Richard De Leon is a Mining Engineer by trade with a passion to seeking out solutions for Mining Companies and employ effective mine planning with the use of best practice mine planning, as well as optimizing mining business operations. Having graduated from one of the world’s top mining universities (UNSW), Richard has spent the majority of his career in metals mining – covering open cut and underground operations. Richard has also managed and built a company based in Vietnam.
Summarize your company business and current projects you are involved in.
Mining Plus is the leading mining technical services provider, consisting of professionals specializing in geology, mining engineering (Surface & Underground), geotechnical engineering, mine ventilation and operational management. I have been involved in Iron Ore, Gold, Diamonds, Minerals sands projects to name a few. I am involved from all levels of project evaluation to mine planning and project execution with site support assistance for various clients.
Mining Plus has had the privilege of working in all corners of the world throughout our rich history. Our passion for our great industry comes from the understanding that Geology and Mining is a global “language” and this is represented by the locations we have worked.
Some highlights include the largest mineralization systems on earth-based in Australia to the coldest parts of the world in Russia and Canada to the highest mines in the mountains of Peru and Chile to the deepest mines in South Africa to the biggest open pits in the US. It is however not only about the “most” it is also about everything in between from deserts, jungles, cities, rivers, oceans, farmland, and just the plain old bush.
With over 1,850 projects for 630 customers in 40 countries over a range of different commodities, we have built a diverse experience base and reputation.
Tell us a bit about your prestigious company, “Mining Plus” please, especially how it all begun.
Mining Plus started from a small two-man consulting company based in Perth Western Australia. To date it has grown to have a global presence across multiple mining disciplines; we have offices around Australia, Canada, United States, South America, United Kingdom, and East Asia – Mongolia.
Our core capability is in geology, mining engineering, and geotechnical engineering, covering a broad range of mineral commodities and project types, enhanced by strategic alliances in other core disciplines.
We have grown and diversified over the years to cover a broad range of mineral commodities across the project value chain, from the conceptual stage of projects, right through to feasibility study work, project delivery, commissioning, and mine closure.
Mining Plus can integrate seamlessly with client project teams to deliver results with the flexibility of working remotely or mobilizing to the site. Our operations are conducted with an underlying emphasis on innovative thinking coupled with a practical approach.
We provide services from exploration to mine planning to operations.
Mining Plus is a part of the Byrnecut Group, which allows us to provide additional coverage to other sectors of the industry.
Mining is a lot about managing teams in foreign countries and cultural integration, how do you execute all of this?
Managing teams already has its challenges, however, managing teams in foreign countries have the added challenge of language barriers, culture, and skillsets. I particularly experienced this during my time managing a local team of mining professionals in Vietnam. I found the best way to start my journey to accomplishing a successful team was to immerse myself into the culture and pick up the language quickly, at very least the basics to earn rapport with the team members. Culture is also another important aspect to dive into and embrace, it eventually grows on you and you start to understand the individual characters and enjoy the way of life that is very different in comparison to growing up in Sydney – Australia. Once you have a little language skill and cultural understanding under your belt it becomes much easier to train, skill-up team members, and start bridging the gap of knowledge and move the operations to best industry best practice. Managing teams is a two-way street, you learn just as much as they learn from you. Respect along with trust is what then makes managing the foreign workforce a much easier and successful outcome.
What are some basic primary must-have skills that you expect any workforce to come train with, and then what are the unique propositions that they usually learn while their work at Mining Plus?
Some of the basic skills I would expect is having that site time spent and in varying roles so you get a good understanding of how an operation runs and the processes involved. Having also experienced working on more than just 1 site is always a benefit so you can compare and understand why or how things are done differently to achieve the same outcome. Skilling up in mine planning software is a general must to me at any point. Particularly, at Mining Plus you will be expected to use multiple packages (with the technology landscape always changing and improving); the diversity gives you the upper hand and this is something unique that a professional is likely to learn when working at Mining Plus. Further to the importance of having some site time, Mining Plus will definitely provide the opportunity to work across multiple commodities and projects around the world which is something you generally don’t get to do if working specifically at a site role.
Mining Plus is also at the forefront of technology in the industry and is a strong advocate for the industry. So, there will always be opportunities to participate in something new and exciting and be in the lookout of new technologies that can assist solve problems.
Please throw some light on the role of software technology in mine planning.
Having also worked directly in software development for the mining industry, I can confidentially say that software use in mine planning has come a long way from the early days and with the change of workforce and younger professional entering key roles. This has driven the need to shift towards streamlining processes in software applications and emphasis on UI/UX, allowing for faster training and uptake on new applications. Nowadays all area of mine planning goes through some sort of mine planning package whether its geological modelling, site infrastructure layout, mine design and financial modelling. Standardization has given rise to platforms that can produce live production feeds and help optimize operations. Software technology has been taking advantage of the advances in computing as well to help speed up processes and standardize the way we perform mine planning activities.
What have you done to optimize mining business operations at Mining Plus in recent years?
Some of the work done to date to help mining operations has been to optimize resources and pit designs to improve the overall economics and also to assist with identifying where possible expansions of a resource could potentially be to assist with future exploration direction. Others have been around managing and optimizing teams on sites to help streamline processes to speed up workloads using smart software technologies or processes. This is particularly more important nowadays where we face a shortage of mining professionals and we are finding that mine planning teams are having to diversify in their skill sets.
What is the one biggest challenge that you face as a senior mining consultant? How has covid impacted this?
One of the biggest challenges faced as a senior consultant is having to quickly upskill in changing technologies and also to rapidly learn as we face a shortage of mining professionals particularly the “grey hairs” as we younger professionals would call them. Knowledge being passed down is hard to come by, but luckily at Mining Plus I have had the opportunity to spend time and learn from highly experienced professionals and this in turn I believe has made me a better mining consultant. Whilst being in the deep end in my time managing in Vietnam, the skills and knowledge picked up were vital to developing myself as a professional consultant and I would definitely recommend to all new young aspiring mining professionals to definitely jump into the deep end if the chance arises.
Covid has created newer challenges with regards to travel restrictions to get to sites and more so for international travel, however, the industry has done fairly well with the use of technology and remote access, site live video feeds, and automation. However, at Mining Plus we have handled Covid very well and myself being based in Melbourne and the several lockdowns we have had have not affected the way I can help clients even if working from home. As long as you have a PC, desk, and a good internet connection, you can still achieve the same mine planning outcomes and workload as per pre-Covid times.