Case study: Koniambo Nickel SAS

Mobilising an Automation Expert in a Remote Mining Area

Miners in front of truck light

Meet the project

Koniambo Nickel SAS (KNS) is a mining company and pyrometallurgical nickel processing plant, a joint venture between the Société Minière du Sud Pacifique (51%) and Glencore(49%). With a production capacity of 60 000 tons of Nickel per year, engineering expertise is required to assure overall efficiency. Since the industrial site is in northern New Caledonia, one of the biggest challenges is attracting and retaining talents in a remote area of a south pacific island.
The company

Koniambo Nickel SAS (KNS) has a production capacity of 60 000 tons of Nickel per year. To reach this production target, it heavily relies on very specific engineering expertise. Notably, the industrial complex needs a large amount of water to ensure the regular operation of the plant. It requires a desalination unit, treating 20m3/h of seawater pumped from nearby.

The challenge

There were recurring issues with the automatic
sequences that drive the desalination unit. System incompatibilities between the KNS standard code and the code of the desalination unit were causing severe breakdowns. Modifying the interface of the desalination unit had to be done live without stopping production. Yet, this specific skill is not available on the island.

The solution

Easy Skill found a skilled automation engineer able to answer the tough challenge. He was a former KNS employee who had returned to France. As the consultant’s constraints were not compatible with a regular local employment contract, Easy skill quickly offered an innovative and agile solution. The consultant works six months remotely from France and six months on-site for the implementation.

The result

Doing the operation from design to commissioning by an expert is a real challenge in agility and coordination with the production team. The automation engineer was able to diagnose the process, improve the interface to allow first level operators to use it and enable an efficient maintenance strategy, reducing downtime and lower production. As it fits the expert and the company’s needs, the collaboration has been successfully ongoing for the last two years and a half and is planned to continue.

The context

In the context of engineering talent shortages, it’s getting harder and harder to attract and retain the best talents. The competition is fierce, and industrial companies must be innovative and flexible with employment options to keep their team and ensure their production efficiency. As a trusted technical people partner inNew Caledonia, Easy Skill provided a flexible workforce solution that works best for the consultant and KNS. Hiring and mobilising an expert who was already familiar with KNSsystems and had a similar job on a hydrochlorinator was extremely valuable to delivering excellent quality work.

What the client says

Attracting and retaining our staff in a remote mining area is a tough challenge, but we can not keep up the mining site’s productivity without specific engineering expertise. The solution provided by Easy Skill was very agile and met both the consultant’s and KNS’ needs. The mobilisation of partly remote and partly on-site work was surprising at first, but it’s working very well! The responsiveness and agility of Easy Skill are highly appreciated.
Julien Vilas, Technical Utilities Superintendent at Koniambo Nickel SAS
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Changing the world

Koniambo Nickel SAS operates a world-class industrial site that functions according to the principles of sustainable development and guarantees a competitive cost price. This positioning makes it one of the most competitive ferronickel production sites in the world. However, the global skills shortage in the mining industry is becoming a real issue for KNS, like for every mining player.

Providing flexible workforce options is an innovative way to attract more engineering skills to work in a remote mining area. If rosters are usual practice for the mining sector, they can be more challenging to put in place between faraway territories. In the context of travel restrictions and to avoid unnecessary travel costs due to rosters, suggesting a half year of remote work and a half year on-site can make sense in many cases.

The integration of a skilled automation engineer and former employee of KNS had many positive impacts.

First, the consultant provided a new sequencing system in coordination with the operational team to prevent stopping the mining production.

Second, the recurring breakdowns interrupting the production were dramatically reduced.

Third, the time saved on diagnosis and troubleshooting enabled the training of first level operators to understand the problems and provide reports. It’s taking an intense workload off the engineering team.

The big wins 

  • Attracting an expert to a remote area
  • ​Flexible workforce solution
  • Productivity and efficiency maintained