2016 in Review: Austmine CEO, Christine Gibbs Stewart
As 2016 draws to a close on what has been a very interesting year for the mining industry here in Australia, Austmine’s CEO, Christine Gibbs Stewart, took some time out to summarise her thoughts on 2016 and what lies ahead for our sector in 2017.
2016: The Wheel has begun to Turn
2016 has been a big year – there is no doubt about that. At the beginning of 2016, I think that companies were hanging on for dear life and there was little clarity of what the year would bring. By mid-year there was a quite sense of optimism that the market was turning and by October green shoots were starting to appear, and these green shoots are now starting to bear revenue. 2017 for our industry, for the METS sector will be much more positive. Not because commodity prices have increased, but because there is a change happening in our industry which is both cultural and structural – and this is very exciting.
Of course, when we look to the future of mining, technology, automation and the digital mine are still critical factors on the list of what will drive innovation and step-change across our sector. Drones, remote operation centres, driverless trucks, driverless trains, sensors, in-pit crushing, drill automation, real-time monitoring and the list goes on. The internet of things is already a force for change in our sector. Improved safety on site is a significant benefit of much of this technological advancement.
However, the conversation around technology has changed, where it is no longer seen by the sector as the silver bullet – technology alone will not fix our productivity, efficiency or cost problems. Instead, it’s how we leverage technology and its strategic importance to the business that has shifted the thinking, from technology and innovation being just another department, to sitting at the core of decision making and mapping out a future for our industry.
Optimising the Whole System
The data deluge is absolutely rife in the mining sector. We’ve have big data for years and now we’re actually trying to use it! The term: “a single point of truth” has been used more in the sector in the last 3 months than the previous 30 years and the laser focus on data – how we collect it, display it, use it and move from reactivity around data findings to proactively predicting and driving operations through pattern analysis and learnings, is a big area.
There has been a significant amount of discussion this year around system interoperability, data transparency and the need for standardisation of data formats across the sector.
There are two entities working on this, and companies such as RungePincockMinarco, CAT, BHP and Schneider Electric are all on a committee with ISA to help evolve these standards to include articles not previously covered, due to the ISA’s roots in manufacturing. For example, stockpiles are being added as an article. This group is mostly focused on the business planning, logistics, operational planning and execution elements of integration.
Covering other elements of integration is the Global Mining Standards Group, where entities including Vale, Rio Tinto, Joy Global, Maptek, RPM, GE Mining, Orica and Atlas Copco, amongst others, are focusing on the standardisation of interaction between control systems and automation/devices.
Given the work that has already gone into these and the ISA standards due to be approved in December 2016, we anticipate seeing movement towards a more open-source approach on data sharing in the mining sector in 2017. The digital mine and a digital way of working is absolutely part of this industry’s future and it will arrive a lot quicker and a lot more fluidly if we are able to smoothly transfer data between businesses.
Beyond the data and numbers side of information sharing, we also need to work hard as a sector on improving our verbal communication, and sharing of information in any format. Miners, METS and research could all save a lot of wasted time, effort and money if we shared what we knew, to the betterment of the sector. Naturally, we’re not suggesting giving away your competitive IP, but we see repeatedly around the world incidents of mine sites not sharing knowledge with other sites owned by the same company. Or multiple companies investing in and researching the same technological solution to a problem. 2016 has seen the rise of the hackathon here in Australia, led by Unearthed who organise resources sector hackathons around the country, plus one this year in Silicon Valley. Austmine has a working group exploring the concept of an open source problem sharing platform. The way of solving problems and making information available is changing and those who do not adapt will be left behind.
Finally, information sharing means breaking down the historic silos within mining between mine and plant and that needs to come from all involved parties – miners, METS and research. Concentrating on the entire value chain and optimising the whole, not parts of the whole, will be critical to our sector’s future. Understanding the flow on affect downstream or upstream from a decision is vital to driving improvements.
Partnerships and Collaboration
2016 has been a year for change in the way that our industry views collaboration and partnerships. Previously, this often meant a friendly relationship that was still centred around an iron clad contract that typically protected the miner. We’ve seen new ways of working, in all different relationships between miners, METS and research, evolving in 2016. Our very own collaboration laboratories, which bring together these three groups, have spun off five active workings groups of individuals passionate about driving change in their sector and willing to put their time, knowledge and energy into doing it in partnership with others in the sector who share this goal.
METS Ignited released the 10 year Sector Competitiveness Plan, which you can read more about on their website if you’re not familiar with it, but this was based on consultations with all of the sector. They have identified five pillars or programs of work that need to be focused on over the coming decade and one is collaboration and innovation. METS Ignited themselves are working on a variety of collaboration initiatives, including the concept of a Living Lab. As another example of collaboration, CRC Mining and CSIRO’s mineral group announced the joining of forces to form Mining3, an entity focused on accelerating commercial outcomes by partnering with industry to identify the best opportunities out there for innovation and improvement.
Meanwhile, at the IMARC Gala Dinner, Mike Henry, President Operations, Minerals Australia for BHP Billiton was the keynote speaker and no one could deny his presentation was themed around collaboration. Mike gave specific examples of successful collaborations for BHP, which included their partnerships with CAT, WesTrac, IMP Technologies, RungePincockMinarco and Dingo. CAT also were cited extensively by Fortescue Metals Group for their partnerships together. At an Austmine Co-Lab in Newcastle in August, Peabody Energy talked about a brand new model for partnership of risk-sharing they had entered into this year with a technology company. Times are changing and the understanding of partnerships and collaboration is coming much closer to the true meaning of these words. We anticipate more announcements of exciting partnerships and business models in 2017 throughout the sector, both here in Australia and globally.
The People Factor
Whilst innovation in mining is often linked currently with technology, actually we’ve seen significant talk around the people factor of innovation over the year and this looks set to grow in importance and air time for the sector in 2017. The people factor encompasses a number of issues, including leadership, engagement, training, upskilling, recruiting and capability.
Firstly, for technology in mining to be truly used to its maximum potential, the people using it must be equipped to operate or understand it. Whether this is an operator of a piece of mobile equipment, or a plant manager using the data he receives in real time to make decisions on how the plant is set up, training and education on all technology an employee will come into contact with is critical.
With the advancement of technology, new skillsets are needed in our industry and these will come from across STEM capabilities. We need to think outside the box in terms of where these skills will come from, as a pending shortage seems likely. BHP have taken an important step forward in this area, announcing they will be shifting to a focus in capability hiring, rather than experience hiring, allowing skills from other industries to be brought into mining. Over the last six months, at every Austmine Co-Lab, the IMARC conference and nearly every other conversation or meeting that we have participated in, when the topic of knowledge and skills arises, there is an agreement for the need for mining to look to other sectors to learn and progress. Hiring people from these sectors will be one element of this.
For innovation to flourish in the mining industry, this must come from the top of our businesses, and leadership is critical. Innovation is on the agenda for most mining company leaders and METS leaders, but pushing this message from the top down through the business is not always occurring as effectively as it should be. Moving from talking the talk to walking the walk should be a focus for all of the sector in 2017.