Sunday, 20 October 2019
Austmine Adelaide Mining Innovation Roadshow: Mining Collaboration Panel
Austmine Limited

Austmine Adelaide Mining Innovation Roadshow: Mining Collaboration Panel

By Sheldon Varcoe, Membership & Communications Manager, Austmine

Collaboration was a major theme of Austmine’s Mining Innovation Roadshow, and it was fitting that we ended the day with a broad panel discussion on the topic.

The background for the panel centred on two key issues: the mining industry is traditionally poor at fostering true collaboration; and collaboration and partnerships are critical to developing innovations that will create a strong and sustainable industry.

Tackling the topic of collaboration were four distinguished leaders from major mining and METS companies.

  • Andrew Howie, Head of Assets – Olympic Dam, BHP
  • Chris Cornish, Manager – Strategic Development, Downer EDI
  • Greg Hall, Project Director, Rex Minerals
  • Dr Nigel Cook, Professor, School of Chemical Engineering, University of Adelaide

They covered many aspects of partnerships and collaboration, including the fundamentals to successful partnerships, current drivers of industry collaboration and managing risk and value.

Fostering Successful Partnerships

Collaboration is a hot topic in the industry at the moment and many businesses want to partner, but if the fundamentals aren’t in place then it won’t work. The panel explored the key aspects of mutually beneficial partnering and reflected on their own experiences from their businesses.

It all starts with relationships. Making connections and finding passionate people who share the same commitment to finding solutions is an important starting point. However, this doesn’t happen overnight.

Dr Nigel Cook, University of Adelaide, stated, ‘these relationships take time. You must build up trust, respect and friendship to succeed.’

The panel also pointed to establishing a framework as being critical, with room for fluidity and flexibility.

Chris Cornish, Downer EDI, reflected on their partnerships, saying ‘the governance aspect of partnerships is fundamental, and over time you must manage how the relationship works. As is human nature, if there isn’t a structure in place, the company imperative can take over.’

Further discussion centred around an understanding of shared value and risk, and how this can change over time as organisations change.

Drivers of Industry Collaboration

Collaboration is not new in mining. But the broad industry focus on the topic has developed considerably. The panel explored why this is the case, and why it will continue to intensify as we move into an uncertain future.

As an industry we have unique challenges, such as geography, workforce requirements and social licence issues. Collaboration has emerged as a method to manage these better.

Greg Hall, Rex Minerals divulged his experiences in the Industry. ‘Managers used to be adamant they could solve all problems. We thought we were the best managers of technology and human resources. It turns out we weren’t. This realisation and growing challenges has led us to ask for help.’

Andrew Howie, BHP, focussed more on technology advancements providing a basis for a spate of new collaborations.

’Collaboration in the industry is not new. What’s different is that we don’t have all the answers or knowledge of new technologies.’

Andrew reflected on the Austmine 2019 Conference stating that technologies like IoT and big data are here, not just concepts to be discussed. METS companies have been a driving force in this area, having assisted mining businesses to realise how these technologies can be adopted to improve operations.

Chris Cornish, Downer EDI, also emphasised the importance of looking beyond the mining industry. As a business that works across many industries, he finds that Downer EDI will often see connections miners can’t see. He provided examples of the automation of tanks from the Defence industry and maintenance support on Yarra Trams as inspiration for some work they have carried out in mining.

Assessing and Reducing Risk

Inherent in any partnership is greater risk. Sharing knowledge, information, resources and customers can create great vulnerability. So, managing the risk profile is paramount.

The panel looked at the changing mindset of businesses to assess risk. They believe that culture is changing to a more open approach. Whilst this means people are more vulnerable, there is also a far greater scope for partnerships.

Greg Hall, Rex Minerals, has found placing this importance on dialogue has been critical in their recent partnerships.

‘Rex Minerals recently partnered with an innovative indigenous group. We found this relationship extremely beneficial because there was a willingness to share risk, which meant the other parties could understand how to manage it better.’

In line with discussions on risk, the topic of intellectual property (IP) was discussed, and the role it plays in modern mining collaborations.

Andrew Howie, BHP, recently transitioned from the METS sector, so is well placed to understand each side of the argument.

‘IP is an issue that needs to be addressed and resolved. Suppliers shouldn’t be afraid of putting it on the table as a concern. However, that shouldn’t be the end of the conversation, but the start of finding a solution so the partnership can continue.’

Chris Cornish, Downer EDI, reflected on the disruptive forces at play in the modern environment, believing IP just can’t keep up.

‘The pace of IP is changing so quickly. What is important today may not be in a few months’ time. You must understand the market beyond now, and why you are offering the solution to a mining company.’

Next Steps for Collaboration

Austmine would like to thank the four panellists for their time, along with Kate Hobbs, Transformation Consultant, OZ Minerals, who did a brilliant job in facilitating the discussion.

Throughout the day, a number of focus areas explored around future collaboration, including capturing innovation and sustainability issues, such as decarbonisation and the energy mix. Austmine will continue to drive discussion and develop programs along these avenues.  

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