Q&A With Austmine CEO – Chris Gibbs Stewart
Ahead of Austmine 2015: Transforming Mining, Austmine's CEO, Chris Gibbs Stewart took some time out to comment on the current state of the mining and METS industries, and what will drive them moving forward.
What trends, challenges or opportunities are currently driving change across the Australian mining sector?
The biggest cause of change across the industry at the moment is, of course, the bulk commodity prices. Profit margins have been driven right to the wire, or worse in the case of companies like Atlas Iron and Arrium Mining who have hit the headlines over the last two weeks, respectively for financial difficulties and iron ore production below breakeven. Companies are being forced to really scrutinize costs even further, such as the move by Fortescue Metals Group recently to move from their differentiating 8 days on, 6 days off, work roster to the standard Pilbara region roster of 2 weeks on, 1 week off, allowing them to get more work out of their existing workers.
Looking back over the past 12 months, what have been some of the highlights in Australian mining?
Sirius Resources’ Nova Nickel Project moved into the project development phase in January 2015, with mining commenced on Australia Day. Nickel is one of the few resources with a positive short-term future currently, so this was a very good news story in Australian mining, providing onshore opportunities for several Australian METS.
In December 2014, Glencore’s Bulga mine was also approved to go ahead with its optimisation project, which allowed it a 10 year extension to continue mining until 2035. Part of this approval included Glencore being able to start work on an eastern pit in the mine as early as 2016, which should help improve the profitability of the mine. This extension obviously means additional opportunities for METS in the Hunter Valley region, plus mining jobs for locals for another decade.
Adani’s Carmichael project is also a very exciting prospect. We await further details on the development of this project which has stalled since the Queensland election.
While Australia there are some important developments in Australia, the majority of investment in mining is happening offshore, particularly when you consider exploration trends. This does not bode well for future mine development in Australia so the focus for the Australian mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector should be international projects and developing global supply chains.
How will Austmine 2015 help the industry as a whole deal with or address the challenges that are currently being faced?
Austmine believes the answer to the endemic productivity issue being faced by the sector is closer collaboration between miners and METS companies. We have numerous examples of successful collaboration projects including Rio Tinto and Atlas Copco; Northparkes and Sandvik; Fortescue and Komatsu; Rio Tinto and Schneider Electric, where the results, developments or technologies were only possible through close partnerships. Austmine 2015: Transforming Mining provides an excellent and unique platform for all the industry stakeholders to come together. Our free pre-conference workshop on “Accessing Innovation” begins the week with putting a spotlight on commercializing innovation and how the research sector and businesses can work more closely together. Throughout the 2-day conference our expert speakers, both miners and METS, will give thought provoking talks which will inspire discussion through the numerous formal and informal networking opportunities during the event. Opening up dialogue between all industry stakeholders and really exploring the current challenges being faced is the key to addressing not only productivity, but the longer term sustainability of the industry.
In the current market, why is Austmine 2015: Transforming Mining a valuable event for mining companies to attend?
Austmine 2015: Transforming Mining is one of the most important mining innovations events on the global mining calendar, and provides one focal, leading conference for anyone who works in mining and needs to know about what is happening in the industry and where things are trending in relation to technology and innovation. We have a great line-up of mining and METS speakers including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Rockwell Automation, Anglo American, Gold Fields, Barrick Gold, Roy Hill, Schneider Electric, CMOC Northparkes, PanAust, Sandvik, Immersive Technologies, Peabody Energy, RCT, PwC, GHD, RungePincockMinarco, Centennial Coal and many more. We hold this event biennially and it is one of the most anticipated conference as it is the first to present the latest developments and thinking around innovation.
What factors do you see driving across the sector in the next 12-18 months? Where should companies focus their efforts in order to prepare for these changes?
This is the “Technology Age of Mining” but we have only scratched the surface when it comes to the application and adoption of the vast array of technologies available. The ongoing focus for everyone involved in the sector, both miners and METS, over the foreseeable future will no doubt be improving productivity and driving lower costs. Real step change, however, can only be achieved through innovation in a range of areas including technology, strategy and business models. Companies need to consider their current workforces’ skillsets in light of this; incoming trends and technologies such as Big Data and the Internet of Things will require skillsets that currently may not be available and could place organisations on the back foot if they don’t consider future requirements.
For service providers in particular, this time is one to be spent getting their house in order and really understanding the needs of the customers. What worked over the last 5 to 10 years, might not be relevant anymore as the market has substantially shifted. Ensuring you know what your customers are thinking is critical to being competitive and leveraging the upswing when it inevitably comes (never forget that mining is a cyclical industry). Transparency, communication and collaboration with existing clients and prospective clients has never been so important.
For miners, embracing a more open attitude towards new and innovative METS organisations is crucial. A close working relationship and open dialogue between miners and suppliers is needed to not only look at today’s issues, but to look further down the road and really understand where we will be in 10 or 20 years time. Too often because of price driven procurement policies, innovation is overlooked and there is a big disconnect between procurement and what mining executives are saying. Suppliers are willing to work with miners to address their needs, even when it comes to costs. So the cheapest offer might be a short term solution, but collaboration is the key to delivering long term value and solving mining’s major challenges.
What are you looking forward to most about Austmine 2015?
We have an opportunity with this conference to really make a difference because of the important issues it addresses. This is our 6th Austmine conference and we started this some 15 years ago to shine a spotlight on innovation and give it a strategic focus in the industry and provide a platform for suppliers and miners to come together. I am looking forward to some very exciting presentations and the opportunity to hear about the latest advancements. This conference brings together the whole sector, from miners, service providers, government and research to truly showcase projects and technologies that are changing the sector for the better. From Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future, through to Northparkes’ automated LHD project, to Nautilus Minerals’ seabed exploration, we have the latest mining operations that are breaking through industry frontiers. You won’t find another conference like it that can make such a difference to the industry.
Over 400 senior executives from mining and METS companies are already confirmed to be in the room at Austmine 2015: Transforming Mining, which is taking place on 19 - 20 May 2015 in Brisbane. Book your ticket now if you haven't done so already and have the chance to learn from and network with high level representatives from companies such as Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, PanAust, Gold Fields, BMA, Glencore, Peabody Energy, MMG, Centennial Coal, Exxaro, Codelco, Iluka Resources, Roy Hill, Fortescue Metals Group and many, many more.