The leading trends driving the METS sector

The Orica display in the exhibition hall. Image: Austmine

Austmine reveals the five key themes that emerged for the mining and METS sector at its 2019 mining innovation conference in Brisbane.

Austmine 2019: Mining Innovation – The Next Horizon, welcomed over 1200 attendees from around the world to Brisbane, Queensland, for three days of inspiring and thought-provoking conversations, presentations and exchanges.

Several key themes emerged over the days, with miners and METS (mining equipment, technology and services) alike singing from the same song sheet about the challenges our industry faces, the opportunities for growth and success, and what lies ahead for us next.

Partnerships and collaboration

Collaboration has been an industry buzz-term for several years now, since the Austmine conference in 2015, but never before has its true meaning been challenged or held up to the microscope so much.

Andrew Cole, chief executive and managing director of OZ Minerals, kicked off Austmine 2019 with a keynote presentation that focused on what partnerships should really look like and how OZ Minerals is working to encourage these.

One example he gave was of OZ Minerals’ ‘Explorer Challenge’, where OZ opened up their exploration data to people all around the world to analyse and identify the hottest prospect to win from a $1 million prize pool.

In separate presentations, CMOC Northparkes and Orica both discussed their partnership on the WebGen 100 wireless electronic blasting system’s implementation in Northparkes’ block cave mine.

Neil Freeman, innovation manager at Rio Tinto, shared insights into the company’s new initiative, the Rio Tinto 4.0 Pioneer Portal. This is a website dedicated to allowing companies and individuals to share their innovative ideas or technologies directly with Rio Tinto. It presents an exciting new opportunity for companies to engage with the miner.

Innovation adoption cycle

Mining is well known for being ‘first to be second’, a cultural attitude that has previously not allowed us to adequately accelerate the innovation adoption rate.

However, this is changing. Mark Boon, GM transformation and effectiveness at Evolution Mining, discussed the impressive number of innovations the company is implementing or trialling across its sites. These include Artificial Intelligence (AI) in seismic/geology and mineral processing and InSar Monitoring, or in the scoping phase with nano filtration and density separation.

Alan Broome AM, chairman emeritus of Austmine, remarked that what was most noticeable across the technology presentations was that so many innovations are now being implemented, not just talked about.

AI, machine learning, robotics, augmented reality, digital twins, big data analytics, drones, IIoT: all of these are now a reality in the mining industry, in significant part due to Australian METS innovating faster than ever before.

Ann Burns of Accenture


Towards Zero

Ann Burns, resources industry lead at Accenture, perfectly encapsulated the goal here: ‘Triple zero – zero harm, zero loss, zero waste’. Digital twinning and simulation are not only critical technologies in relation to improving productivity and efficiency, but also perfectly allow for experimentation of new systems or processes in a zero-risk digital environment.

Zero loss can only be achieved through looking across the entire mining value chain and using automation, cognitive decision making and process optimisation. Zero waste is no longer a conceptual impossibility, with Burns drawing on examples from the aviation and FMCG industries for where step-changes have been made, and pointing to drill and blast, load and haulage, crushing and processing and finally, transport, as the key areas for waste elimination in mining.

Natascha Viljoen, group head of processing at Anglo American, shared the company’s vision for the mine of the future, which is concentrated, waterless and modern.

All three of these pillars incorporate visions of mining where it is welcomed and embraced by the local communities, delivering shared value to them through the use of renewable energy, mining precision techniques, and repurposing land use.

John Welborn, managing director and chief executive of Resolute Mining, told the audience how zero harm was exactly the reason behind their “crazy” decision to implement the world’s most complex underground mining production automation system in West Africa.

Removing people (especially people without a high level of experience) from the Syama underground mine, which has several hazards such as mud/fines rush, ground failure and vehicle interactions is Resolute’s top driver for going autonomous.

The people factor

The people aspect of innovation and our industry’s sustainable future was firmly in the spotlight for many at the conference. Any technology is only as good as the people using or interacting with it. With the loss of traditional mining roles, comes the addition of new roles, requiring new and diverse skill sets.

Mining no longer just competes with itself for employees: now we compete with companies such as Google, Amazon and NASA.

Austmine’s Future METS Skills Forum took place just before the conference kicked off and outlined some exciting ideas from the participants for tackling the problem of attracting the next generations into our sector.

Simon Bruzzone from Hancock Prospecting discussed Roy Hill’s roadmap for the next five years. Within this they have four strategic priorities, including “smart people”.

Simon Bruzzone of Hancock Prospecting


At each major step on this journey, before a new technology roles out, Roy Hill have steps in place to ensure their people will be worked with to identify their preferred career pathways, and then equipped with the right skills. ‘ROC Ed’ is one such pathway allowing staff to learn on the job.

BHP hosted a breakfast panel on the second day of the conference, to focus on inclusion and diversity as a leading indicator of innovation. The panel, including speakers from BHP, Haultrax and Alacris, discussed how critical diversity (all kinds!) is for companies wishing to be truly innovative.

Meanwhile, in the plenary conference session, Rag Udd, VP technology, global transformation at BHP, spoke at length about how BHP is working to upskill and reskill its people to prepare them for the roles of the future. He summarised perfectly why BHP is doing this: “The technology is coming, whether we like it or not. What will determine who wins in this future, is people.”

Cyber security

Once again, Ann Burns from Accenture brought cyber security to the forefront early in the Austmine conference, flagging it as a key factor for consideration in the goal of zero harm.

Rafael Estrada from Antamina Mining gave a chilling reminder to everyone that mining is just as vulnerable to cyber attacks as the next industry, noting the recent attacks around the world in Australia, Canada, the Middle East and Malaysia, to name a few.

Rob Labbe, director information security at Teck Resources, discussed the changing “attack surface” mining provides to hackers. The increasing reliance on IT, the increased use of OT: all of these contribute to making cyber security consistently identified as one of the top five risks to mining companies, by all the major consultancies.

Labbe noted that cyber security is both a core operational risk, while also being an enabler for innovation. He also warned that cross-industry and cross-company cyber security collaboration will be critical for the success of digital transformation in mining.

Technology was a key attraction of the exhibition hall.



While the Austmine conference covered many different technologies, projects and ideas, the overarching theme was one of partnership-driven, technology-enabled improvement for mining operations, focused around safety and productivity.

Nowhere more was the celebration of partnerships and technology more evident, than at the Austmine Industry Leaders’ Dinner and Awards evening. Congratulations to all of the awards winners once again.

Austmine Champion of Innovation Award:
Steve Durkin, Safescape managing director,

Austmine METS Innovation Award: Orica

Craig Senger Excellence in Export Award:
Metallurgical Systems

Austmine Miners Innovation Award: PanAust

This article also appears in the July edition of Australian Mining.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.