From providing technical expertise to equipment, PIMS Group is the go-to partner for some of the world’s most recognised mining firms
Australia’s hidden riches have long been a magnet for the most powerful mining firms around the globe. When those Tier One power players seek the guidance, expertise, and resource development know-how that only great Australian companies can provide, they turn to the PIMS Group.
In 2006, recognising that the underground coal mining sector was desperately in need of a multidisciplinary approach to truly collaborative, high quality, and results-oriented consulting, a group of like-minded senior managers formed Pacific International Mining Services, known today as the PIMS Group. Relationships with a slate of the industry’s household names — BHP Billiton, Peabody, Anglo American, Glencore and others — quickly followed.
The big draw? Directors with over 100 years of combined expertise in developing and operating underground coal mining sites in Australia, Europe, Southeast Asia, South Africa, and the US, as well as a team of associates who know the industry in India, Russia, and Mongolia.
According to the company, “The collective operational experience of the group created expertise to assist clients to deliver optimised production; productivity improvement; safety focussed delivery; environmental responsibility; reserve recovery; and costs which are optimally balanced to have the maximum positive impact on the bottom line.”
With headquarters in Mackay, the privately held Queensland firm encompasses five divisions designed to meet the specific needs of each project, and to apply innovations at scale. Together, the company’s services include mining, mine production services, planning and project management, surveying, engineering, equipment hire, safety management and training, as well as consultancy on key issues such as geology, geotechnics, gas, and ventilation. PIMS covers the entire scope of underground coal mine services, from initial evaluation through to mine development and full operation.
At present, PIMS is a presence in the 60,000-square-kilometre Bowen Basin, home to Australia’s largest coal reserves, as well as in the coal mining regions of eastern New South Wales.
Mark Johnston, a 29-year industry veteran, leads PIMS Consulting. In addition to offering expertise in all aspects of project management, design, and implementation, this arm of the business specialises in ventilation, gas drainage and management, risk management, safety management, and real-time strata monitoring solutions.
“Our mission is to be the leading mine services provider to the underground coal mining industry, and the employer of choice for technicians and operators, Johnston said, noting that PIMS was a finalist for Australia Mining Monthly’s 2019 Operational Excellence Award.
“We provide the development projects for (Tier 1 companies) to build their underground resources to extraction. We also support them in providing labour, from secondary support to conveyor and Longwall installations and removals; basically, all the labour that’s required to make a coal mine run, all the way from management to the operator and trades.”
Within PIMS Consulting is a Registered Training Organisation that provides vocational education and training designed to cultivate a new generation of underground mining experts. “We are a nationally accredited Registered Training Organisation (RTO) under the National Recognised Training requirements, or train any of the specific underground requirements that go beyond just the standard inductions, and we can skill or upskill,” he added.
Johnston’s division also provides expertise in ventilation, mine management, and gas technical consultants. Additionally, it oversees the work of Unimon/Realtime Strata Management, which provides an innovative roof monitoring system that integrates with existing technology to identify mine roof instability in real time.
Agile Expertise, On Demand
The group’s private ownership structure provides much-needed agility in an industry driven by boom and bust cycles. As Johnston explained, “We’re not publicly listed, and it makes it a lot easier for us to be a lot more flexible and make quicker decisions compared with other listed companies. Each of our directors have worked in management roles within the Big Three companies. We understand the process, we understand what these companies need to achieve, and we can see forward the issues they’re going to run into and be able to provide them with a solution.”
Johnston pointed to a job that the company recovered when the initial firm in charge stumbled, racking up delays that would cost the owner 40 lost production days. The original contract, he said, “would put work behind schedule and was going to cause the mine owner $20 million because of delays in getting started. We came in, mobilised our people, and worked in parallel with them. … We turned it around, there was no lost time, no loss in production, and we saved them about $10 million from the original contract they had with the other provider.”
That agility also helps PIMS take care of their employees, from thorough training to ensuring consistent levels of employment. “When new people come into the industry, we have a program they go through so we can make sure they’re safe and they understand the standards that we require, and what the client requires. Also, when there’s a boom and bust there’s a lot of expansion within the clients’ and mines’ decisions. We’ve been able to move the people that work for us to other sites and on other projects.”
Most recently, PIMS had roughly 125 workers at Peabody’s North Goonyella mine, which was temporarily closed last year after spontaneous combustion resulted in an underground fire. After the safe evacuation of the site, owners temporarily shut the mine. “It’s still in the process of re-entry, but we were able to relocate our people to other projects and support other clients with projects they’re looking at,” Johnston added. Peabody plans to reopen the mine, with production expected to re-commence next year.
“Our flexibility and being able to see what’s coming up in the future is what allows us to develop the right people and have the client happy with those people so they hang on to them. We only provide people that we know will do the right job and provide the service and standard we require.” In turn, the company’s flat management structure allows workers at every level to speak directly to the executive suite. The culture, Johnston said, is “very open and consultative. We treat everyone like family — a lot of people say that, but we do. Our people are our biggest asset, and we treat them that way. We respect them.”