How Anglo American Platinum is reimagining the way forward for mining

As a baby 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 learning extractive metallurgy at South Africa’s North-West College, she entered the trade as a metallurgical engineer. This was almost three a long time in the past, when there have been so few ladies within the subject 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. At present 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 choices about how you can function underneath unprecedented restrictions and how you can present help to staff and surrounding communities. The corporate additionally needed to declare power majeure on deliveries to prospects 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 income to R41.6 billion (US$3 billion)—a report, regardless of a 14% decline in manufacturing. The explanation: sturdy worldwide demand for the corporate’s treasured 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 automobiles, and are being studied as a manner to enhance the efficiency of lithium batteries.

Underneath Viljoen’s management, the corporate has set a course for modernization and know-how funding that can automate processes, enhance security, and additional its sustainability objectives. As Viljoen lately defined in a video interview with technique+enterprise, she credit the corporate’s human-centered function with serving to her by way of 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 function?

Our function as a corporation is “reimagining mining to enhance individuals’s lives.” Within the final 12 months, we’ve requested ourselves, “How will we construct a tradition and set up methods of working throughout the framework of that function and the values we selected?”

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

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

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 in a position to affect the group’s tradition?

Once I got here into the function of CEO, I needed to get to know the enterprise inside out. I’ve performed interviews with greater than 160 members of my senior group. We’ve additionally performed surveys over a interval of 4 years throughout the enterprise, proper right down to the frontline degree. 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 individuals, together with contractors, if we don’t have a tradition of coping with challenges, I believe that’s a really harmful world for us to dwell in. I’m not going to say that we mounted it, as a result of we’re removed from that, however I actually see way more of an openness to interact.

For instance, deep-level underground mining is a troublesome setting to work in. I consider that you must get toes on the bottom to actually perceive the group. Just lately, I went underground with a group to interact with colleagues working there. It was my fourth time doing this. The earlier thrice, colleagues have 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 may be very a lot related to migrant agricultural and mining labor when Southern Africa was colonized, and extra lately in the course of the Apartheid period.

This time round, they have been open to having a dialog in English, which is, I believe, a cultural breakthrough. We spoke concerning the good, the unhealthy, and the ugly. My colleagues have been open about their views on what’s working and what’s not working, and the way we are able to 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 speak about it within the workplace till the cows come house, however till we attain the frontline employee, we now have not but performed our work.

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

Once 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 try this.

It’s nonetheless a difficult setting. It’s a office designed by males for males. We’re working to ensure that our insurance policies and processes promote equality. We’re additionally engaged on enhancing our services, like change homes and bathroom services, in addition to fascinated with 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 rest room. These examples are fairly primary, however we’re transferring on fairly shortly from these.

For the good thing about all staff, we’re making an attempt to modernize our workplaces. One of many issues we’re doing is transferring from pneumatic drills to electrical drills, that are a lot safer. In actual fact, we’re within the means of automating all our drills. We’ve a group working these new drills remotely from a management room, a lot of whom are younger ladies 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 individuals. As a serious job supplier in your area, how are you fascinated with this situation?

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 cut 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 are able to 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 at the least 5 individuals exterior the gate, as a result of our staff want completely 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 help the creation of respectable, sustainable jobs for the long run, you must assume on a big scale. We’re not making an attempt to create 20 job alternatives, however moderately 100,000 job alternatives. And the second we begin to consider creating 100,000 jobs, immediately it’s not a small farming alternative right here or a PPE manufacturing unit there. We’re fascinated with kick-starting economies, which is why we spend money on different tasks like infrastructure. We have to work with our communities to see mining as an enabler for creating different oblique jobs and supporting livelihoods by way of our social and labor plan commitments and procurement alternatives. That’s why we spend money on colleges and in native industries.

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

With individuals not in a position to go to websites, we’re doing web site visits digitally. We’ve performed 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 belongings is best.

The improved stability and up time [the continuous use of equipment] that we see by way of these processes is superb. If we run a course of at a sure time at a sure charge, we will be assured it can run for the complete time that we anticipate it to. This results in extra secure operations. And when you will have secure operations, it’s safer, as a result of issues don’t break down and folks don’t must do unplanned work. There’s time to do your danger assessments and to verify the best instruments and tools can be found. Digitalization is instantly associated to security, price, and effectivity.

I’ll provide you with an instance. At our Anglo Converter Plant, we now have two important, interchangeable items of apparatus for processing platinum, however one unit was taken offline after an explosion. Consequently, we needed to restart the second unit, which was previous its helpful life. To handle the chance of potential water leaks, which pose a hazard if you’re working with molten metallic, we put in digital measurement techniques to choose up minute adjustments in moisture within the gasoline used within the course of that might sign hazard. The power to do that allowed us to run a high-risk asset safely. If we had not managed to try this, the influence may have been huge. 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 basic influence on the way forward for the PGM market.

S+B: When it comes to the way forward for the trade, how are you fascinated with your group’s influence on the pure setting? What’s the function of innovation?

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 trade, if we begin with a brand new know-how as an thought, it will possibly take us 15 years earlier than we actually implement it.

We eat giant portions of each power and water, and we’re reimagining our processes to cut back this utilization. The final word purpose can be to remove the utilization of recent potable water solely from our processes, although that’s just a little bit additional out.

We’ve 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 setting and host communities.”

On the power aspect, about 18 months in the past we began how you can 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 purpose is to ultimately convert our whole 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 will possibly have on mining, it can have an effect on the event of the hydrogen financial system. Our considering round that product growth includes not solely the rapid software but in addition the laws, and in the end, the infrastructure required to help the hydrogen financial system.

The thought 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 largest challenges you face in assembly these objectives?

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, a further 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, once we can’t use the grid.

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

Usually, we now have water applications within the communities through which we function. Due to COVID, we’ve elevated our attain from 40,000 individuals 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 further water holes, and in areas the place water is scarce, we’ve received tankers to produce that water. We’re additionally actively concerned with authorities and different mining corporations in a challenge to broaden bulk water provide in Limpopo [a South African province that borders Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique], which is able to create jobs and permit improved water provide to communities.

The way in which I give it some thought is, 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 setting and host communities. We all know that the mineral assets don’t belong to us; they belong to the individuals of the nation. After which we now have our shareholders’ cash, which they entrust us with for returns. After which we now have the staff who work with us. We’ve a accountability to all these stakeholders.

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

Our efforts are very a lot pushed by our function and values. The aim impacts the technique—making individuals’s lives higher by way of our neighborhood tasks—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 believe that’s pretty current. 5 years in the past, our traders just about held the view that ESG points have been one thing companies wanted to speak about, however they have been secondary to returns for shareholders. That’s altering in a short time. You may see the stress from traders on any power name, as an illustration.

Different stakeholders are additionally changing into extra lively. Our Unki mine in Zimbabwe was lately assessed in opposition to the requirements set by the Initiative for Accountable Mining Assurance [IRMA], which is a gaggle designed and pushed by prospects. Our purpose is to have all our operations accredited by IRMA by 2025. Clients 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 chunk of jewellery and say, sure, it’s responsibly sourced. That’s one thing that is essential to us.

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