By Rachel Dally-Watkins

UNSW Australia’s School of Mining research director and conference chair Associate Professor Dr Serkan Saydam spoke to Rachel Dally-Watkins about what delegates can expect at the Third International Future Mining Conference and Second Off-Earth Mining Forum.

Q: What will be some of the key issues for mining in the future, and what industry-wide changes need to be considered now?

We’re in the down side of the bust and boom cycle right now, but the mining industry has always been driven by commodity prices. There are many economic uncertainties as well as technical uncertainties facing this industry, but we can’t make changes for the economic uncertainties because that’s not something that is in our hands.

So what we should work on is the technical uncertainty; the mining industry must manage technology effectively to increase productivity and then reduce operating costs. That’s why we should implement learnings from other industries to our own industry – industries such as the manufacturing industry, where companies like Toyota have had to do similar things to increase productivity and reduce costs.

One of the biggest aims of this conference is to look at different disciplines to try to find a solution that can be implemented in mining – it’s like looking at the future. This event will bring together a range of professionals to discuss the mines of the future and the importance of industry collaboration; sharing the responsibility for developing and nurturing the future engineers and leaders to support and integrate technology, innovation and growth into the academic environment.

We’re aiming to create a collaborative and cooperative global environment and platform for discussion between the mining industry, universities, governments and all the other stakeholders.

The International Future Mining Conference encourages collaboration between industries.
The International Future Mining Conference encourages collaboration between industries.


Q: How did the International Future Mining Conference get started, and what can we expect from the 2015 event?

Throughout my career I have worked in three different continents as a mining engineer. This experience taught me that some of the problems we are facing now in the mining industry have already been solved in other disciplines. When I joined the UNSW Australia in 2006, I thought that we could create an environment to discuss these opportunities so we decided to run this conference.

The first one was held in 2008, and the next in 2011. They’re not held every year because we’re talking about the future and it doesn’t change every year; we wanted to leave a gap for new developments. The next one will be held 4-6 November 2015. All three conferences have been run in conjunction with The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM).

The upcoming conference will address innovations and opportunities to transfer scientific and technological developments from other disciplines into the minerals industry. We will examine the human factors and skill needs for the future mining operations, as well as identify possible blue sky scenarios of mining in the future; strategies for education and research in mining; looking at novel mining systems; and the future of commodities .

The big difference this year is that we will combine two events together, with the second Off-Earth Mining Forum held in conjunction with the International Future Mining Conference. We have a distinguished international organising committee combined from mining industry senior professionals (Rio Tinto, Anglo American and BHP Billiton), well known academics (from Germany, Canada, the US, Australia, Chile and South Africa) and government organisation representatives.

Dr Saydam will chair the 2015 conference.
Dr Saydam will chair the 2015 conference.

Q: What will be some of the highlights of the 2015 conference?

This event is unique because there’s no other event that calls different disciplines together to solve the mining problems. Also, we focus on and discuss the future, rather than looking at current issues and technologies. The best example of this is that NASA will be involved in our 2015 conference program. One of our keynote speakers is from NASA and some papers relate to the NASA project.

What we’re looking for at this conference is answers to what should be a new way of thinking. We want to take action, be proactive about efficient mining for the future. We bring the community together to talk about the next generation technologies and practices through discussions, papers and presentations, because we really want to know the answers to all these questions. This is really the big difference between the International Future Mining Conference and other mining related conferences.

Q: What sort of turn out are you expecting for this year’s conference?

At the last two events we had about 150 people attend, so we’re aiming for between 200 and 300 people for both the International Future Mining Conference and the Off-Earth Mining Forum.

We expect to see mining company executives, technology company executives, technical staff such as engineers and scientists, academics – not only from mining but from other disciplines as well – government representatives, research students, investors and other stakeholders; all mining related people who want to look at the future.

Q: What topics will be covered at the Third International Future Mining Conference and the Second Off-Earth Mining Conference?

The themes will include future needs and issues, novel mining systems and technologies, innovations and opportunities from other disciplines, and blue sky mining scenarios.

We’re aiming for about 40 peer-reviewed papers to be presented in two days at the conference.

Q: Who are some of the key presenters?

We have four very distinguished keynote speakers who were selected based on the aims of the conference. We wanted presentations from mining industry people, as well as someone from outside the industry with a real future focus, like NASA.

One of the speakers is Rene Fradet who is the deputy director engineering and science directorate of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, in the US. He is going to talk about space exploration and mining.

The next speaker will be Nick Holland, the chief executive of Gold Fields, a South African gold miner. He is an excellent speaker, and his title will be The gold industry of the future – how mines will have to adapt to meet future challenges.

Two different perspectives: one from outside of the mining community will look at collaboration opportunities between two major industries for the future; the other one, from within the current mining industry, will talk about the future challenges for gold mining.

The third presenter, James Humphrey, is a senior mining market professional from Caterpillar in the US.  He’s going to talk about automation in a presentation titled Moving ahead by leaps and shovel.

Craig Stegman, who was general manager of Northparkes mine and is the current chief growth and innovation officer, copper and coal, for Rio Tinto, will present a paper titled The future of Copper Mining – a Rio Tinto perspective.

Q: What will the second Off-Earth Mining Forum involve?

The second Off-Earth Mining Forum will start on 5 November and finish on 6 November, so it will share one day in common with the International Future Mining Conference. Both events will be in the same building at Australian Technology Park in Sydney.

The Off-Earth Mining Forum was first run in February 2013 and it was quite an extraordinary event. The media coverage had a reach of over 8 million people across the world, with coverage from the UK, US, New Zealand, India and Australia. The excitement generated by this research is really fundamental to the establishment of economies in space.

All of the forum speakers have been invited, and while we haven’t confirmed all the speakers yet, there will be around 20 to 30. The forum is being organised with the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research at UNSW Australia.

There will be one common session with the International Future Mining Conference. The whole idea of running them together is to combine two groups from different disciplines and create networking and discussion opportunities. The conference dinner, breaks and exhibition will also be held in common.

Q: What networking opportunities can delegates expect as part of the International Future Mining Conference and the Off-Earth Forum?

We have a welcome reception on Tuesday afternoon at the Australian Technology Park, as well as two public lectures as part of the Off-Earth Mining Forum. The first one follows the welcome session, with delegates taken by bus from Australian Technology Park to the university to hear the public lecture. A conference dinner cruise will follow the first day of the International Future Mining Conference on Wednesday evening, which both groups will be able to attend. The second public lecture will follow the Thursday evening.

These lectures will be presented by a NASA representative and by a senior engineer from the European Space Agency talking about the Rosetta mission, which landed on a comet.

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Q: Why are future mining and off-earth mining such important topics?

We are not talking about current mining at this conference, but there is one important aspect of off-earth mining for today’s industry; I believe that off-earth mining research is going to improve the effectiveness current mining.

Off-earth mining is focused on using unmanned equipment, such as robotics technology, which hasn’t been implemented much in the mining industry yet. Automation is another technology which can be implemented better with this research. Also, communication technologies and big data management are current problems for the mining industry which space technology research has dealt with. I believe we can learn from and implement findings from space research to improve the current mining industry. We should also remember that whatever research we do in the area of off-earth mining, we first will test in current mining businesses, so that’s the link.

A lot of our resources are depleting quickly and what I believe the mining industry needs to do is learn from other industries. We are a little behind in implementing technologies because mining is very capital intensive; this means we want to make sure that technologies are well developed before we implement them. However, mining is a very unique business, because we need to go in deeper and deeper to find deposits – and may soon need to go into deep sea mining and off-earth mining. We will need to develop technologies for mining in these environments.

Further conference information is available at