IF the mining industry is to take full benefit of the cyclical upswing, along with future highs and lows, innovation is the key. Rather than just talking the talk about technology, industry players must get serious about implementing it and walk the walk, otherwise they run the risk of being left behind.
This applies to the industry at a global level but is particularly relevant in Australia, one of the world’s mining superpowers on the strength of its abundance of mineral and energy resources along with its strong tradition of exploiting these to the benefit of the entire nation. Australia is also a world-leading mining innovator but in many cases these innovations are more readily adopted overseas. The apparent reluctance of Australian mining operations to do things differently puts the nation at risk of losing its competitive advantage.
Why are so many miners in Australia reluctant to look beyond the square? Is it because they have always done things the same way with general success? Is it because decision makers at operational level are apprehensive about their futures? Is it fear of the unknown, of change or costs? Are there insufficient numbers of young mining professionals? Whatever the reason, Australia’s mining industry needs to change its general attitude to innovation, technology and digitisation.
Operations in emerging Asian economies are much more interested in innovation from Australian mining, equipment and technology (METS) providers, and appear more willing to adopt it. Perhaps the lack of mining tradition is the reason, but regardless of the cause, many mines in Asia, Africa and South America are doing very well in the optimisation and productivity stakes.
Rio Tinto is a shining light for innovation and in commenting on a recent survey from global consulting firm VCI in partnership with the University of Western Australia (UWA) and METS Ignited, Rio’s Iron Ore CEO Chris Salisbury said, “In some ways, Australia is still grappling with its attitude towards technology. Whenever I travel through Asia, for example, there is always a lot of interest in our longer-term technology plans.
“As a nation and an industry, I believe we need to be more outward looking and longer term in our perspective. There is a responsibility on all of us – whether we are in business or government or wherever – to tell our innovation stories and describe the journey that is happening, including what this translates to for our community and what it means for broader society.
“In our business, innovation and technology are not standalone items, they are embedded in our thinking and our planning. We have a clear and focused strategy, with the deployment of technology and innovation central to it. One of the challenges in this regard is the rate of change of technology and the continual assessment of how business value may be added as a result. At all times, innovation needs to be linked back to the strategy.
“One of the biggest issues we are facing is making use of the considerable data we collect – from all sorts of data points across the operational supply chain - from an individual haul truck, to the mining system as a whole. How is this best interpreted and used? Do we have the right data analytics skills in-house and, if not, how do we develop them?”
All mining companies would do well to follow this lead while the industry also needs to consider technology developed outside the sector as it may be relevant. Collaboration is vital when it comes to research and the need for social and environmental innovation. Mining needs to work with government, representative organisations and educational establishments, including the best and brightest minds, to ensure Australian mining doesn’t fall behind.