How our culture drove tangible value for a mining leader.

When you are building Queensland’s largest gold mine in a remote location against aggressive timelines, you need to be agile and able to pivot to address challenges as they arise. If the build is in the middle of an active mine site with ongoing processing operations in an already congested area, you need to be even more proactive. You always need to be looking to find a better way.

Revitalizing a community

Located 130km south of Townsville in Queensland, Australia, the town of Ravenswood is a historic mining town. Australians have been pulling gold from the ground there for more than 150 years. Yet the area still contains rich deposits, with significant untapped resources in both the existing pit (Sarsfield) and the new Buck Reef West site.

The owners of Ravenswood Gold were keen to drive a massive capital expansion at the site. They wanted to move quickly, without disrupting their existing operations. They were determined to ensure that their activity didn’t negatively impact the local community, environment or economy. So they engaged Ausenco to firstly complete their early works and then provide EPCM services to deliver its new processing plant expansion.

Driving sustainability

Every day, Ausenco’s professionals go to work inspired to Find A Better Way. It’s part of the company culture and it’s embodied and encouraged at every level of the organization. “Find A Better Way isn’t about reactive problem solving. It’s about continuously and proactively reviewing and improving our delivery to ensure a better outcome for our clients and our communities,” says John Marx, Project Director at Ausenco.

Recognizing Ravenswood Gold’s commitment to sustainability, for example, the Ausenco team completed a design that would allow the mine owners to conduct pre-concentration – essentially a process that removes waste from ore earlier in the process – thereby reducing the amount of energy and water needed in the processing plant. This allowed the owners to reduce its water and energy intensity by a third.

By using local contractors and suppliers (40% of the goods and supplies came from within Queensland and 53% from within the country), the Ausenco team was able to further reduce the carbon footprint of the construction project while also supporting the local community. Most of the concrete came from a local batch plant constructed and operated by a contractor from the city of Charters Towers, 90kms west of the site. Most of the steel came from Townsville and the north Queensland region.

Creating value through the generations

This focus on localization also provided the project with operational sustainability. “As local businesses, our sub-contractors are deeply committed to the community and the project. They recognize this is a multi-generational opportunity,” John adds. “And they want to be part of the Ravenswood Gold story throughout. That means they are working with us to continuously find better ways to deliver this project.”

When one of the sub-contractors saw an opportunity to reduce material use, costs and time by re-routing cabling, Ausenco worked quickly to implement their idea with new designs and construction plans. In doing so, the team was able to eliminate around 4,000 meters of cable from the project.

Throughout the project, the team worked hard to ensure as much existing material as possible was reused and any waste was properly recycled or reclaimed. A permanent noise bund was constructed around the facility to reduce noise emissions. The Ravenswood team also prioritized the preservation of flora, fauna and existing historical sites and heritage items.

Implementing while operating

Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, was integrating the new build into the existing processing operations. Six new leaching tanks were to be installed, a new three-stage crushing circuit, a new ball mill and a range of infrastructure upgrades. “When working at a live site, you really need to be on your toes and prepared to pivot as situations change,” notes John. “You also need to think more carefully about the handover and how you ramp up operational capabilities without disruption to the existing processes.”

The Ausenco team focused on handing the project over in a number of phases. First came the leaching tanks, followed by the crushing circuit, and then the mill operations. This allowed Ausenco’s professionals to support the Ravenswood operational team through each handover and ensured they were available to provide additional support where needed. This helped the client build capabilities and confidence in the processes and assets in a step-change manner, versus handing it all over at once.

“It was clear that a phased approach to handover would be a better way, not just for the operations team that needed to get comfortable with it, but also for the owners who wanted to see returns flow from the investment as quickly as possible,” adds John. “The order in which we delivered allowed them to ramp up the processing of existing ore stocks through the new facilities before moving on to the new ore they would be mining from the Buck Reef West site.”

Built to deliver better

To be fair, Ausenco has a significant advantage over many other EPCM firms. Ausenco professionals have years of experience designing, commissioning and operating similar assets. They are able to draw best practices and ideas from across their global firm. “We know where projects often run into trouble and we know how to respond,” adds John. “That allows us to move with unprecedented speed when issues do arise.”

The firm’s end-to-end capabilities also lends itself to greater agility, better insights and more reliable outcomes. “We can go from design through to implementation. So when we need to quicky make a change, we have the right people in-house to drive that change through from start to finish. In some cases, we were able to change the design, use our process engineers to optimize it, our fabricators to build it and then our commissioning team to implement it – all in one day. On a job of this size, that’s unprecedented.”

Delivering real benefits

Ausenco’s culture of continuously seeking to Find A Better Way delivered tangible benefits to the Ravenswood Gold site. From an operational perspective, the team ultimately exceeded the design expectations for throughput, allowing more ore to be processed than anticipated. The final commissioning stage saw ramp up to design throughput in just one week. “Our continuous effort to Find A Better Way meant that – at commissioning – we had the right people in place to identify, troubleshoot and manage any risks,” said John.

“The project was undertaken during unprecedent times with COVID and labour constraints. Ravenswood Gold and Ausenco worked cooperatively to overcome these challenges to deliver a quality plant that puts us in a great position to deliver on expectations for our owners and the community,” said Andrew Lawry, General Manager – Ravenswood Gold.

From a sustainability perspective, Ausenco’s approach allowed Ravenswood Gold to deliver on its environmental, community and economic objectives. The goodwill created within the community and local contractor ecosystem has put Ravenswood Gold in good position to grow and thrive in the local community.

Inspired by our culture

In John’s view, many of the benefits and advantages that Ausenco was able to deliver were inspired by the company culture and commitment to Find A Better Way. “We could have done what most other EPCM contractors would do – parachute people in, execute a design and leave. But our people are driven to go above and beyond. We come to work every day looking to Find A Better Way and that allows us to deliver real and tangible benefits to companies like Ravenwood Gold,” added John.