Austmine’s leading role in next generation smart mining

Australian Mining spoke with Austmine CEO Christine Gibbs Stewart to discuss some of the key aspects of the sector’s future.

In the lead-up to Austmine’s mining innovation conference and exhibition, to be held in Adelaide from May 9–11 May 2023, chief executive officer Christine Gibbs Stewart outlined her organisation’s focus, and that of the broader mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector, on supporting the ways in which the Australian mining industry can meet the expectations of a new-generation workforce and provide a leading role towards a more sustainable future.

What is the role of Austmine?

Our purpose is to champion the Australian METS sector to continue to be the best in the world.

We do that by connecting people to opportunities, insights and each other; promoting the global advancement of innovation and technology and mining; promoting the global advancement of innovation and technology and mining; promoting the great services and solutions that our members provide; and driving industry collaboration.

We seek to connect organisations within the METS sector to miners, so they better understand each other and build a stronger mining industry.

How is the mining industry engaged in decarbonisation?

The METS sector is really focusing on decarbonisation and electrification.

There’s a lot of work being done in Australia on battery technologies, on charging solutions, and on the electric vehicles (EVs) themselves.

Mining companies with light and heavy vehicles are looking at EV technology, both for underground and open-pit mines, and some of the technologies and solutions that are being produced are being led by Australian companies.

It’s exciting. Mining companies and suppliers are looking at every aspect of what’s happening in mining.

They’re looking at energy consumption, renewables, environmental concerns, water management, water recycling.

They’re also looking at community issues, which of course fits in that ESG (environmental, social and governance) space.

Sustainability and ESG is not quarantined to one area – it’s now a layer across every mining organisation in looking at how they can do things in a more sustainable manner.

It’s become really a key strategic focus. And if you look at mining companies and what they’re doing from a strategy point of view, ESG is the headline and everything really falls out of that.

Can you outline the recent Charge On Innovation Challenge?

The Charge On Innovation Challenge was facilitated by Austmine with Rio Tinto, Vale, and BHP as the key patrons.

An additional 16 other mining companies were involved, seeking to accelerate commercialisation of interoperable solutions that can safely deliver electricity to large battery-electric offroad haul trucks – reducing emissions while enhancing mine productivity.

There is an emerging market for these solutions in mining with eight innovators selected, including ABB, Ampcontrol and Tritium (Australia), BluVein XL, DB Engineering & Consulting with Echion Technologies, Hitachi Energy, Shell Consortium, Siemens Off-board power supply, and 3ME Technology.

The winners are collaborating with interested mining companies, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and investors to accelerate the technology development to support the future rollout of zero-emissions fleets.

ESG performance is a critical dimension to effective mining operations, how do companies effectively meet their obligations under this framework?

What does health, safety and wellbeing look like in the modern mining industry?

A lot of new solutions came out over the COVID period, such as looking at employee wellbeing and health, especially when workers come on to mine sites.

Looking at things like better management of employee health records and just making it easier for employers to manage their workforce, which has a heavy wellbeing aspect to it because the more organised you are around that area, the happier your workforce is going to be.

More broadly, automation is removing workers from harm. And so a large driver for automation is not only productivity, but helping with that, particularly if you think about it in the underground mining situation.

If you don’t have people in precarious areas, or areas which you know could cause problems, then it’s a real benefit for the mining company as well.

So a lot of that autonomous work is focused on taking people out of harm’s way and it’s enabled by the technologies that we have and what we can employ today.

What does the industry need to do to encourage young people to consider a career in mining?

There’s a shortage of skills in certain areas and on the digital side of things, including computer science, data analytics, automation.

There are some organisations that are looking at those areas, including the Australian Minerals and Energy Skills Alliance, as well as the Queensland Future Skills Partnership.

Both those organisations are looking at credentialing, designing strategies and programs as to how the industry can fast track those skills that are needed, particularly through vocational education and the TAFE system.

You must enable young people to get the skills in a way which is efficient, which is fast, and which is interesting as well.

There’s a lot of work going into e-learning and to how content is delivered, as well as making it easy for students to engage.

It’s all about AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) and the new technologies that are coming through to interest these students in a mining career, but through a completely different lens than what’s traditionally been looked at.

It’s exciting in that regard.

Can you outline the Austmine conference set for May 2023?

The title of the conference is Transforming Our Future and it’s really future-focused.

We’re looking at where we want to be as an industry in the future and then talking about how we’re going to get there.

There’s a discussion around legacy, innovation and what that really entails. We think we’re open but if you scratch below the surface, we’re not as open as some of us would like to think.

The conference will focus on themes such as skills, digitalisation and automation, and what the transformation of our industry really looks like.

We have a significant number of international guests arriving and it’s really going to be great.

This interview has been lightly edited and truncated for publication.

This story originally appeared in Australian Mining.

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