How Anglo American Platinum is reimagining the way forward for mining


As a toddler rising up in Klerksdorp, South Africa, Natascha Viljoen had her first publicity to mining, accompanying her father to his job as a hoist driver. Years later, after finding out extractive metallurgy at South Africa’s North-West College, she entered the business as a metallurgical engineer. This was practically three a long time in the past, when there have been so few girls within the discipline that she was assigned a chaperone when she was engaged on web site. Viljoen held a wide range of engineering, sustainability, and management roles at a number of South African mines earlier than becoming a member of Anglo American Group in 2014, as the corporate’s world head of processing. In the present day she is CEO of Johannesburg-based Anglo American Platinum Ltd.—a gaggle member firm of Anglo American PLC group and the world’s largest refiner of platinum group metals (PGMs), with operations in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

When Viljoen took the helm in April 2020, it was the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic; she confronted troublesome selections about the best way to function underneath unprecedented restrictions and the best way to present assist to workers and surrounding communities. The corporate additionally needed to declare power majeure on deliveries to clients following the short-term shutdown of a key processing plant. One 12 months later, Anglo American Platinum introduced annual outcomes that included a 39% enhance in earnings to R41.6 billion (US$3 billion)—a report, regardless of a 14% decline in manufacturing. The explanation: robust worldwide demand for the corporate’s valuable metals pushed by the rising crucial to develop clear applied sciences. PGMs are used to decrease emissions from inside combustion engines and within the manufacturing of hydrogen and in gas cells for electrical autos, and are being studied as a manner to enhance the efficiency of lithium batteries.

Below Viljoen’s management, the corporate has set a course for modernization and know-how funding that may automate processes, enhance security, and additional its sustainability targets. As Viljoen not too long ago defined in a video interview with technique+enterprise, she credit the corporate’s human-centered goal with serving to her by these troublesome early days, and in serving to to plan for Anglo American Platinum’s future.

S+B: How do you outline Anglo American Platinum’s goal?

VILJOEN:
Our goal as a company is “reimagining mining to enhance folks’s lives.” Within the final 12 months, we’ve requested ourselves, “How can we construct a tradition and set up methods of working throughout the framework of that goal and the values we selected?”

For instance, in a time of giant uncertainty, just like the pandemic, we needed to resolve the best way to reply. We needed to ask, “Do now we have the monetary means to take care of our folks and our communities?” Our goal and our values helped us to make these selections. Throughout most of final 12 months, 1,500 of our workers [out of 23,000] weren’t at work, however we continued to pay them. We nonetheless have greater than 200 workers not but again to work who we proceed to pay.

In hindsight, this could have been a simple choice to make as a result of commodity costs are very favorable for us. However we didn’t know that after we made the choice to maintain paying our folks. As an alternative, it was guided by our goal. I feel the truth that we lived our values through the pandemic will stand us in good stead in the long run. We see that appreciation in our communities, and in our folks.

S+B: You’ve now been at Anglo American for seven years, serving as CEO of Anglo American Platinum for the final 12 months. How have you ever been capable of affect the group’s tradition?

VILJOEN:
After I got here into the position of CEO, I wished to get to know the enterprise inside out. I’ve finished interviews with greater than 160 members of my senior workforce. We’ve additionally carried out surveys over a interval of 4 years throughout the enterprise, proper right down to the frontline stage. These interviews and surveys recognized a few key areas on which we would have liked to focus. One, particularly, was round tradition.

There was a tradition of not desirous to share info when issues go fallacious. And in a enterprise our measurement, with simply over 30,000 folks, together with contractors, if we don’t have a tradition of coping with challenges, I feel that’s a really harmful world for us to stay in. I’m not going to say that we fastened it, as a result of we’re removed from that, however I definitely see way more of an openness to interact.

For instance, deep-level underground mining is a tricky atmosphere to work in. I consider that it’s important to get toes on the bottom to actually perceive the group. Not too long ago, I went underground with a workforce to interact with colleagues working there. It was my fourth time doing this. The earlier 3 times, colleagues had been very reluctant to speak to me. After they did, they spoke solely in Fanakalo, which is a language nonetheless used unofficially underground. It dates again to the late 1800s, and could be very a lot related to migrant agricultural and mining labor when Southern Africa was colonized, and extra not too long ago through the Apartheid period.

This time round, they had been open to having a dialog in English, which is, I feel, a cultural breakthrough. We spoke in regards to the good, the unhealthy, and the ugly. My colleagues had been open about their views on what’s working and what’s not working, and the way we will enhance, in a really constructive manner. That’s a really small win, however one which I’ve celebrated, as a result of that, in my thoughts, is the place you begin to see cultural transformation occur. We are able to discuss it within the workplace till the cows come dwelling, however till we attain the frontline employee, now we have not but finished our work.

S+B: What are a few of the different adjustments taking place, each at your organization and inside your business?

VILJOEN:
After I began as a younger metallurgist, I used to be the one feminine within the office. That has modified fairly considerably. I went underground early in my profession with particular permission and was accompanied by a chaperone. Ladies weren’t allowed to work shifts, however as a part of my coaching as an engineer, we needed to have shift cycles. And once more, I used to be appointed a chaperone to do this.

It’s nonetheless a difficult atmosphere. It’s a office designed by males for males. We’re working to guarantee that our insurance policies and processes promote equality. We’re additionally engaged on bettering our amenities, like change homes and bathroom amenities, in addition to interested by issues like work apparel. As an alternative of simply having one-piece overalls, we now have two-piece overalls for ladies working underground so it’s simpler for them to make use of the bathroom. These examples are fairly primary, however we’re shifting on fairly rapidly from these.

For the advantage of all workers, we’re making an attempt to modernize our workplaces. One of many issues we’re doing is shifting from pneumatic drills to electrical drills, that are a lot safer. In truth, we’re within the strategy of automating all our drills. We now have a workforce working these new drills remotely from a management room, lots of whom are younger girls who’ve grown up utilizing know-how.

S+B: On the opposite aspect of the coin, if you automate and also you digitize, you want fewer folks. As a serious job supplier in your area, how are you interested by this subject?

VILJOEN:
For fairly a while, I believed that simply because we may automate sure processes, it didn’t imply we should always—as a result of it may scale back job alternatives. However now we’re embracing the idea of automation whereas additionally supporting communities by creating respectable jobs. We all know we have to automate to make our workplaces protected and to stay aggressive. The largest contribution we will make to society is to maintain working our enterprise profitably and sustainably. A worthwhile, sustainable enterprise permits us to maintain paying salaries, suppliers, and taxes, and fund initiatives that enhance the lives of individuals round our operations. One individual employed by us contained in the gate on the firm helps not less than 5 folks exterior the gate, as a result of our employees want totally different providers in the neighborhood across the mine.

However that doesn’t imply we stroll away from our accountability to do our half within the broader financial system. To assist the creation of respectable, sustainable jobs for the long run, it’s important to suppose on a big scale. We’re not making an attempt to create 20 job alternatives, however slightly 100,000 job alternatives. And the second we begin to consider creating 100,000 jobs, all of a sudden it’s not a small farming alternative right here or a PPE manufacturing facility there. We’re interested by kick-starting economies, which is why we spend money on different initiatives like infrastructure. We have to work with our communities to see mining as an enabler for creating different oblique jobs and supporting livelihoods by our social and labor plan commitments and procurement alternatives. That’s why we spend money on faculties and in native industries.

S+B: Has the pandemic accelerated your method to digitalization?

VILJOEN:
With folks not capable of go to websites, we’re doing web site visits digitally. We’ve finished all of our audits within the final 12 months digitally. As well as, our capacity to automate has improved our working mannequin and organizational design. We perceive our mining processes higher, and our capacity to observe our property is healthier.

The improved stability and up time [the continuous use of equipment] that we see by these processes is superb. If we run a course of at a sure time at a sure charge, we could be assured it should run for the complete time that we count on it to. This results in extra steady operations. And when you will have steady operations, it’s safer, as a result of issues don’t break down and other people don’t need to do unplanned work. There’s time to do your threat assessments and to verify the appropriate instruments and gear can be found. Digitalization is straight associated to security, price, and effectivity.

I’ll offer you an instance. At our Anglo Converter Plant, now we have two essential, interchangeable items of apparatus for processing platinum, however one unit was taken offline after an explosion. In consequence, we needed to restart the second unit, which was previous its helpful life. To handle the danger of potential water leaks, which pose a hazard if you’re working with molten metallic, we put in digital measurement programs to select up minute adjustments in moisture within the fuel used within the course of that might sign hazard. The flexibility to do that allowed us to run a high-risk asset safely. If we had not managed to do this, the influence may have been monumental. We course of greater than 55% of the world’s platinum group metals [PGMs]. To cease half of the world’s manufacturing would have had a elementary influence on the way forward for the PGM market.

S+B: By way of the way forward for the business, how are you interested by your group’s influence on the pure atmosphere? What’s the position of innovation?

VILJOEN:
We’ve been engaged on applied sciences which have allowed us to cut back our water and power consumption for 5 years, and that’s a short while within the larger scheme of issues. In my expertise within the mining business, if we begin with a brand new know-how as an thought, it might take us 15 years earlier than we actually implement it.

We devour giant portions of each power and water, and we’re reimagining our processes to cut back this utilization. The last word goal can be to eradicate the utilization of recent potable water fully from our processes, although that’s a bit bit additional out.

We now have a accountability to mine the mineral assets entrusted to us in a manner that maximizes the advantages to stakeholders and minimizes the influence on the atmosphere and host communities.”

On the power aspect, about 18 months in the past we began the best way to transition the drivetrain of the big vans that we use [from fossil fuels] to battery, electrical, or hydrogen. We’re presently working to suit a Komatsu truck with a hydrogen gas cell. It’s a 300-ton truck. Our aim is to finally convert our complete fleet to hydrogen vans. The event of an lively hydrogen drivetrain for a truck that measurement is sort of distinctive. Past the influence that it might have on mining, it should have an effect on the event of the hydrogen financial system. Our pondering round that product growth includes not solely the instant utility but in addition the laws, and finally, the infrastructure required to assist the hydrogen financial system.

The concept for our hydrogen fleet is simply 18 months previous, and we plan to have wheels on the bottom within the second half of 2021. Usually, it will have taken us a lot, for much longer.

S+B: You’ve set a goal of decreasing emissions by 30% by 2030 and of being carbon impartial by 2040. What are the most important challenges you face in assembly these targets?

VILJOEN:
The largest constraint for us is our reliance on Eskom [South Africa’s electric utility], which nonetheless depends closely on coal-fired energy stations. If we receive a license to spend money on producing renewable power ourselves, an extra problem is getting an economically viable settlement with Eskom to ship extra energy again to the grid. We may produce power in locations the place it’s extra amenable for wind and solar, for instance. However it’s a matter of how we get that renewable power from one a part of the nation to the place we want it, after we can’t use the grid.

S+B: Past carbon discount, are you able to inform us extra about your social assist for native communities?

VILJOEN:
Usually, now we have water packages within the communities wherein we function. Due to COVID, we’ve elevated our attain from 40,000 folks and at the moment are supplying greater than 100,000 with 50 liters of water a day in partnership with native municipalities. We’re reaching individuals who have by no means had entry to working water, which is life-changing, for instance, when it comes to sanitation. We’re doing that in two methods. We’ve drilled extra water holes, and in areas the place water is scarce, we’ve obtained tankers to provide that water. We’re additionally actively concerned with authorities and different mining firms in a undertaking to broaden bulk water provide in Limpopo [a South African province that borders Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique], which can create jobs and permit improved water provide to communities.

The best way I give it some thought is, now we have a accountability to mine the mineral assets entrusted to us in a manner that maximizes the advantages to stakeholders and minimizes the influence on the atmosphere and host communities. We all know that the mineral assets don’t belong to us; they belong to the folks of the nation. After which now we have our shareholders’ cash, which they entrust us with for returns. After which now we have the staff who work with us. We now have a accountability to all these stakeholders.

S+B: Which brings us again to your goal as an organization: reimagining mining to enhance folks’s lives.

VILJOEN:
Our efforts are very a lot pushed by our goal and values. The aim impacts the technique—making folks’s lives higher through our neighborhood initiatives—and the technique then drives execution. And we at the moment are seeing a big curiosity in ESG [environmental, social, and governance] issues from traders, however I feel that’s pretty latest. 5 years in the past, our traders just about held the view that ESG points had been one thing companies wanted to speak about, however they had been secondary to returns for shareholders. That’s altering in a short time. You’ll be able to see the stress from traders on any power name, as an illustration.

Different stakeholders are additionally turning into extra lively. Our Unki mine in Zimbabwe was not too long ago assessed in opposition to the requirements set by the Initiative for Accountable Mining Assurance [IRMA], which is a gaggle designed and pushed by clients. Our goal is to have all our operations accredited by IRMA by 2025. Prospects like Tiffany’s, for instance, are ready to purchase from us at a premium as a result of that might imply they will put a stamp on a bit of knickknack and say, sure, it’s responsibly sourced. That’s one thing that is essential to us.

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