GUEST PERSPECTIVE: Chilean consulting engineers set sights on Toronto

The association of consulting engineers in Chile (Asociacion de Empresas Consultoras de Ingenieria de Chile (AIC)) is heading for Toronto in November on a special mission. They are primarily hoping to make partnerships and other connections in...

The association of consulting engineers in Chile (Asociacion de Empresas Consultoras de Ingenieria de Chile (AIC)) is heading for Toronto in November on a special mission. They are primarily hoping to make partnerships and other connections in the mining industry and will be attending the PDAC (Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada) conference in Toronto in March. They will also stay for one-on-one meetings in the months following.

Andrés Poch Piretta, chairman of AIC, explained to Canadian Consulting Engineer in an interview in Santiago last week: "In Santiago there is a world famous hub for mining engineering. We perceive that Latin America is a big opportunity for junior [mining] companies, so we want to present our potential to serve these juniors with our services and show the potential that we have to support projects."

The association has chosen its Canadian destination, "because Toronto is where junior companies are located."

The Chilean engineers believe they can also provide valuable support to the large international consulting engineering companies such as SNC-Lavalin, which are already established in Chile. Not only do the Chilean engineers have the advantage of speaking Spanish and being part of the South American culture, says Poch, but they also bring local expertise for dealing with the harsh geography.

"A lot of those [large mining] operations need infrastructure. You have to pump water from sea level up 3,000 metres into the mountains. In Chile, Peru, and Colombia, it's the same thing. So the technology that we use for mining projects is unique. That's why I think Chilean consulting has important capabilities to deliver these sort of solutions," says Poch.

Mining engineering is already a huge business in Santiago. "Here is a unique situation," says Poch. "You have the heart of the world for mining projects here in Santiago Chile. There is a neighbourhood of about 20 blocks where there are 8,000 people working on projects, and 6,000 [of those] working in mining projects."

Recently, large multi-national companies have been buying up the local Chilean firms. Giants such as SNC-Lavalin, AMEC, Hatch, Golder, Worley Parsons and Bechtel all have offices there. In contrast, local firms tend to be anything from 10 people to 600 people, says Poch.

Latin America represents a huge opportunity for mining engineering. According to Poch: "The investment in mining projects in Chile is [forecast to be] $42 billion for the next five years. In Peru it's $45 billion. And in Brazil, I think its $20 billion. This represents something like 85% of the global mining investment in the world." Copper is the biggest export from Chile, representing 48% of its experts, but it also has gold and other minerals.

This year the members of AIC have exported $230 million in services. They represent about 80% of the consulting engineering capacity in Chile and 9,500 people. It was their most successful year so far, says Poch, and was thanks to some large mining projects in Peru.

The goal of the association is to increase their export of services to $500 million by 2015 - "which is why we are trying to present the association to very important investors, and this is why we will go to Toronto," says Poch.

The Chilean engineers view themselves as a gateway for offering engineering services in Latin America, and Poch points out that unlike other countries in the region, the Chileans have a long tradition of mining engineering. "We began developing projects 50 years ago, in the 1960s, so we have 10 generations of engineers -- a long continuity of very good engineers."

Chileans consulting engineers have much in common with their Canadian counterparts. They are proud of their engineering expertise in hydro-power engineering, for example, and also in seismic engineering.

The latter was proven in the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that shook central Chile in February 2010. The brand new 56-storey Titanium Tower had just opened -- then the tallest building in Santiago -- when the earthquake hit. The tower has an innovative seismic damper system that stood the test. The only damage to the structure was a slight shifting of an outside balcony. Otherwise not one single pane of glass broke.

The mission of Chilean consulting engineers to Canada is being organized with the backing of the government agency Pro Chile as part of a drive by the Chilean government to increase its export of services. The long, narrow strip of a country -- stretching over, 4,300 miles [6,920 km] between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Coast -- is on the verge of transforming from a developing to a developed country.

With a growth rate now of 6%, the Chilean economy relies on its export of goods, but the government believes that it is only by growing its export of services, particularly engineering, architecture and innovative technologies, that Chile will be able to make the big leap into full developed country status. Pablo Longueira, the Minister of the Economy in the new centre-right government, said in a press conference on September 26 they want to have a deficit of only 1% by 2014.

Today, the per capita annual income of Chileans is US$15,000, and the goal is for it to be $19,000 per capita by the end of the decade.


* Bronwen Parsons is the editor of Canadian Consulting Engineer. The following originally appeared on the CCE website,, on Oct. 10,2011.


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