Diggers & Dealers: Anglo American becomes smarter with innovation strategy

Anglo's Tony O'Neill

Anglo American is prepared to play a major part in redesigning the future of mining through innovation and technology.

As one of the world’s largest mining companies, Anglo has set out to also be one of the industry’s leading innovators.

Anglo is undertaking this process through its Future Smart Mining programme, which aims to deliver innovation across its almost 40 assets on four continents.

Speaking at Diggers and Dealers on Monday, Anglo technical director Tony O’Neill said miners had to be prepared to redesign the future of mining.

“For the first time of my long career I am convinced we are on the cusp of a technologically revolution that will fundamentally change our industry and will change it very quickly,” O’Neill said.

“These technologies are all happening and it is up to us to put them together. We don’t know exactly how this revolution will unfold but one thing is clear, it is absolutely going to happen.”

While automation, for many, is considered the starting point for innovation in mining, O’Neill explained there was more to the strategy at Anglo than just this technology.

“We believe that a truly innovative mindset requires an entirely new paradigm, one that integrates existing mining technology with new disruptive and energy technology to benefit the entire system, not just parts of it,” O’Neill said.

Anglo is taking this approach to its copper operations, which will require innovation to keep them competitive in the future.

With copper grades declining, and costs and environmental concerns growing, Anglo has plans to reverse what has become an unsustainable economic trajectory for these operations.

O’Neill is convinced increasing mining precision through technology will be the answer for Anglo to lift performance at its copper business.

“Precision to target the metal and mineral with greatly less waste, less water, less energy and less footprint,” O’Neill said.

“Emerging technologies are on offer, meaning paying to extract the metal or mineral alone will be reality. Exactly when this day will come, I can’t tell you but a pathway is beginning to open up and a series of steps will ultimately take us there.”

Ultimately, innovation is on the agenda at all areas of Anglo, including at its coal operations in Australia.

Anglo has worked with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop better methods of measuring and predicting evaporation from mining voids at a trial at the Drayton coal mine.

The company is also empowering its workforce to generate ideas that will help deliver innovation. It has set up an employee program to support this.

“What we are aiming to do is encourage support and grow an innovative spirit in the company,” O’Neill said.

While Anglo is empowering its employees to be innovators, it is also committed to preparing its workforce for when today’s innovations become reality.

O’Neill said the impact new innovations would have on workforces was a “paradox” of the company strategy.

“Our engineers of the future will need much more than the skillsets they are equipped with today,” he said. “The mine manager of the future will be less operations manager and more reputation manager.”

O’Neill said he expected this generation of workers to seek out collaboration, be more flexible in how they work and rely more on personal networks than their organisational structures.

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