December 2018

Professional perspectives: changes in the resources industry

  • By AusIMM

We asked some of our resources professionals: what is the biggest change you’ve seen in the resources industry over the course of your career?

Dale Sims FAusIMM(CP)

Director, DSC Geoscience and AusIMM Director

As a geoscientist, the biggest change has to be how the constantly evolving and expanding technology envelope allows us to visualise, analyse, model and communicate the complexity of just about any natural resource scenario.

When I started out in the early 1980s, high technology was using a Rotring pen – or maybe the UV light plan printer which bubbled ammonia and its associated smells into the room (way above my pay grade). Now an almost infinite amount of critical geoscience data can be loaded, rotated, interpreted and modelled in seriously short timeframes and with amazing insights. It still staggers me what we can do in just a matter of days now. But hey, I still have my Derwent pencils at the ready!

On the people side, I think the biggest change is how accessible everyone is. It is now so easy to build your networks and keep connected with fellow professionals from anywhere and at any time – you just have to make that contact step.

Harriet Schuyler MAusIMM

Superintendent Site Service, Rio Tinto

Technology and innovation are playing a vital role in all aspects of the resources industry, and are becoming the foundation for the new norm in the way we work. From a safety perspective, we used to rely on stop signs and reaction times to avoid vehicle, machinery and personnel interactions. We now have collision avoidance systems which, through the use of radar and lidar technology, make it almost impossible for these incidents to occur.

Combined with vehicle automation, these systems allow for a safer, more diverse and inclusive workforce through the ability to operate machinery remotely. This removes personnel from the active mining area entirely, and addresses the perceived employment hurdles of fly in, fly out work and remote living. It has been proven that a workforce diverse in thought is more productive and cohesive, and the more we can do to remove employment barriers and encourage people of all walks of life into our industry, the better.

The ability to collect, analyse and work with real-time data is another important technological advancement, which allows for instantaneous schedule realignment and production transparency. This leads to a truly integrated operation focusing on, and delivering, the end goal in a safe and efficient manner.

I am so eager to see where the future of technology takes the industry and hope the leaders in our field continue to embrace these exciting times.

Jordan G Li FAusIMM

Director, Aurizon Group & Aurizon Capital

I’m very lucky to have worked directly and indirectly, for over twenty years, in one of the most innovative and resourceful sectors in Australia – mining. The biggest change I have seen over the course of my career is the gradual condensation of a vast number of projects into a very resilient and quite sustainable group of entities. This is due to the applaudable manoeuvring of teams of the decision-making professionals over the decades.

Products including iron ore, coking coal, gold, copper and batteries minerals, plus some others on and off, have all seen ups and downs, and to a large extent, huge volatility at some stage, but there are always good survivors when the dust settles. The anchors are these decision-making professionals’ persistence, tenacious learning and constant desire to improve that have helped tremendously towards billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs being maintained.

Overlapping with the above but positioned closer to the capital market, corporate governance and professional governance have also evolved and played their critical roles upholding the higher standard of projects for investors and the strong reputation of the Australian resources industry.

Last but not least, technology and innovation enhanced management practices, and risk management and mitigation, are also two of the many factors that keep reshaping the resources industry while also helping the industry to stay ahead of the curve.

Sarah Webster MAusIMM(CP)

Study Leader – Life of Mine Studies, Life-of-Mine and Exploration Northparkes CMOC

When I started my mining career most people worked long days and some weekends. To climb the ladder, people moved to other mine sites and took their families with them. Working long hours is difficult to maintain when you have a family, and if your partner needs to work full time or change locations, it is difficult to keep the career afloat. Thankfully there has been a cultural change towards more balanced, flexible work, rather than working ‘hero hours’, that still shows your commitment to the job .

I am fortunate that my husband’s mining job has evolved with technology, allowing him to work from our home in Parkes. In return, he can provide remote assistance to mine sites all over Australia, outside of typical work hours. For example, at 2 am one night he was able to connect to a dump truck 1500 km away and diagnose a faulty fuel injector. This in turn allows me to work onsite at Northparkes Mines four days a week and we share the school runs and family tasks. Today I see more men requesting to take paternity leave and flexible work
and people thinking differently about how they can structure roles.

I’m grateful for this change because I love my job and found it difficult to stay at home full time when we had children. With mining being more flexible, both my husband and I can continue with our chosen careers, be together as a family and live in a beautiful part of Australia as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all cupcakes and roses but with a synchronised calendar, a few late nights and great support people we pull it off.

Dr Sibasis Acharya FAusIMM

Technical Director & Non-executive Director, Citigold Corporation

I have over eighteen years broad mining, metals and minerals industry experience in managing, end-to-end project cycles from project development, studies, engineering design and commissioning and process optimisation. Currently, mining industries are extracting minerals more efficiently and more safely using automation in mining. I have seen the biggest change in the resources industry over the course of my career as mentioned below.

Over the years, new technology has revolutionised our resource industries. Morden technology has improved operational efficiencies and created amazing cost-saving for our resource industries. Rising acceptance of new technology globally in the mining sector is not only changing the demand dynamics of certain commodities, but it is also altering the conventional approach to mining. The last few years have seen mining and mineral processing companies integrating technological innovation into their practices which is resulting in reduced costs, increased productivity and improved worker safety using some advanced techniques such as drones, automated trucks, automated machinery, robotic drilling, innovative blasting technology (eg shockwave power plasma), tele-remote ship loaders, automated rock breakers, big data, data analytics, renewable power source, underground mobile miners, electric vehicles, waste recycling,  automation and sensor based sorting.

Big data, innovative ore sorting, robotics and automation of mobile and fixed assets are helping miners drive productivity gains, optimise cost and improve safety. Miners are adopting digital technologies to streamline their business models and improve their core operational processes to building a more efficient and safe mining value chain.

Based on my experience, the mining sector needs to foster innovation to remain agile and competitive.

Julian Poniewierski FAusIMM(CP)

Senior Mining Consultant, Deswik

The biggest change I have seen in over the course of my career in the resources industry has been the inexorable rise in the ubiquity of computer technology in the undertaking of my job as a mining engineer.

  • Ink and film have been replaced by computer-aided design (CAD). Not many of us remember what a planimeter is. The smell of the ammonia printer is unknown to so many.
  • Pencil and paper on ruled large sheets of paper have been replaced by scheduling programs.
  • Pencil and paper writing followed by folding the paper and inserting in an envelope for internal mail pickup for delivery to the typing pool have been replaced by direct typing on my computer in a word processing program.
  • A visit to the technical library has been replaced by a search of my e-library on my own computer or googling the internet.
  • Patiently telling the telex operator letter by letter the Univac commands that crashed in order to get my mainframe program debugged by its author have been replaced by e-mails and crash logs.
  • Taking the bus across the mine-site for a meeting has been replaced by hopping into a quiet room and hooking up the camera for a video conference.

Will I see voice recognition replace the keyboard before I retire?  It’s still possible.

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