Head of ABB Australia’s Industrial Automation Process Industries business, Stuart Cowie, discusses the ebbs and flows of a dynamic Australian mining sector and what it means for the coming year.
It’s been an eventful start to the decade, but the Australian mining sector has weathered the storm comparatively well, with industry profits exceeding a record $300 billion in 2021.
The past 12 months for Australia’s mining sector has been filled with contradiction – equally disruptive as it was buoyant. While the challenges of the pandemic contributed to worker shortages and FIFO (fly in, fly out) controls, iron ore exports and gold exploration saw record highs.
Significantly, Australian mining companies made major commitments to achieving net zero emissions, positioning the industry at the forefront of the decarbonisation challenge.
We predict that change will accelerate in 2022. These are the issues top of mind for mining leaders this year:
Of course, with commitments around net zero emissions targets in 2021, 2022 will see the impacts of these commitments in terms of decision-making around technology investment and modernisation. Mining leaders will be looking to demonstrate tangible progress towards net zero this year and will be focused on what’s possible with existing technology – for instance, transitioning light commercial vehicles to electric.
There will be an even sharper focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) credentials, particularly as pressure mounts from investors to improve sustainability efforts and mining’s reputation in the community. Capital and license to operate – high risks to miners – will be contingent on ESG performance. As highlighted by EY in their latest report, “Miners that can demonstrate their contribution to a sustainable future will have a competitive advantage.”
- Digital innovation and automation
On the back of COVID-19 restrictions, miners will undoubtedly continue to invest in the digital tools and automation required for remote operations. Digital connectivity and automation are also intrinsic to achieving decarbonisation and ESG goals.
Expect to see greater use of remote machine monitoring and data analytics to improve decision-making, reduce inefficiencies and save costs.
- Infrastructure investment
The journey to decarbonisation will involve a combination of electrification and green hydrogen power in mines. As miners embark on this journey, investment into the electrical infrastructure inside a mine, as well as the infrastructure that gets power to site is going to be critical.
Furthermore, financial incentives from the government may persuade miners to invest early into power generation, carbon capture and storage to realise tax incentives.
- Addressing the skills gap
Miners face a widening skills gap and talent crisis that has been compounded by border closures since the start of the decade. A priority for organisations this year will be to build on initiatives that promote a culture of inclusion, safety, and wellbeing in an effort to retain existing staff and attract a more diverse workforce.
While the impacts of the pandemic are far from over, Australia’s mining sector has shown resilience, adaptability and a willingness to embrace innovation. This year will be about demonstrating outcomes to support the industry’s shift towards a more sustainable future. And there is plenty to be optimistic about, as miners start realising the opportunities and benefits that come from this paradigm change.
Stuart Cowie has over 35 years experience in the paper, metals and mining industry and through this time he has been involved with sales, service and project management of automation and electrification projects. In this his 24th year with the business, oversees ABB’s automation and electrical solutions across these very industries.