METStech Passport brings the Australian and Chilean mining sectors closer

Australian Mining speaks with participants of this year’s METStech Passport program, a two-week immersion into the Chilean mining industry.

The 2018 METStech Passport program has given three Australian METS (mining, engineering and technology services) companies significant insights into Chile’s lucrative mining industry.

This year’s program saw the companies cover large swathes of Chile, including the capital Santiago, Antofagasta and the Rancagua and Cachapoal Valley, home to Codelco’s El Tieniente mine.

The program, announced at the 2017 International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne, is a two-week immersive course set up by government-funded METS Ignited, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) and Expande, Fundacion Chile’s open innovation program.

Initiative sponsor METS Ignited general manager international markets Clare Sykes says the passport program has been extremely successful, fostering opportunities for METS and mining companies to create step-change in the mining ecosystem.

In addition to the involvement of the Australian METS companies, three Chilean companies visited Australia as well.

“Expande has seen a great potential for synergy between both METS ecosystem and the Passport program aims to ignite a relationship based on collaboration that actively contribute to the development of a global mining innovation hub between Australia and Chile,” METStech Passport Expande project leader Patricio Pastorelli notes at the program’s launch.

The Australian companies that participated were Minnovare, MatrixMaterials and Conveyor Products and Solutions (CPS).

Minnovare is primarily known for its Production Optimiser drill and blast system for underground hard rock mining, CPS for its conveyor components, and Matrix for sustainable development in the transport industry.

Chile is the world’s biggest copper producer and hosts its largest copper mine, Escondida, which is responsible for around 5 per cent of global supply of the base metal.

In addition to other major minerals such as gold, iron ore and molybdenum, over 50 per cent of Chile’s exports are mining related and the mining industry accounts for 10 per cent of Chile’s gross domestic product.

Michael Beilby, commercial director and co-founder of Minnovare, says the opportunity has allowed his company to understand the underground hard rock mining landscape in Chile.

“The Chileans were very open to our technology and immediately identified other potential applications such as surface blast hole drilling,” he says.

“In order to build a business in Chile you need to be willing to commit significant time and resources. It is important that you either partner with a Chilean company or hire Chileans in order to be successful in the region.”

Max Herscovitz, CPS product development manager, says participation in the event has allowed him to assess Latin American (LATAM) opportunities for overseas growth.

A purveyor of bulk material handling conveyor rollers, idlers and pulleys, the company receives excellent exposure to a massive international mining market.

“The biggest benefit of participating in the program was the exposure the Chilean market,” Herscovitz explains.

“It gave us detailed insight into the market and also provided many useful contacts in the industry. It certainly accelerated our strategy to pursue international markets.”

MatrixMaterials is known for its construction of road surfaces using up to 100 per cent waste materials. This includes works on highways, local roads and heavy-duty mining haul roads.

Though this was the company’s first time in Chile, it has other international experience; just before participating in the METStech Passport program the company completed a road in the United States near Washington D.C. and Fairfax County that was blended entirely of recycled glass and incinerator ash.

“The first three days of our time in Chile was very much about learning how to do business in Chile, how to access funds and how to access business,” MatrixMaterials chief executive officer Simon Bruce explains.

“That was really most helpful. Some of us felt at the time that it was too much, but at a later stage at the end of the program you look back on those three days as very important.”

Bruce and Herscovitz both agree about the relative similarity of Chile’s mining industry to Australia’s, language and minor cultural barriers notwithstanding.

According to Herscovitz, this is a major takeaway from the program.

“The Chilean mining industry is highly advanced and they have the same focus and issues as we experience here in Australia. The program can definitely bring the countries industries closer together,” Herscovitz says.

Bruce adds it is not just the culture, but also the conditions that are comparable.

“Mining conditions are very similar to many of our conditions. These are remote communities; it’s hot and dry, so many of the conditions are very similar,” he explains.

“We learnt that Chile is a stable country and a very easy place to do business with — apart from the language which is different but a fun challenge to overcome.

“They’re fairly laid back people and it’s a really nice country to do business with.”

This article also appears in the December issue of Australian Mining.

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