrace change and be aggressive in the market where so many companies have pulled back investment dollars.”

He gave several examples of multi-billion dollar projects he had been involved in for larger mining companies before joining FQM, all of which had added billions, sometimes doubling budgets while being delivered years behind schedule. It is a situation he is enjoying no longer having to endure in his current position.

“First Quantum is pushing forward in mining, and it’s the efficiencies we have; that 12 percent indirect versus three percent philosophy on how to run a project that makes this team so much more efficient,” he said.

 “Every single job I’d worked on there’d been nothing but escalation; inefficiencies with the way work is executed and late delivery to the market place. With FQM you get exactly the opposite- a lean machine, a competent budget at much less than other companies would do for a 55 million tonne per annum project. First Quantum drives efficiencies in engineering, planning, construction and operations. That’s what’s so different about this company.”






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First Quantum Minerals

First Quantum Minerals’ $2bn Sentinel copper mining project in Zambia’s north-western province is providing yet another example of the company’s...