June/July 2007

Getting it there

By D. Zlotnikov

When it comes to mining, Canada is a world-class player. “There are two things Canadians are considered number one at, and that’s hockey and mining,” said Ungad Chadda, director of listed issuer services with TSX Venture Exchange. What being number one translates into financially is this. “Of every dollar raised on the planet in mining, 37 to 40 cents is done on the TSX and TSX Venture.” Canada also boasts a whopping 1,274 mining companies, which, according to Chadda, is more than any other country in the world.

With such an excellent reputation, it’s no surprise that Canadian skills and products are in demand in other countries. You will find Canadian professionals working on projects anywhere from the mountains of Peru to the most remote parts of the Siberian forests to the much warmer Australian outback. Getting to - and working in - these remote locations is a challenge, but many find it very rewarding and worthwhile.

But getting the staff to these sites is easy, when you compare it to the challenges of delivering the equipment, which can range “from electronic equipment to transformers to mine hoists to ball mill components to locomotives,” said Simon Trillwood, president of specialist packaging firm TOPAX. With some of the larger pieces of machinery TOPAX has packaged weighing in at 140,000 pounds, it’s time to call in the experts.

When it comes to sourcing the equipment, most mining firms go to an EPCM (engineering, procurement, and construction management) firm. The subcontractor usually brings the expertise of many previous (or current) projects, has the advantage of long-term relationships with suppliers and logistics companies, and assumes a sizeable portion of the risk. The EPCM firm will usually find work with further subcontractors, breaking up the process between a specialist freight forwarder/logistics company and a packaging company.

The equipment can come from almost anywhere, said Mark Faesecke, national project manager for Kuehne+Nagel, a global logistics company. “Once the EPCM or mining client has provided us with a list of equipment and the locations at which it is to be picked up, we will work with local packaging companies to get the equipment packaged and ensure a proper delivery stream to the site.” The process of orchestrating proper delivery is a complex net and the conditions en route are frequently far from ideal.

“I was watching a documentary on TV,” recounted Trillwood, “and they were showing a road at a place in Africa where we’d sent a crate two months before. And there was this five-ton truck, up to the bed in a pothole.” It’s no surprise that Faesecke says that in Kuehne+Nagel’s experience, “it’s very helpful to know and work with the local specialists hand-in-hand.”

The packager, like almost everyone else in the business, is stressed for time. “Scheduling is a very serious issue in our business,” said Trillwood. “People don’t think about packaging until the order is ready to go on the truck. Our orders don’t tend to go out a year down the road. Our orders tend to be this month, next month, or maybe even this week.”

This makes it difficult to plan. Ed Perdue, sales manager at Brent Packaging, a company specializing in wood crating, agrees. For machinery orders, he said, “we only get a one- to two-day lead time, because they never think about crating it. Ever. And that order can be anything from a 4x4x4 foot crate to a piece of machinery that’s 20x8x8 feet and weighs 25,000 pounds.”

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