With the COVID-19 pandemic upending economic prospects for 2020 and a global recession in the offing, many companies are looking to cut costs by scaling back investment into innovation, and research and development programs. However, for global mining-tech company IMDEX, product development is a long game that will deliver valuable upside no matter which way the cycle has turned.
With 20 offices internationally, sales in 102 countries and a presence on 70 per cent of mineral drilling projects globally, IMDEX regards its annual $20 million spend on R&D as a key strategy. “You don’t have to dig too far to learn that the best companies, whether in the technology or the IP space, always invest through cycles,” said Paul House, IMDEX chief executive. “Cutting it may be penny wise, but it’s also pound foolish. And we have 30 years of proof and the industry leadership position today to back it up.”
Jon Whittle, new head of CSIRO’s Data 61 division, echoed this sentiment when he recently called for companies to stay the course with their R&D portfolios, highlighting that continued investment would deliver competitive advantages in a post-pandemic world. He said almost every industry had been affected financially by COVID-19 and companies would inevitably be looking for efficiencies and to pivot their business strategies. However, the software expert believes that there are enormous opportunities for digital innovation given the recent wholesale shift the wider population has made toward working remotely and using cloud-based technologies during the pandemic.
For IMDEX, the difference to whether it solves the next pressing problem in the minerals industry or builds the next generation of an existing technology will be its 50-strong R&D team. Each year the company runs about 12 to 15 R&D projects across two broad categories: versions of existing IMDEX products and new technology that will change the mining industry fundamentally.
Mr House said R&D offered an opportunity to get ahead of the competition and that the current downturn only increased pressure from customers to reduce costs, improve success rates, hit more targets and deliver higher quality technological solutions.
In addition to its in-house innovation, IMDEX facilitates research and development at an industry level. The company joined other mining industry heavyweights to help develop the Mineral Exploration Cooperative Research Centre (MinEx CRC), which is focused on discovering and defining mineral deposits by pioneering cheap, safe and environmentally friendly coiled tubing drilling to build a 3D picture of the subsurface. It also is involved in a METS Ignited collaboration with Orica, Anglo American and Teck Resources to develop its IMDEX BLASTDOG technology.