The latest innovations in mining took centre stage at the Austmine Conference and Exhibition in one of the first major face-to-face events for the resources industry since the pandemic began.

Held at the Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre on May 25-27, Austmine 2021: Harnessing Intelligence allowed mining leaders to connect over strategic priorities and emerging technologies to drive a sustainable future for the industry.

About 1000 local, national and international guests were wowed by cutting edge innovation developed by Australia’s leading Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) companies as they wondered the corridors of the massive exhibition hall.

The brightest minds in the industry explored the intersection between people, processes and technology and how these important elements contribute to leaner, smarter and more sustainable operations.

A world-class line up of more than 70 speakers included leaders from industry heavyweights such as Anglo American, Gold Fields, BHP, Newmont, Alcoa, Komatsu and Rio Tinto.

But it also featured speakers from other industries that could work hand-in-hand with mining innovators to benefit multiple sectors, such as those working in data science, the space industry, robotics and AI-related technologies.

‘Co-opetition’ key to commercial success

METS Ignited CEO Adrian Beer said there was no shortage of innovation in the Australian mining industry but the key to the “productising of technology” was collaboration across the sector and with intersecting industries.

METS Ignited works with Australian suppliers to the mining industry, global miners, research organisations and capital providers to improve the global competitiveness and productivity of the Australian METS sector.

“One of the thoughts I had this morning is just how big the R&D sector is for the mining industry because it is in the exhibition hall next door,” Mr Beer said on the first day of the conference.

“The collaboration that is happening between those vendors to solve the industry challenges is proving to be a powerful way to accelerate the adoption of technology.”

METS Ignited CEO Adrian Beer. Pic: Letitia Dick

He said METS Ignited was a government-funded program aimed at increasing Australia’s exports by commercialising technology and innovation that gets developed in primary industries.

“We want to scale technology and bring more of it to market, not just for the benefit of our sector locally but internationally as well and by using the technology across other sectors.”

Mr Beer said many problems in the mining industry had already been “technically solved” but the challenge was it is not yet commercially available.

Sometimes innovations were stuck in supply chains or with research sectors “dying to get out”, he said.

“The exciting thing about today is we have got investors here all looking for more technology and innovation—they are looking for the next thing that needs investment and support.

“We are now starting to see vendors work together to aggregate their capabilities…and therefore increase their market share, size and scale.

“Even if if every vendor works together to address all the challenges in the mining industry, there is still far more problems than anyone can solve so you are not cannibalising your market share by working with a competitor to improve the quality of the product.

“You are increasing the available market to your business and your partner—you can have co-opetition—you can work with competitors to increase the total market size for both of you.”

He said partnerships between operators and technology companies were becoming more urgent with the increased speed with which technology is evolving.

“Because if you start working through a roadmap for technology, by the time you get to the end, all the new innovation has superseded that road map.

“So it’s got to be a collaborative and continuous program of improvement.”

A Boston Dynamics Chironix autonomous robot greeted guests as it roamed around the exhibition hall of the Austmine Conference.

Australian Space Industry deputy head Anthony Murfett spoke about how some of the technologies developed by the resources sector could contribute to space exploration.

This could include products developed by the Australian METS sector for underground and highwall mining, automated geotechnical structural analysis and bulk ore handling.

Mr Murfett said the space industry could learn many lessons from the mining industry when it comes to sustainability and environmental remediation.

“We hope as well that there are also space technologies that could be used for your sector,” he said.

“Space is an exciting area and it is a sector that is forecast to grow and Australia has a seat at the table.”

The Australian Space Agency aims to triple the size of the Australian space economy from $3.9 billion to $12 billion and create an additional 20,000 space jobs by 2030.

Rising stars

Newcrest Mining geotechnical engineer Courtney Christensen represented the next generation of professionals who will ensure Australia remains at the forefront of innovation.

Ms Christensen received the 2020 Newcrest Living Our Values award for Innovation and Problem Solving for her transformation of the wall compliance process at Telfer Gold Mine.

Previously colleagues had been carrying out surveying at the base of 24-metre highwalls, which were putting them in danger from rockfalls.

Ms Christensen integrated a high-density laser scanning technology into the highwall compliance process and other every day activities at the open pit.

“We were able to remove our people from the line of fire and eliminate the risk by scanning the walls from over a kilometre away,” she said.

The technique also improved the quality of the data, reduced data collection time, allowed the detection of other high value material and would also help determine whether the wall had been over-mined.

The initiative has a forecast cost saving potential of more than $1 million a year.

Newcrest Mining geotechnical engineer Courtney Christensen. Pic credit: Leticia Dick.

Ms Christensen said it was the culture of Newcrest that “underpins innovation”, describing it as a company which “values talent development and continuous improvement”.

OZ Minerals CEO Andrew Cole said the key was to empower workers to be innovative.

“It’s about creating an environment to help people come up with good ideas,” he said.

He said people, rather than resources, were mining companies’ biggest assets.

Mr Cole said the planet was at a pivotal crossroads and companies needed to open their eyes and minds if they wanted to keep up with the rapid pace of the changing world.

He said issues like climate change needed to be seen through the prism of opportunities being created rather than as a threat to profits.

It was also imperative to empower indigenous communities to build understanding and trust and create a mutual power balance, as Oz Minerals did at Carrapateena.

Connecting WA METS companies to the world

The WA Government provided support to nine regional METS companies—from Bunbury, Kalgoorlie, Dunsborough, Port Hedland, Karratha and Margaret Rivera—to attend the conference.

They were Target Mining Resources, Wilmot Engineering, HAMR Engineering, RCT, Integrity Engineering Solutions, Emapper, Tan Ninety, Karratha Earthmoving and Sand Supplies and Simcoa Operations.

Innovation and ICT Minister Don Punch said he had been pleased to see firsthand the cutting-edge mining technology being developed in Western Australia and the homegrown innovations that are changing the industry.

“We want to make sure that geography is not a barrier to global success for our regional METS companies,” he said.

“Our partnership with Austmine is helping to ensure METS companies from across regional WA are connected to the digital mining ecosystem, and are continuing to develop the market understanding needed to maximise the opportunities offered by new global supply chains.”

Gekko Systems Manager Sales & Operations Tim Bell with Australian Trade and Investment Commisison (Austrade) WA state director Jane Caforio.

Austmine 2021 Awards Winners

The Austmine Industry Leaders’ Dinner and Awards saw more than 950 attendees come together for a night of networking and entertainment.

The event was highlighted by an engaging keynote address by Australian cricket legend and men’s coach Justin Langer AM, who explored the traits of good leaders by reflecting on his career experiences.

During the evening Austmine presented four major industry awards to world-leading METS companies.

Craig Senger Excellence in Export Award, Sponsored by Austrade

Winner: Gekko Systems

Finalists: Applied Mining Technologies (AMT), Metallurgical Systems and Safescape

Austmine Innovation for Miners Award, Sponsored by Komatsu

Winner: BHP Dash Maintainer Tools

Finalists: Anglo American Digitisation of Work Orders; BHP TROC Human Machine Interface

Austmine Innovation for METS Award

Winner: Emesent

Finalists: 3ME Technology, Chrysos Corporation, PETRA Data Science

Austmine Champion of Innovation Award

Winner: Dr Bob Johnson, Maptek

Finalists: Haydn Roberts, MST Global; John Lyons, Mineral Technologies; Mark Keogh, UON