A lot can happen in 30 years: challenges are overcome, international recognition is gained and members go from strength to strength. Australian Mining speaks with Austmine’s CEO and chairman about the leading METS industry body’s 30th anniversary and what’s next.
The Australian Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) sector three decades ago was almost unrecognisable in comparison to the robust and flourishing market we see today on the global economic map.
Its development reflects the symbiotic relationship between the METS and mining sectors that stretches as far back as the early days of mining, according to Austmine Chief Executive Christine Gibbs Stewart.
Despite the sector’s growth, Gibbs Stewart believes some people still struggle to understand the critical role and importance the METS sector plays.
The public know and speak of mining, or the perceived “low-tech commodity output,” but fail to recognise “the high-tech input.”
Gibbs Stewart, in an interview with Australian Mining, has one key message in response: “The METS sector is the driver behind much of today’s technological change and all the disruption that’s been happening, whether in mining or in our daily lives.”
“It’s not only the mining companies that are creating and adapting today’s modern technologies, but also the METS sector.”
Australian mining today has a vibrant ecosystem due to a strong, forward-thinking METS sector, championing some of the world’s most leading technologies, Gibbs Stewart adds.
Traditional manufacturing and services companies are also redefining their key competitive advantages and now identify as tech companies.
Austmine’s members from the technology sector have increased from seven per cent five years ago to 30 per cent as this movement has accelerated.
In fact, Australia’s METS sector is sitting in a world-leading position, with 40 per cent of the top 100 worldwide METS companies based in the country.
“The Australian METS community is already very strong, such that doors fling wide open to them overseas,” Gibbs Stewart says.
“Overseas mining and METS sectors want to know what’s happening in Australia. They don’t want to miss out on the value we can add to mining operations. Being from Australia is a hallmark of success.”
Since Austmine was founded in 1989, the industry body for the Australian METS sector has been actively pushing its members into the light.
The Austmine team has brought people together to focus on METS development, led missions to key mining countries around the world and raised international awareness of Australian METS as world leaders, according to Austmine chairman and director Mark Read.
The leading industry body has put METS on the map internationally, created the now globally recognised term METS and conducted a major landmark survey that identified the size and economic impact of the sector in 2013.
The survey importantly recognises the METS sector as a bigger employer than the mining sector. Its significance as an economic contributor and exporter irrefutably extends beyond the mining sector, to the national economy.
“That really turned the state and federal government’s attention to the METS sector, which was exciting,” Gibbs Stewart says.
“It’s not an accident that we’re the world’s number one miner, considering all the great technologies that have risen up around mining: services, products and equipment.”
The Australian Government subsequently recognised METS as one of six high-growth sectors, paving the way for the METS industry growth centre, METS Ignited, to be formed, Read adds.
The Austmine biennial conference, too, has grown considerably. It has climbed from its humble beginnings in 2005, long before innovation was even a buzzword in the mining industry, to earn a household name, Gibbs Stewart says.
The inaugural Austmine conference saw 200 people make their way to Brisbane to showcase the best of what Australia had to offer in industry innovation and technological development.
In 2019, more than 1200 members, miners, educators, government and other stakeholders came together in Brisbane for the event.
The recognition of the Austmine conference is testament of the industry body’s ability to overcome the challenges that come with being an association with small beginnings.
“It’s not easy being a small industry association. When I joined the organisation, we weren’t as financially strong as we are today,” Gibbs Stewart says.
“We didn’t have a strong member focus and the national coverage we do now.”
Austmine has invested every effort to effectively respond to its members’ needs, bringing them better networking opportunities, new contacts and greater support around their marketing and branding, according to Read.
Austmine is now enjoying the fruits of its dedication. It has more than 580 members that are closely connected under its guidance, ranging from start-ups to large Australian companies and leading multinationals.
The METS sector has developed relationships with mining companies that are not transactional, but rather bilateral.
Both industries work hand in hand to deploy and identify new technologies, then integrate them into mining operations and together enjoy the benefits.
Mining communities are also increasingly more open and engaging with the METS sector about the challenges they’re facing, Gibbs Stewart says.
The privilege Australian mining companies get to enjoy in terms of technology advancements are the fruits of insistence and innovation in the METS space, met by the former’s openness, feedback and integration.
“This true collaboration looks like the inclusion of all players, governments, miners, METS sector, as well as industry bodies. As this collaboration achieves positive benefits, it naturally compounds and leads to greater collaboration within the sector,” Read says.
This acceptability didn’t exist two years ago, with collaboration between the two industries certainly accelerating now, Gibbs Stewart adds.
The vibrancy of the community Austmine has built extends beyond Australia’s shores.
Under Gibbs Stewart’s leadership, the Austmine team has ensured stability in the organisation, introduced new human resources and placed a strong focus on its members. It plans to continue with this growth trajectory into the future.
Austmine aspires to take its 30 years of achievements to the next level by introducing the METS sector’s technology and expertise to the global mainstream marketplace.
The industry body will continue to stimulate more industry innovation and opportunities for its members.
They are together creating a sustainable METS sector, with investment in Industry 4.0 and digitalisation.
“We want to make sure we’re fostering innovation, technology and applications that ensure a robust, healthy community and sustainability,” Gibbs Stewart says.
“There is a lot of great things that we’re doing in METS that can be applied elsewhere. This could be in space, agriculture or smart cities.”
By 2025, Austmine will be leading the global mining conversation, with the international audience recognising that Australia is the place to be when it comes to mining innovation, Gibbs Stewart envisions.
In the meantime, the industry body hasn’t forgotten to reflect on its 30 years of championing the Australian METS sector and uncover what’s next for the future.
Company leaders including BHP, Gekko Systems and RCT Global will be speaking at the Austmine 30-year anniversary dinner in Perth on Thursday November 21, celebrating not only its journey, but also that of the METS industry.
This article also appears in the November edition of Australian Mining.