One on One: Austmine CEO Christine Gibbs Stewart

Looking back over 2014, what have been some of the
highlights for the METS sector here in Australia?

I would have to say one of the most important announcements
this year for the METS sector was that of the Abbott Government’s confirmation
of a Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) Growth Centre as part of
their Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda. Austmine led the bid for the original METS
Industry Innovation Precinct in 2013 and we have been working since that time to
convince the Government that providing a platform for stronger collaboration is
absolutely crucial for the sustainability of both METS and mining.

With the sector generating over $90billion in gross annual
revenue and employing nearly 400,000 people, it is also good to see the
importance of METS suppliers’ contribution to the economy finally being recognised
in this move.

Another series of highlights have been some of the
partnerships and memorandums of understanding that have been signed between key
players in the METS sector. Here at Austmine we have signed MOUs with the
Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), the Industry Capability Network (ICN), CRC
ORE and are soon to enter into an agreements with Austrade. These kind of
partnerships are critical for ensuring the future and sustainability of the
sector, to keep securing innovation into the R&D phase and making sure it’s
commercially viable from the get go.

The International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in
Melbourne in September was also a highlight. This brought together over 2000
industry representatives and had a line-up of great speakers. Austmine’s “Meet
the Miners” speed networking function that was part of the event enabled
suppliers and miners to come together and discuss challenges, issues and
trends. A special thanks to Rio Tinto,
MMG, FMG, Adani, MacMahon, Roy Hill, Iluka Resources, Oz Minerals and Orica,
amongst others, for participating in this event.

What do you think both the mining and the METS sector
should take away from the challenges of not only the last year, but the last 24
months? What lessons can be learned?

To remain competitive globally, both the mining and METS
sector need to keep up the level of quality we’re so proud of here, and
continue to focus on improving productivity and the incorporation of innovation
into technology and equipment R&D, and in mining operations.

The biggest lesson to be taken away from the 24 months is
that the mining industry, and all who service it, cannot rely anymore on the
profit of the booms in this cyclical sector to get us through the downturns. We
can no longer afford to be “fat and lazy” as we were famously accused of during
the last boom; the entire sector must work together to ensure continuous
improvement measures are consistently applied to operations and services.

For the sake of the future of the industry, what needs to
change in 2015?

Collaboration is the key in 2015. That means collaboration
between METS, between METS and miners, between researchers and METS and miners
and between government and the sector as a whole. Working together to help
embrace innovation is the critical way that the Australian mining and METS
industries will be able to stay ahead of the game and be competitive.

Rio Tinto has consistently proven how valuable collaboration
can be; whether it’s their automated drill pattern and execution project with
Atlas Copco, or their work with the University of Western Australia, Rio Tinto
are great examples of how innovation and collaboration can deliver phenomenal
results. Just consider their Processing Excellence Centre in Brisbane (a
collaboration between Rio and JK Tech, Schneider Electric, Metso CISA, UQ and
iGate) that has driven millions of dollars of savings for the company through
big data analysis that led to procedural enhancements for the company. The
entire sector can stand to learn a lot from Rio Tinto’s work of the past decade
or more.

Obviously times are still tough in the mining sector, but
opportunities do still exist for METS companies. How can organisations go about
finding these opportunities? Any tips on opportunities for the industry?

Even in tougher times, opportunities still exist, whether
we’re talking about here at home in Australia, or looking overseas. Austmine
takes international missions of our members each year to the hottest regions
with project opportunities. For example our COO, Robert Trzebski, has just come
back from Brazil where he and several of our members organisations went on a
series of mine site tours courtesy of Vale, before meeting with their
procurement head in Belo Horizonte for opportunity meetings.

Markets closer to home such as Indonesia and even Vietnam
are offering new opportunities for our Australian METS. Currently, 62% of METS export to SE Asia and
given our reputation and experience, miners there look to Australia for
solutions. The Ozmine program, which we
work on in partnership with Austrade, will see an increased focus on activities
in SE Asia, including a mission to Vietnam and Cambodia in March and a return
to Indonesia in October.

Working with organisations such as ourselves or Austrade can
help METS mitigate the risk of entering new markets and developing key
relationships.

Here in Australia, major projects like Adani Mining’s
Carmichael, or BHP’s Olympic Dam are obviously still exciting prospects.
However, these major projects are admittedly few and far between, and it’s
likely to remain that way for another 18 – 24 months. So working with existing
clients to deliver more value, or services, is a good way of keeping the work
rolling in. Making sure you are out there meeting with mid-tier miners is also
a good option right now, as many of those are still looking to invest in
operations to ensure they are profitable despite low resource prices. Keep
speaking with industry representatives to stay across opportunities.

What are you most excited about looking to the year ahead
for METS organisations, and the sector as a whole?

I’m excited to start seeing more collaboration across the
sector, and some significant project opportunities coming online. There have
been some big promises from government too, such as the NSW Premier promising
mining assessment times halved if they get voted back into power, so if some of
these come to fruition then 2015 could be a much better year for the mining
sector, and therefore the METS organisations.

We also have our biennial conference, Austmine 2015, taking place on the 19 –
20 May in Brisbane. This is always the stellar event of the calendar year, so
I’m very excited about that. Our theme is Transforming Mining: Technology and
Innovation and we truly want to showcase the best innovation from miners and
METS, whilst forging more collaboration across the industry as a whole.

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