5 Steps to a More Resilient Mining Industry
This was originally published by Davey Bickford Enaex.
2020 will go down as a year of disruption in the business world. Essential industries have been redefined, supply chains have been upended, and countless organisations have folded their tents.
Some industries have proven more resilient to the present crisis. Others appear more vulnerable. The food services industry, for example, is facing a high degree of uncertainty. Other industries (grocery stores, delivery services, streaming platforms) appear to be growing stronger.
Where does the mining industry fit into this picture?
To be sure, the situation is sobering. The stymied flow of metals due to quarantine measures may lead to a sustained slow-down in manufacturing, and a subsequent dip in demand for a variety of metals. Revenue from Australian iron ore, copper, coal, oil and gas is expected to fall in 2020. Precious metals are a potential bright spot, with revenue from gold expected to increase.
Another bright spot is the fact that projections change all the time. The pandemic is still fresh, and it remains to be seen how trends in global manufacturing and energy consumption will drive demand heading into 2021.
What is certain – what every mining and METS company can count on – is that we have to continue to evolve as an industry. The lessons of the 2010s may have put us on a better long-term course. If the past few months are any indication, the 2020s are where the rubber meets the road. Here are five next steps to a more resilient mining industry in the years ahead.
1. Be more efficient
This is easier said than done, since the understanding of ‘what’s efficient’ is changing. Technical efficiency can’t be separated from community engagement, social license, or human resources. Fortunately, there are technical improvements that feed into other areas of the value chain.
Fitting mines with solar plants can result in energy savings, but it also helps with decarbonisation and reduces (or eliminates) the mine’s dependence on diesel supply chains. Digital blasting can improve excavation and processing; it also results in fewer blast days, better vibration control, and less disturbance to surrounding areas. The best upgrades are practical, proven, and make operations efficient on multiple levels.
2. Be more flexible
Again, this is easier said than done. Anyone can say that mining operations should be more versatile and flexible in the face of market disruptions; but mining is characterised by heavy processes like drilling, blasting, excavating, and hauling. Developing increased flexibility across these areas requires vision, creativity, and collaboration.
3. Double down on safety
For most industries, all signs point to lasting changes in the workplace. Fortunately, the mining industry was already on the cusp of big safety innovations. Smart ventilation, fatigue monitoring, and movement tracking are recent examples. These trends toward increased safety should continue. Addressing contagion risk at mining sites (especially underground or in any confined area) is a new and necessary factor. Sensible safety measures in office settings will likewise be important to the industry’s morale.
4. Adopt new technology
The drumbeat of automation has been heard for quite a while now. Some firms have already automated parts their production chain – notably hauling. Other new processes, such as drone flights and equipment sensors, can unlock far-reaching insight and analysis. But if mining companies are going to invest in new tech during these uncertain times, METS companies and tech manufacturers will be under pressure to prove the relevance of new innovations.
In recent years, it’s been said that the ‘age of the lone wolf’ is over for the mining industry. Increased collaboration between mining firms, and with other industries, has become more practical as technology evolves. “Incubator” platforms like METS Ignited appear. New partnerships develop as knowledge proliferates. Collaboration is the only sensible way to meet the mining industry’s technical challenges (e.g. receding orebodies) while improving its ability to navigate social and market dynamics.
Next week’s headlines?
There’s no doubt that COVID has scrambled the math for mining and METS companies. It has resulted in real hardship for organisations and people across the industry. Beneath the cascade of headlines, however, is a clear mandate. We can’t control external events, but we can improve the way ore is mined and become more resilient in the process.