IN this interview Austmine’s CEO Christine Gibbs Stewart provides views on Australia’s METS sector.

Looking over 2014, what have been some of the highlights for the METS sector in Australia?
One of the most important developments was the Abbott Government’s confirmation of a Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) Growth Centre as part of their Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda. Austmine led the bid for the original METS Industry Innovation Precinct in 2013 and we have been working since that time to convince the government that providing a platform for stronger collaboration is crucial for the sustainability of both METS and mining.

With the sector generating more than $90 billion in gross annual revenue and employing nearly 400,000, it is also good to see the importance of METS contribution to the economy finally being recognized in this move.

Another series of highlights have been some of the partnerships and MoUs signed between key players in the METS sector. At Austmine we have signed MoUs with the Minerals Council of Australia, the Industry Capability Network, CRC ORE and are soon to enter into an agreement with Austrade. These kinds of partnerships are critical for ensuring the future and sustainability of the sector, to keep securing innovation into the R&D phase and making sure it’s commercially viable from the get go.

IMARC in Melbourne in September was also a highlight. This brought together more than 2000 industry representatives and had a line-up of great speakers. Austmine’s ‘Meet the Miners’ speed networking function was part of this and enabled suppliers and miners to come together and discuss challenges, issues and trends.

What do you think the mining and METS sectors should take away from the challenges of the last 24 months? What lessons can be learned?
To remain competitive globally, the sectors need to keep up the level of quality we’re so proud of here, and continue to focus on improving productivity and the incorporation of innovation into technology and equipment R&D.

The biggest lesson to be taken away from the 24 months is that the mining industry, and all who service it, cannot rely anymore on the profit of the booms in this cyclical sector to get us through the downturns. We can no longer afford to be ‘fat and lazy’ as we were famously accused of during the last boom - the entire sector must work together to ensure continuous improvement measures are consistently applied to operations and services.

What needs to change in 2015?
Collaboration is the key in 2015. That means collaboration between METS, between METS and miners, between researchers and METS and miners, and between government and the sector as a whole. Working together to help embrace innovation is the critical way that the Australian mining and METS industries will be able to stay ahead of the game and be competitive.

Rio Tinto has consistently proven how valuable collaboration can be - whether it’s their automated drill pattern and execution project with Atlas Copco, or their work with the University of Western Australia, Rio Tinto is a great example of how innovation and collaboration can deliver phenomenal results.

Consider the Processing Excellence Centre in Brisbane (a collaboration between Rio and JK Tech, Schneider Electric, Metso CISA, UQ and iGate) that has driven millions of dollars of savings for the company through big data analysis that led to procedural enhancements. The entire sector can stand to learn a lot from Rio Tinto’s work.

Times are still tough in the mining sector but opportunities still exist for METS companies. How can organizations find the opportunities?
Even in tougher times, opportunities still exist, whether we’re talking about in Australia or looking overseas. Austmine takes international missions of members each year to the hottest regions with project opportunities. For example our COO Robert Trzebski has just returned from Brazil where he and several member organizations went on a series of mine site tours courtesy of Vale, before meeting with their procurement head in Belo Horizonte for opportunity meetings.

Markets closer to home, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, are offering new opportunities for Australian METS. Currently, 62% of METS export to SE Asia and given our reputation and experience, miners there look to Australia for solutions. The Ozmine program, which we work on in partnership with Austrade, will see an increased focus on activities in SE Asia, including a mission to Vietnam and Cambodia in March and a return to Indonesia in October.

Working with organizations such as ourselves or Austrade can help METS mitigate the risk of entering new markets and developing key relationships.

In Australia, major projects like Adani Mining’s Carmichael or BHP’s Olympic Dam are still exciting prospects. However, these major projects are few and far between, and it’s likely to remain that way for another 18-24 months. Working with existing clients to deliver more value, or services, is a good way of keeping the work rolling in. Making sure you are out there meeting with mid-tier miners is also a good option now, as many of those are still looking to invest in operations to ensure they are profitable despite low resource prices. Keep speaking with industry representatives to stay across opportunities.

What are you most excited about looking to the year ahead for METS organizations and the sector as a whole?
I’m excited to start seeing more collaboration across the sector and some significant project opportunities coming online. There have been some big promises from government too, such as the NSW Premier promising mining assessment times halved if they get voted back into power, so if some of these come to fruition then 2015 could be a much better year for the mining sector, and therefore METS organizations.

Looking over 2014, what have been some of the highlights for the METS sector in Australia?
One of the most important developments was the Abbott Government’s confirmation of a Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) Growth Centre as part of their Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda. Austmine led the bid for the original METS Industry Innovation Precinct in 2013 and we have been working since that time to convince the government that providing a platform for stronger collaboration is crucial for the sustainability of both METS and mining.

With the sector generating more than $90 billion in gross annual revenue and employing nearly 400,000, it is also good to see the importance of METS contribution to the economy finally being recognized in this move.

Another series of highlights have been some of the partnerships and MoUs signed between key players in the METS sector. At Austmine we have signed MoUs with the Minerals Council of Australia, the Industry Capability Network, CRC ORE and are soon to enter into an agreement with Austrade. These kinds of partnerships are critical for ensuring the future and sustainability of the sector, to keep securing innovation into the R&D phase and making sure it’s commercially viable from the get go.

IMARC in Melbourne in September was also a highlight. This brought together more than 2000 industry representatives and had a line-up of great speakers. Austmine’s ‘Meet the Miners’ speed networking function was part of this and enabled suppliers and miners to come together and discuss challenges, issues and trends.

What do you think the mining and METS sectors should take away from the challenges of the last 24 months? What lessons can be learned?
To remain competitive globally, the sectors need to keep up the level of quality we’re so proud of here, and continue to focus on improving productivity and the incorporation of innovation into technology and equipment R&D.
The biggest lesson to be taken away from the 24 months is that the mining industry, and all who service it, cannot rely anymore on the profit of the booms in this cyclical sector to get us through the downturns. We can no longer afford to be ‘fat and lazy’ as we were famously accused of during the last boom - the entire sector must work together to ensure continuous improvement measures are consistently applied to operations and services.

What needs to change in 2015?
Collaboration is the key in 2015. That means collaboration between METS, between METS and miners, between researchers and METS and miners, and between government and the sector as a whole. Working together to help embrace innovation is the critical way that the Australian mining and METS industries will be able to stay ahead of the game and be competitive.

Rio Tinto has consistently proven how valuable collaboration can be - whether it’s their automated drill pattern and execution project with Atlas Copco, or their work with the University of Western Australia, Rio Tinto is a great example of how innovation and collaboration can deliver phenomenal results.

Consider the Processing Excellence Centre in Brisbane (a collaboration between Rio and JK Tech, Schneider Electric, Metso CISA, UQ and iGate) that has driven millions of dollars of savings for the company through big data analysis that led to procedural enhancements. The entire sector can stand to learn a lot from Rio Tinto’s work.

Times are still tough in the mining sector but opportunities still exist for METS companies. How can organizations find the opportunities?
Even in tougher times, opportunities still exist, whether we’re talking about in Australia or looking overseas. Austmine takes international missions of members each year to the hottest regions with project opportunities. For example our COO Robert Trzebski has just returned from Brazil where he and several member organizations went on a series of mine site tours courtesy of Vale, before meeting with their procurement head in Belo Horizonte for opportunity meetings.

Markets closer to home, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, are offering new opportunities for Australian METS. Currently, 62% of METS export to SE Asia and given our reputation and experience, miners there look to Australia for solutions. The Ozmine program, which we work on in partnership with Austrade, will see an increased focus on activities in SE Asia, including a mission to Vietnam and Cambodia in March and a return to Indonesia in October.

Working with organizations such as ourselves or Austrade can help METS mitigate the risk of entering new markets and developing key relationships.

In Australia, major projects like Adani Mining’s Carmichael or BHP’s Olympic Dam are still exciting prospects. However, these major projects are few and far between, and it’s likely to remain that way for another 18-24 months. Working with existing clients to deliver more value, or services, is a good way of keeping the work rolling in. Making sure you are out there meeting with mid-tier miners is also a good option now, as many of those are still looking to invest in operations to ensure they are profitable despite low resource prices. Keep speaking with industry representatives to stay across opportunities.

What are you most excited about looking to the year ahead for METS organizations and the sector as a whole?
I’m excited to start seeing more collaboration across the sector and some significant project opportunities coming online. There have been some big promises from government too, such as the NSW Premier promising mining assessment times halved if they get voted back into power, so if some of these come to fruition then 2015 could be a much better year for the mining sector, and therefore METS organizations.

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