Since its establishment in 2015, United Mining Services (UMS) Group along with its subsidiaries UMS Shaft Sinkers and its engineering and design counterpart UMS METS (Mining Engineering Technical Services) has established a reputation for providing comprehensive turnkey mining solutions.
Fast track six years and the company is embarking on a new era in its history – that of a unified brand across all its operations. GERARD PETER finds out more.
The driving force behind the company’s success is the amalgamation of innovation and a wealth of industry experience that spans six decades along with a visionary management team that is keen to continue to grow the company’s global footprint. Already, UMS has been involved in projects in southern Africa as well as Brazil, the UK and the USA.
UMS’s core technical capabilities reside in its UMS METS and UMS Shaft Sinkers divisions which were both acquired by UMS six years ago. UMS Shaft Sinkers is the contracting/construction division specialising in shaft sinking, all mine underground and surface construction and specialist services of shaft optimisation. UMS METS is the EPCM arm of the business and has two divisions: UMS METS Mining and UMS METS Process.
UMS METS Mining undertakes the engineering and design of underground mining structures including shafts, headgear as well as declines. UMS METS Process serves the process and metallurgical industry, focusing on the crushing and screening, material handling, beneficiation projects and tailings reclamation process on all commodities, applying a ‘fit for purpose’ process solution using a modular approach where applicable.
UMS Shaft Sinkers celebrates 60 years in business this year, while UMS METS will reach the same milestone in 2024. And while both divisions have established their own identity in the industry, this year the company made the decision to bring the various divisions under the UMS Group umbrella. Subsequently, the company’s divisions are now operating as UMS Shaft Sinkers, UMS METS, UMS Construction, UMS Botswana and UMS Nevada, UMS METS International in the UK, with UMS Brazil set to be launched in the near future.
According to Group CEO Digby Glover, UMS has been moving towards unifying the divisions for quite some time and in some ways, the decision has given METS and Shaft Sinkers a new lease of life.
“It’s really been a balance between trying to retain the proud history that the companies have and also trying to move away from some of the negative perceptions that the industry has about these businesses, particularly Shaft Sinkers that went through a bad patch between 2012 and 2015,” he explains.
Glover adds that when he joined the company in 2018, he realised that it was important for the industry to have renewed faith in Shaft Sinkers following the investment by new shareholders and the appointment of a new carefully selected top level management team.
“We have realised that through this journey that rather than dropping the old company names completely, we needed to unify and expand on the brands under the United Mining Services brand. We needed to retain the long solid track record, to represent all the enhanced value we now can produce in various facets of the mining industry and to demonstrate the real benefit to the industry of having topflight design and engineering skills through to solid practical construction experience all accessible and working synergistically in one organisation. This symbolises our true competitive advantage. In doing so, we are gearing up to ensure that the new companies can offer more value to the industry than ever before.”
A full suite of turnkey solutions on offer
By uniting the various brands under one roof, UMS is now able to offer high-level design, contracting and construction management skills for the full lifecycle of mining and metallurgical processing projects. Thus far, the new-look company has been greatly received by the mining and processing sector.
“Our clients are recognising the value of having UMS involved right from the get-go. We can grow a project from concept study phase to execution, so that the project is set up to perform, the contract is set up correctly and all long lead time equipment specified and procured.
“This way we get far better results than following a traditional process where a contractor gets one or two months to estimate a tender with no real in-depth understanding on what has been done during the feasibility and detailed design phases,” states Glover.
Alongside a diverse geographical footprint, UMS provides diversity in its offerings and has successfully completed a number of projects in the gold, chrome and general processing applications. The organisation’s combined experience and expertise incorporates over 170 000 metres vertical shafts sunk across the globe, including shaft rehabilitation, shaft towers and mining and tunnelling design.
As part of its ongoing evolution, the company has embraced new technology to provide both improved and safer mining solutions. According to Murray Macnab, MD of UMS METS, safety improvement is UMS’s number one focus combined with sustainable production improvements. These both require ongoing technology advancements to ensure that the company remains competitive and relevant.
Macnab states that UMS is proud of its safety record and the calibre of people it has attracted and retained over the years, who embrace continuous improvement.
“We collaborate with our suppliers to implement any lessons learnt and improvements or innovations that can only come with contracting and utilising the equipment. Our design engineering teams also develop innovative methodologies to improve safety performance and productivity. The selection and adaption of equipment will have an impact on the performance of our contracts and the sustainability of our business in the future. Innovation and continuous improvement is a culture that is supported throughout the business,” he adds.
One such innovation, Macnab explains, is a two-boom shaft jumbo that was recently designed and built for a shaft sinking project in North America. It utilises an electro-hydraulically driven twin drill to improve drilling advance rates and noise reduction. “Furthermore, the drill is remote controlled and is also adapted to drill sidewall support and reduce the need for handheld jackhammer drilling.” thereby drastically reducing the number of people required on shaft bottom.”
Meanwhile, newly appointed UMS COO, Rob Hull, points out that while there is a plethora of new technologies on the market, any technology is only beneficial if implemented correctly in a project.
“There are many technology buzzwords such as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Realtime Analytics doing the rounds, however, the key is to implement any technology in the right way. As such, we first look at what technology is available and if it is fit for purpose for a project. Also, we’ve got exceptional people who can ensure that the right technology is implemented in the correct manner if it can add value,” Hull adds.
Attracting and retaining the right workforce
The UMS Group prides itself on attracting the right human capital in all its operations. With a highly experienced management team in place, the company has set about securing those skills that will help it continue on its growth trajectory. According to Glover, while it is important to have traditional civil / structural design skills or contract management skills, UMS has aggressively expanded in the skills and experience it has brought into the organisation.
“Instead of just being a contracting company with some in-house design skill, we have brought in people with various and diverse high-level engineering design skills, project management skills, company management skills and financial skills,” he explains.
Another key area of focus for UMS is ensuring diversity and inclusion in its workforce. To that end, the company has made significant strides, particularly when it comes to empowering women in the workplace. Already, a number of key positions in the company are held by females such as Takalani Randima who is currently the MD of UMS Shaft Sinkers.
While diversity and inclusivity is a long-standing value of UMS, Guenther Hellhoff, Group Executive: Business Services points out that any appointment is primarily focused on the skills and attributes that an individual brings to the company.
“Fortunately, there is an increasing number of highly talented women and people of colour entering the industry than previously was the case. And, it is encouraging to see that these are highly talented individuals who prefer to be appointed on merit and will not tolerate tokenism. Through our recruitment processes, we have managed to create a well-balanced workforce that is talented and representative of the demographics of the country,” he states.
Finally, Glover points out that UMS will continue to build on its solid reputation and is keenly focused on expanding its service offering.
“We have a number of process plant projects that we are currently working on and have successfully completed, as well as general mining projects, underground construction projects, and infrastructure projects in the mining industry that don’t have shafts. We are well positioned to effectively deliver safe mines and related infrastructure from concept to construction,” he concludes.