INTERVIEW: Christine Gibbs Stewart, Austmine CEO
Austmine embodies the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector in Australia. The organization is dedicated to providing members with insights on industry trends, developments in offshore markets, new mining projects, innovation and technology as well as new contacts and increased opportunities.
The company recently sat down with Austmine CEO, Christine Gibbs Stewart to discuss everything from the current state of affairs in the METS sector, where she believes the sector is headed and what needs to be addressed to ensure a satifactional future.
Q: Looking back over 2014, what have been some of the highlights for the METS sector here in Australia?
A: I would have to say one of the most important announcements this year for the METS sector was that of the Abbott Government’s confirmation of a Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) Growth Centre as part of their Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda. Austmine led the bid for the original METS Industry Innovation Precinct in 2013 and we have been working since that time to convince the Government that providing a platform for stronger collaboration is absolutely crucial for the sustainability of both METS and mining.
With the sector generating over $90 billion in gross annual revenue and employing nearly 400,000 people, it is also good to see the importance of METS suppliers’ contribution to the economy finally being recognised in this move.
Another series of highlights have been some of the partnerships and memorandums of understanding that have been signed between key players in the METS sector. Here at Austmine we have signed MOUs with the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), the Industry Capability Network (ICN), CRC ORE and are soon to enter into an agreements with Austrade. These kind of partnerships are critical for ensuring the future and sustainability of the sector, to keep securing innovation into the R&D phase and making sure it’s commercially viable from the get go.
The International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne in September was also a highlight. This brought together over 2000 industry representatives and had a line-up of great speakers. Austmine’s “Meet the Miners” speed networking function that was part of the event enabled suppliers and miners to come together and discuss challenges, issues and trends. A special thanks to Rio Tinto, MMG, FMG, Adani, MacMahon, Roy Hill, Iluka Resources, Oz Minerals and Orica, amongst others, for participating in this event.
Q: What do you think both the mining and the METS sector should take away from the challenges of not only the last year, but the last 24 months? What lessons can be learned?
A: To remain competitive globally, both the mining and METS sector need to keep up the level of quality we’re so proud of here, and continue to focus on improving productivity and the incorporation of innovation into technology and equipment R&D, and in mining operations.
The biggest lesson to be taken away from the 24 months is that the mining industry, and all who service it, cannot rely anymore on the profit of the booms in this cyclical sector to get us through the downturns. We can no longer afford to be “fat and lazy” as we were famously accused of during the last boom; the entire sector must work together to ensure continuous improvement measures are consistently applied to operations and services.
Q: For the sake of the future of the industry, what needs to change in 2015?
A: Collaboration is the key in 2015. That means collaboration between METS, between METS and miners, between researchers and METS and miners and between government and the sector as a whole. Working together to help embrace innovation is the critical way that the Australian mining and METS industries will be able to stay ahead of the game and be competitive.
Rio Tinto has consistently proven how valuable collaboration can be; whether it’s their automated drill pattern and execution project with Atlas Copco, or their work with the University of Western Australia, Rio Tinto are great examples of how innovation and collaboration can deliver phenomenal results. Just consider their Processing Excellence Centre in Brisbane (a collaboration between Rio and JK Tech, Schneider Electric, Metso CISA, UQ and iGate) that has driven millions of dollars of savings for the company through big data analysis that led to procedural enhancements for the company. The entire sector can stand to learn a lot from Rio Tinto’s work of the past decade or more.
Obviously times are still tough in the mining sector, but opportunities do still exist for METS companies. How can organizations go about finding these opportunities? Any tips on opportunities for the industry?
Even in tougher times, opportunities still exist, whether we’re talking about here at home in Australia, or looking overseas. Austmine takes international missions of our members each year to the hottest regions with project opportunities. For example our COO, Robert Trzebski, has just come back from Brazil where he and several of our members organizations went on a series of mine site tours courtesy of Vale, before meeting with their procurement head in Belo Horizonte for opportunity meetings.
Markets closer to home such as Indonesia and even Vietnam are offering new opportunities for our Australian METS. Currently, 62% of METS export to SE Asia and given our reputation and experience, miners there look to Australia for solutions. The Ozmine program, which we work on in partnership with Austrade, will see an increased focus on activities in SE Asia, including a mission to Vietnam and Cambodia in March and a return to Indonesia in October.
Working with organizations such as Austrade can help METS mitigate the risk of entering new markets and developing key relationships.
Here in Australia, major projects like Adani Mining’s Carmichael, or BHP’s Olympic Dam are obviously still exciting prospects. However, these major projects are admittedly few and far between, and it’s likely to remain that way for another 18 – 24 months. So working with existing clients to deliver more value, or services, is a good way of keeping the work rolling in. Making sure you are out there meeting with mid-tier miners is also a good option right now, as many of those are still looking to invest in operations to ensure they are profitable despite low resource prices. Keep speaking with industry representatives to stay across opportunities.
What are you most excited about looking to the year ahead for METS organizations, and the sector as a whole?
I’m excited to start seeing more collaboration across the sector, and some significant project opportunities coming online. There have been some big promises from government too, such as the NSW Premier promising mining assessment times halved if they get voted back into power, so if some of these come to fruition then 2015 could be a much better year for the mining sector, and therefore the METS organizations.
We also have our biennial conference, Austmine 2015, taking place on the 19 – 20 May in Brisbane. This is always the stellar event of the calendar year, so I’m very excited about that. Our theme is Transforming Mining: Technology and Innovation and we truly want to showcase the best innovation from miners and METS, whilst forging more collaboration across the industry as a whole.
Coal India Secures First-Of-Its-Kind Digital Deal
Coal India Limited (CIL) has appointed Accenture Solutions to digitally transform seven of its open-cast mines as the company strives to improve performance and increase coal production. Accenture is due to lay down digitalisation groundwork until March 2022.
The deal aims to increase coal production by 100 million tonnes (MT) by the end of FY’23. Once the minimum quantity has been surpassed, an agreed sum will be paid to the consultant for every additional sum of coal produced. This success fee will only be paid on the procurement of the minimum assured quantity.
The move will see heavy earth moving machinery (HEMM) fitted with digital sensors to monitor performance efficiency at all levels. Additionally, modern data analytic techniques aim to increase mine productivity and project monitoring through functional system management and effective observation.
An Exciting Venture For Global Mining
CIL, which aims to provide energy security in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner, hopes the move will help transform the entire business of mining operations and ensure higher volumes of coal are acquired at a lower cost.
“This is a first of its kind initiative by the company utilising digitalisation to ramp up coal output,” CIL has said.
A Digital Step Towards Enhanced Performance
Digitalisation is expected to take place at open-cast mines in Kusmunda, Gevra, Dipka of Southern Eastern Coalfields (SECL), Migahi, Jayant, Dudhichua, and Khadia of Northern Coalfields (NCL). Nearly 32% (188 MT) of CIL’s 596 MT output in FY’21 was accounted for by the seven selected mines. However, this new deal is set to see a large increase following the subsequent digital changes due to be made.
“Learning from the outcome and success of this model, we may replicate it in our other large mines,” says CIL, optimistic about the future following the modernisation of their mining.
It is expected that the move will help address roadblocks and guarantee corrective measures are put into place, ensuring the company is able to move forward with its aim of increasing output whilst remaining sustainable and eco-friendly.