August 2018

Professional perspectives: technologies, innovations or practices from other industries

  • By AusIMM

We asked four resources professionals: what are some technologies, innovations or practices from other industries that we could be using in mining and metallurgy?

Sara Prendergast MAusIMM

Senior Manager – Performance Reporting APA, Orica Australia; and Director, AusIMM

For our industry to harness and leverage the value available from new technologies and innovations we need to capture the talent and imagination of exceptional people and have the support of our communities. This will require working on the public perception of our industry through storytelling about the positive impact we have on global living standards, our economy, reinvestment into regional areas and environmental rehabilitation.

Industries and organisations that have been successful in creating a positive image, therefore establishing a greater social licence to operate and can readily attract talent, include the Australian tourism industry, the Australian Defence Force, and medical and social media industries.

The Australian tourism industry is effective in increasing their social goodwill and licence to operate through extensive public engagement and telling the story of regional reinvestment and our environment. This strategy has extended their scope and allowed them to operate in more regions with less legislative and taxation burden.

The Australian Defence Force uses storytelling to shape public perception of the employee profile they seek, the lifestyle and experiences available in their field and the opportunity to contribute to the greater good.

The medical and social media industries have attracted diverse talent by offering aesthetically pleasing work spaces, flexible working conditions and inclusive cultures to attract and retain the smartest minds.

To harness the future, we need to understand the power and value of our public image, and create physical and cultural environments that allow our people to explore new technologies, be genuinely innovative and thrive.

Adrienne Rourke

General Manager, Resource Industry Network

Diversity: Diversity has been a buzzword in recent years for many industries, but what it means in regards to mining is still a work in progress. Offering flexibility in the way mining projects are delivered remains a challenge for many employers, particularly those trying to achieve a diverse workforce. Rostering, remote locations and workplace health and safety in mining all impact on flexibility, but in other industries, similar barriers have been successfully overcome. Other industries rarely question when a provider has a flexible work arrangement, so why can’t our industry have similar options where suppliers are able to offer employees more flexibility to compete for a workforce?

Start-up innovators: The IT sector has thrived on start-up innovators for years, but the mining sector still struggles to be accessible to start-ups or entrepreneurs due to perceived risks and lack of testing opportunities. With governments providing significant funding and support to start-up and entrepreneurism programs, the resources sector needs to address this or risk missing out on some of the smart people who will seek opportunities elsewhere.

Self-promotion and personal branding: The culture of self-promotion is widely accepted in America, but in Australia we are quick to knock someone down who promotes their own individual and business successes. Promoting our success and innovation is crucial to many aspects of mining, especially future talent attraction and exposure to an international market, so self-promotion and personal branding needs to be encouraged, embraced and supported.

Dr Kash Sirinanda AAusIMM

Futurist, Founder Elite Futurists

Last decade, with the enhancement of digital technology and big data hype, there have been many discussions around how to digitalise a mine. More mining companies have started to transform their business by adopting digital capabilities through leveraging the power of data. However, there is still a gap between where we are now and where we want to be.

Compared to the telcommunications, banking and retail sectors, the mining sector is generally lagging in digital maturity. This is because mining is traditionally a very conservative industry and driven by silo mentality. To be at the top in the digital game, mining companies should leverage emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, gamification, advanced analytics and cloud computing.

For example, blockchain could be used to identify resources movement throughout the value chain, similar to the retail industry. Most other industries are leveraging Internet of Things platforms to capture, store, clean, structure and analyse data from sensors. It would help to run predictive maintenance, yield, energy and throughput optimisation for a mining company – thus increasing profits.

If mining companies do not adopt these emerging technologies, they will lose the opportunity to earn big money, and, possibly down the track, jeopardise their own survival. Now is the time to act.

Ray Tolhurst MAusIMM

Honorary Principal Fellow and part-time lecturer, Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, University of Wollongong; Chair, AusIMM Para-professional and Technician Course Recognition Working Party

A range of technologies, innovations and practices developed by other industries are being adopted in mining and metallurgy. However, there are many opportunities to expand these approaches. This includes:

  • Re-engineering, used in manufacturing, where an evaluation of the optimum equipment and IT is carried out and plants are ‘re-engineered’. This can be done in parallel by linking re-engineering with long-term mine planning and workforce development.
  • Engagement with emerging commodities and innovative composite materials, which are so important to our downstream customers, based on materials science and materials engineering. Up to the end of the 19th century, most minerals could only be separated at sizes of multiple millimetres. Due to research and development of froth flotation, grades and recoveries have improved dramatically, due to separation at the multiple micron level. The equivalent in the 21st century is the separation of minerals at the multiple nanometre level, through the use of nanotechnology being developed in centres such as the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials.

To maintain our social licence to operate, there is a need to develop a greater understanding of product life cycle, recycling and waste minimisation from the environmental industries. Increased amounts of metals are being produced by recycling, rather than from newly mined resources, since this can result in substantial energy savings.

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