From pharmaceuticals in Melbourne to processing plants in Africa: Andrew’s story

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Andrew Hislop is a Senior Control Systems Engineer with a background in pharmaceuticals and explosives manufacturing. Now working on some of Mipac’s biggest projects on the African continent, we sat down with him to find out more about his career journey, the kinds of projects he’s working on and the things he’s learnt since joining Mipac just under two years ago

Andrew, thanks for chatting to us! Can you tell us a bit more about your background?

Sure! Before I was at Mipac I was a process engineer for biotechnology and pharmaceutical company, CSL Behring, in Melbourne. Prior to this I was at Orica, working in sodium cyanide manufacturing and ammonium nitrate explosive manufacturing in Gladstone. I also did a stint in the Orica head office in a strategic marketing  and technology role specifically around cyanide products.

Those are three quite different experiences. What did you study?  

Chemical engineering, then later an Advanced Diploma in Industrial Automation.

And you’ve not faced any issues working across different industries?

Not at all. Other than some specific equipment and processes, a lot of the technologies used are cross-functional. A pump is a pump, a conveyor is a conveyor. The only thing that changes is the product. If you understand how equipment works, how processing works, how automation, electrical and mechanical engineering works, I actually think it’s good bringing cross-pollination of industries, because there are a lot of learnings you can take from one to the other.

So, why did you join Mipac?

I was looking for new opportunities either as a process engineer or control systems engineer. Mipac was open to considering applicants from varied backgrounds, which was great for me as I didn’t have much previous mining experience! I was also keen to be move into a smaller business as I felt it would give me more exposure to different areas. Mipac gives you a good mix of site work and city office work, too.

Another thing that appealed to me were Mipac’s global projects and that Mipac was a main automation contractor (MAC), winning jobs and taking them from start to finish.

Is seeing projects through from start to finish something you get to do in your role?

It is. For example, we’re just about to start the S3 Expansion project for First Quantum Minerals’ Kansanshi mine in Zambia, which will take us from planning documentation right through to commissioning.

Sometimes, the start and finish of a project aren’t as clearly defined, which has been the case with KCC

(The Kamoto Copper Company Process Plant Optimisation project), the other major project I’ve been working on.

What’s your involvement there?

There are several optimisation projects happening at KCC concurrently and we’re working closely with two different teams on site: one from the concentrator and one from the refinery. I’m across both sites, working with two other Mipac control systems engineers as well as the Mipac optimisation team.

It’s very much project-based work, isn’t it?

Yes, that’s right. At Mipac, we work on projects from main automation contracting to basic equipment control issues, so projects are really varied in size and duration.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your job?

There is a lot of complexity in automation and differing levels of understanding amongst our clients. Because of this, there’s often a knowledge gap between what we do and what they do, which makes it harder for us to communicate challenges.

Another related issue is the lack of common language around descriptions of functionality – the language used for the same thing can change from site to site and country to country, even industry to industry. Abbreviation tables are helpful to overcome this.

What’s something you’ve done since joining Mipac that you’re really proud of?

We’re currently working on a big update to a leaching circuit at KCC. This has been a difficult project and several hundred hours of work, but operator feedback is that [our new automatic processes] are working and that they’re happy. This is really rewarding.

Two men in high vis clothing inspecting a pipe
Andrew [left] on site at KCC in the DRC
Is there a lot of learning on the job in your role?

There is a huge amount of learning on the job! I think that’s the reality of work in the 21st Century [laughs].

That being said, there are a lot of resources and support available at Mipac, including examples of how things have been done before. We brainstorm a lot, including brainstorming together with the client to find the best solution.

What’s something you’ve learnt since joining the company?

I’ve learnt a lot about metallurgy and mineral processing, as well as the nuances of process control, which is a broad subject, and one which is not currently taught in depth or well at a university level.

How would you describe Mipac’s culture?

Very friendly. We’re also really diverse in age, ethnicity and skills. This makes for engaging conversations outside of work but also a lot of knowledge that you can draw on. For a technical engineering firm, I’d say we’re more inclusive and fun than a lot of other engineering companies! We work hard but there’s also a real feeling of community.

What kind of person do you think would enjoy working here?

Someone who enjoys the challenge of not always having a perfectly defined answer to a problem but is happy to figure it out. Someone who’s open to new technologies, new ideas, new processes and someone who’s as comfortable on site as in the office – and likes the balance. The work is diverse so it would suit someone who enjoys having a breadth of projects.

Where do you see the future of our industry?

I think a lot of mining processing plants (not to be confused with the actual mine) have been slower on the uptake of automation and digital technologies than in other industries like chemicals, oil and gas and pharmaceuticals – but the drive towards automation continues to increase, especially as the demand for fly in/fly out decreases and people seek greater work-life balance.

Mipac is well positioned to take the industry along the journey of automation, thanks to our knowledge, ability and industry experience.

Thank you for sharing your insights with us!

No worries!

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