All images: AUSIMM.
BY ELIZABETH FABRI
AFTER iron ore prices experienced 12-month lows in June, the theme of this year’s Iron Ore 2017 event ‘Building Resilience’ is set to provide valuable insight into how mining and METS companies can remain profitable during the downward swing.
Jointly organised by AusIMM and CSIRO, Iron Ore 2017 will be staged across three days at Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre from 24-26 July.
The boutique conference has been held since 2002, providing a unique opportunity for iron ore businesses to discuss the biggest issues facing the sector and, of course, the path forward.
This year’s theme ‘Building Resilience’ aims to tackle issues experienced during the volatile price climate, and cover the latest developments in geology, exploration, mining and processing of iron ores, and market outlook.
While iron ore has seen some improvement since its December 2015 low of $US40.88 per dry metric tonne, the industry was still erring towards caution, with the commodity’s prices plummeting to a 12-month low in June, fetching just $US53.36 a tonne.
Conference chair and CSIRO chief research scientist Dr Ralph Holmes said the reason for this year’s theme was to equip companies with the tools they need to better cope with the low and fluctuating costs of iron ore.
The conference will comprise key note speaker presentations, an exhibition hall and associated networking opportunities for delegates to come together in an informal setting.
Confirmed speakers for the event included CRU senior consultant Adrian Doyle who would be talking about the iron ore costs and future price trends; Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Ironmaking Technology general manager Kyoichi Araki; POSCO Iron Ore Group vice president Yu Kyung Lee; and Process Tata Steel chief technology officer Ashok Kumar to offer an international perspective as to where the iron ore industry is heading.
There will also be presentations from Roy Hill Holding’s chief executive Barry Fitzgerald; Geological Survey of WA assistant director Don Flint; Fortescue Metals Group general manager for iron ore Gerhard Veldsman; METS Ignited Australia chief executive Ric Gros; and Perth-based consultancy Global Minerals Marketing principal Allon Brent.
“The keynote speeches will be supported by more than 80 technical papers over the three days, covering a wide range of topics including exploration, geostatistics and ore reserve estimation, ore characterisation, mining, processing, automation, project optimisation and development, health and safety, environment and community, technical marketing, logistics, utilities and new equipment,” Mr Holmes said.
“We’ve had to work on the program pretty hard to fit them all in to be quite honest, which is encouraging.”
Mr Holmes said the exhibition would contain about 50 booths, where all refreshments would be served.
“That I think is a good catalyst for getting network happening,” he said.
“In addition to that, we have the more formal functions; on the first day we have a welcome function with drinks, and on the second day we have a networking hour; again to get the linking going on.
“On the Tuesday we have a more formal conference dinner.”
As the founding chair of the conference, Mr Holmes said he had received great feedback over the years of the conference’s value.
“I think why delegates find it a must attend event is to remain totally abreast of the latest developments in the industry,” he said.
“Companies are usually fairly protective of their practices but going to these conferences provides you with an opportunity to actually talk to some of your competitors and improve your understanding as to how you can improve your operations.
“It provides the unique opportunities for networking which they can’t normally get during normal business hours.”
Workshops and tours
At the conclusion of the conference, delegates will have the opportunity to take part in optional workshops or a two day tour of mining operations in the Pilbara.
“The first workshop is on ‘Advanced Characterisation and Geometallurgy of Iron Ores’, which is being run by CSIRO, and that’s pretty important these days in terms of trying to optimise your operations,” Mr Holmes said.
“You really need to understand the characteristics of the ore and how that impacts on downstream processing so that’s what that workshop is all about.”
The workshop runs across two days on 27-28 July, and was aimed at researchers and industrial staff working with iron ore, sinter and coke characterisation.
“There’s also another workshop being offered on ‘Discrete Element Modelling’ looking at materials handling,” he said.
“As the industry moves deeper and below the water table and wet and sticky ores becomes more of an issue, that’s a significant issue.”
The workshop will also be held on the Thursday and was designed for engineers, equipment designers, technologists, and system suppliers.
“And finally, the third workshop we have on the Thursday is ‘Tailings Disposal and Water Recovery’ and that’s obviously a significant issue as well,” he said.
“As we do more and more processing in this country, unfortunately we move very gradually to lower grade ores and that’s a more topical issue, particularly given what happened in Samarco a couple of years ago when they had a tailings dam failure.”
A post-conference tour of the Pilbara would also be run on 27-28 July, which would visit BHP’s port operations in the Pilbara, Rio Tinto’s Dampier operations, FMG’s Christmas Creek operation and the Roy Hill mine.
“We also have a lab tour in Perth, if people don’t want to go to the Pilbara, to visit some of the serviced laboratories in the area,” Mr Holmes said.
The key goal for this year’s event was for delegates to walk away with a better grasp of the iron ore market and strategies to improve productivity.
“I think hopefully some of the consumers of iron ore will give the industry some understanding as to where things are heading and what new technologies are being applied,” Mr Holmes said.
“The reason why we chose ‘Building Resilience’ is the papers will all be focused on how you can actually reduce costs and be sustainable in a climate where a) the prices are a bit lower than you would like, and b) are fluctuating according to market pressures.”
Mr Holmes said while the industry was unlikely to witness the highs experienced some years ago just yet when the iron ore price hit $US180 a tonne, he thought between $US60 and $US80 was a more reasonable price to aspire to.
“I think if it was around $US80 it would be great,” he said.
“I’m a scientist, so I wouldn’t profess to be good at making those assessments [but] even if you look at the so-called experts in the area, they’re not universal in terms of their views either.
“I get a bit annoyed with the prophets of doom out there that say ‘it’s going to fall down to $40/t’, and if you’re not careful it can become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, so you ought to be positive about these things.
“It’s an important commodity, it’s important to this country, and we ought to be out there beating it up, not beating it down.”
More information can be found at www.ironore.ausimm.com.au.