A Day in the Life.… of a Supervisor

David Pownall

By David Pownall
Precious Metals Manager (Group), ALS Inspection UK Ltd

The Start of the Day

The alarm sounds at 6.30am, and I rise and head to the kitchen to grab my first coffee of the day. Amongst the chaos of a household that has two young children ‘trying’ to get themselves ready for school, I switch on my laptop to start my working day as ALS Inspection UK Ltd.’s Global Precious Metals Manager. ALS Inspection Group is an Australian-owned, and publicly listed company, that provides accurate and independent inspection and analysis services for the global commodities industry. With regards to precious metals, the services ALS provides are regularly utilised by clients from the mining, chemical, oil, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, electronic, jewellery, financial and governmental sectors.

‘Eyes and Ears’ of the Client

Given the high value of the precious metals materials that are sent to many of the world’s processing facilities or refineries, companies or individuals will often appoint an independent supervision company to witness the entire precious metals processing flow, from receipt and weighing of the material to melting, sampling and any analytical requirements they may have. The independent company appointed to perform this should document and report on the process and essentially be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the client whom they are representing.

Whilst the majority of commercial metal transactions between the customer and the refiner are settled with no immediate issues or problems, the possibility of human error can still occur. This could potentially have a detrimental impact on the sampling process, which in turn impacts the analytical results produced from the specific sample obtained. It is important to reiterate that the analytical results generated by the independent laboratories are reliant on the sample obtained being representative of the whole consignment of material.

If the sample is not representative, then the analysis results and content of metal being advised could be inaccurate, which would create problems with commercial settlement between seller and buyer.

A gold bar being sampled (drilled) in preparation for analysis.

Global Responsibilities

Due to having a global network that provides coverage at all the major precious metals, PGM refineries and production facilities around the world, it is imperative that my day starts with reviewing emails and prioritising the needs our clients and operational offices. This is particularly important in the Far East and Australia who are reaching the end of their working day and may require some assistance or information before they finish. I undertake these tasks from home whilst consuming my second cup of coffee of the day.

Once I’ve responded to all the important emails, I peruse the numerous daily gmail messages from people trying to sell me vast amounts of ‘discounted gold’. I resist the temptation to invest my life savings, and instead wave the kids off to school, before jumping into my car to make the 15-minute commute to the office and laboratory of ALS Inspection UK Ltd on the outskirts of Liverpool.

Sample bars being resmelted.

The Importance of Sampling

On arrival, I have a brief catch-up with the precious metals operations team who provide our clients with daily updates and report on their various shipments that ALS is handling. We discuss and review the projects that are currently ongoing and discuss commercial and operational matters in detail. This is quickly followed by a meeting with ALS’s Precious Metals Technical Coordinator, Kevin Carney.

The discussion centres around a vault audit and sampling operation I am performing in Finland the following week. On this occasion the private banking client requires ALS to sample and assay some bullion bars it has in storage. Although physically sampling bars is very rare when performing a vault audit (due to negating the status of the bar and changing its weight), the client wants to provide some reassurance to its clients that the bars it has in storage can be randomly selected, sampled and assayed, and the results from the assay will confirm the bars’ purity/fineness. The client will then have the bars remelted and cast back to their original glory. Discussions about standards, drill bits, drill speeds and drilling templates continue until I leave Kevin to produce an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for the client to review and agree on.

Reviewing sampling procedures, providing technical reviews and solutions is a large part of our service provision and something that all independent companies should offer to their clients, given that the materials and the facilities involved can vary dramatically.

It is important to reiterate that the analytical results generated by the independent laboratories are reliant on the sample obtained being representative of the whole consignment of material

Sunken Treasures

Lunch time beckons and it’s back to my desk with a sandwich to review any further enquires I have received with regards to the services we provide. One of the most interesting enquiries I’ve received in a very long time is an email from a UK-based salvage company which is looking for information on the analysis services we provide. The company in question is a specialist in locating pre-WW2 sunken cargoes and believes it has found a vessel off the coast of Ireland that seems very relevant to its interests. Its research team believes the vessel was carrying a large volume of gold which it is looking to recover and it may need our analysis services to confirm the metal’s purity.

The salvage company is also interested in analysing the vessel’s hull, as it believes this may consist of non-radioactive steel. A call follows to discuss the details of its requirements, with a sample of the steel hull being sent for analysis. This isn’t the first time we have become involved in shipwrecks and real-life treasure. I’ve been involved in three similar projects to date, including the ‘SS Gairsoppa’, a high-profile silver salvage operation that was the subject of a documentary that aired on the Discovery channel. This is just an example of one of the niche enquiries I get from time to time that showcases how varied my job can be.

Collection of bars recovered from the ‘SS Gairsoppa’.

Laboratory Operations

The afternoon starts and I leave the comforts of my desk and head to the on-site laboratory, which is the heart and soul of ALS Inspection’s UK facility.

The laboratory itself has been operating for over 40 years and analyses a wide spectrum of materials from low-grade samples containing only parts per million (ppm) to high-grade materials of 99.999% purity. The complex and innovative processes that take place in a precious metals laboratory coupled with the myriad of precious metals-bearing materials make it the most intriguing and interesting of places. I touch base with Dave Court (Laboratory General Manager), who has been operating in this laboratory since it was established, and Danielle Tasker (UK Laboratory Manager). Both will be well known to many people reading this.

Gold recovered prill samples from the laboratory.


A lot of the daily enquiries I receive centre around precious metals analysis and the procedures and methods that we use to analyse samples. With techniques that include Fire Assay, Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission and Mass Spectrometry (ICP OES and ICP MS), X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (XRF), Gravimetric Analysis and Microwave Digestion, it’s no wonder I need assistance clarifying and confirming these things with Dave and his very experienced management team.

Although my head is filled with complex methodologies and theories of alchemy, I always leave the laboratory with a sense that I’ve been ‘upskilled’ and have learnt something new.

One of the most interesting enquiries I’ve received in a very long time is from a UK-based salvage company looking for information on the analysis services we provide

Proactive Monitoring

A mid-afternoon Zoom call is scheduled with Neil Harby, Hannah Coakley and Varsha Peiris to discuss LBMA’s proactive monitoring programme. As one of LBMA’s approved supervisor’s, we are regularly involved in the proactive monitoring scheme. This involves an independent supervisor witnessing and documenting the Good Delivery refinery’s ability to produce a sample that is later analysed for its purity by an LBMA approved referee. If a refiner’s bars are not routinely encountered in the London vaults, ALS will also supervise the ability of the refinery to cast a bar as per its usual procedure.

LBMA always finds time to interact and discuss issues or proposals with its nominated supervisors and this is something that is important to ALS. To be an LBMA Affiliate member and an approved supervisor adds a level of prestige to our business that would be impossible to replicate, and contributes a great deal in ALS promoting reliability, independence and integrity to the global precious metals markets.

As one of LBMA’s approved supervisor’s we are regularly involved in the proactive monitoring scheme

Networking in Lisbon

My working day is drawing to a close and I have left the best until last. Financial budgets. As the financial year slowly draws to a close and budgets for 2022/2023 are being finalised, I am starting to plan and schedule my conference attendance and client visits for this financial year.

One thing that I’ve really missed during the past two years is the lack of face-to-face interaction with clients and industry peers through the various conferences, networking events and dinners that are a staple part of the role I perform. This year’s LBMA Conference is in the vibrant city of Lisbon, a personal favourite of mine and one which I am very much looking forward to.

Although the mechanisms for business communication may have changed forever with video calls and conferencing being a mainstay going forward, it’s nice to speak to people without having to tell them “You are still on mute!!”.

Sleeping Like a Baby

Another day is nearly over and it’s almost time to head home, but not before checking my emails via my iPhone as our clients and operational offices in the US and South America are starting to get into their groove, therefore my assistance may be needed.

The global precious metals market is like a new-born baby – it demands constant attention

and never seems to sleep, but you love it all the same! I’ll sleep well tonight, just like a baby!

My working day is drawing to a close and I have left the best until last.

David Pownall

By David Pownall
Precious Metals Manager (Group), ALS Inspection UK Ltd

David Pownall has spent 20 years in the commodities industry, initially starting in operational administration before moving into metals procurement and trading. Over the last 13 years he has spent with ALS Inspection UK Ltd focusing on Business Development and operations management within the precious metals industry.