Operators must expect more than just goods and services from their partners and suppliers. Executives must seek partners that have mastered the art of innovation. Mastering innovation means more than just bold ideas, it is a culture, a way being and it includes understanding it is an iterative process resting on a foundation of commitment and collaboration.
As a technology specialist for over 30 years and I have participated as both strategist and tactician in the digital wave that washed over many sectors, e-government, health services and service delivery multiple industries. That same wave has already reached the mining sector. There is a major acceleration in applied innovation and technology in mining. It comes at the juncture of the need to aggressively reduce the cost per tonne while maintaining a high degree of safety and a generational shift in sector leadership.
Reducing the cost per tonne is no new idea. Automation has been in progress in the mining industry for well over 20 years. The automation zone has included scoops and trucks controlled from surface working in conjunction with traditional roles and process.
As operations reach ever deeper to find the ore body, costs even with existing automation increase. The costs for air, water and personnel have increased as operation have deepened. Deeper operations result in more commute time for equipment and when the equipment is on the move its not making any money. Add to this equation ceiling prices in minerals and what the industry faces is both a great opportunity and challenge.
The opportunity is this; if you dramatically reduce the cost per tonne, that will translate directly to the bottom line. The challenge moving in lock step with this opportunity is changing the culture to one that embraces doing things differently, understanding and accepting continuous and rapid change.
How has the leadership responded?
A more progressive generation of Executive Leadership has emerged over the past decade, leaders who are comfortable with technology and look to exploit it to the benefit of their organizations and shareholders. These new leaders have put forward nothing short of a bold vision for the transformation of operations. Many are rapidly developing strategies and plans for the SMART mine where automation and digitization form the bedrock of rapid evolution. Autonomous equipment not only increases safety, it moves personnel out of harms way. No personnel mean lower requirements for air, water and light. Battery operated vehicles mean no emissions and less environmental impact and remediation. Combining automation and a digital environment strategy will allow for deeper operation at dramatically lower costs while increasing safety and production output.
Achieving this vision means the industry must embrace rapid change and develop the capacity to identify, validate and employ the latest technology; that is in fact what is happening. To those who can anticipate these needs dramatic transformation is just around the corner. All that is required is the courage to have bold ideas, the persistence to apply iterative and the selection of partners that have mastered the art of innovation.