We talk with Paul Language, Business Director - Industrial, about engineering a smarter future for minerals and metals.

You have nearly 40 years’ experience in the mineral processing and heavy industry sectors in Australia and South Africa. What makes you so passionate about those markets?

I’ve always felt that what I do makes everyday better for people in the world we live. Looking back over 40 years, the industry has changed in many ways, although fundamental processes remain the same. I consider the minerals and metals industry necessary for everyday life, but that does not negate our social responsibility. Nor does it justify the industry’s operation at the cost of lives or our environment.

I’ve had the privilege of working in many industrial manufacturing sectors but nothing as engaging as mineral processing. To wake up each morning and challenge yourself to seize one small opportunity, be it technical or business, is what keeps me firmly engaged.

What do you do on a typical day (if there is such a thing) in the Beca Minerals and Metals team?

Each day presents itself with a new opportunity, especially in a client-facing role, irrespective of whether you are winning or delivering work. All of our clients are experts in their industry, so our role is to help them join the dots and deliver their projects (complex or not) while sharing our wider expertise.

A typical week involves engaging with and fostering relationships with clients to understand their challenges and generate new solutions. My role is demanding and means balancing work and travel with family and health priorities. Clearly there is never enough time in the day to do everything. You can easily fill a day preparing proposals, reviewing designs, checking budgets, all in between client visits.

Another part of my role is mentoring Beca’s younger engineers in the minerals processing sector. Dedicating the time to help them learn and grow will be key to producing the next generation of engineering champions.

How is Beca making everyday better for our clients in the metals industry?

Beca-wide, I feel that our people and systems bring an element of maturity and expertise to our clients. Although our business is structured into five business groups, we find ways to work seamlessly to solve our clients’ challenges across all markets. 

For example, I look back at some of the work we delivered for a major steel client on a cogeneration project. There wasn’t a single discipline or business line at Beca that didn’t contribute to the project.

Beca’s values and the focus on safety – ‘safety is a way of life’ – also brings value to our clients when delivering on our core services.

What have been some of your career highlights?

Throughout my career, I’ve focused strongly on building sustainability in the industry. I remember my first breakthrough in metallurgy, where I used waste ferrous sulphate – generated from a neighbouring gold slimes dam – to reduce Cr6 to Cr3 on the resident ferrochrome smelter. My achievements have since expanded to include adsorption onto activated char prior to charging to the electric arc furnace, the recycling of micro-pelletised baghouse dust and briquetted steel works wastes. My current endeavours include leading innovation in waste heat recovery and CO2 reduction from thermally intensive pyrometallurgical and power plants.
While we should all find time to celebrate our achievements, I’m more focused on joining the dots and finding smart engineering solutions for the future. For example, if we want to grow and prosper in Australia, conserving one of our scarcest commodities – water – will be paramount. More effort is required to explore applications for waste heat utilisation and dry stack tailings to produce and conserve our fresh water.

What would you say are some of the key challenges facing Australian businesses you partner with?

Some of the biggest challenges my clients face include the growing pressure on their social license to operate, a shrinking talent pool and rapid digital advancements.

Technological advances and innovation will play a major role in helping industry overcome these key challenges. When looking back at the original design intent used, say, 50 years ago, some processes didn’t prioritise the importance of sustainability. Take, for example, the amount of waste heat generated from a traditional integrated steel mill which – if applied to current technology – can improve sustainability for power and water. It is these challenges that demand more consideration when building new and adding to existing brownfield operations.

I think Industry 4.0, with its plethora of ideas and promises to make the industry more productive, needs focus for wise financial spend. Having a clear objective and roadmap will be the biggest challenge for industry over the next decade. This is not to say that Industry 4.0 doesn’t have a huge role to play in promoting sustainable, efficiency in process and a safer way of doing business!