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The importance of quarry innovation

Quarry Innovation

Eltirus’ team of professionals helps quarry operations improve their sustainability and enhance their efficiency with innovation. Eltirus Founder Steve Franklin writes about the state of quarry innovation within the industry, reflecting on conversations from the International Resource and Mining Conference.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the International Resource and Mining Conference (IMARC) in Sydney along with some 7800 other attendees. Over a three-day period, I attended dozens of different presentations by some of the best and brightest minds in the industry – from senior executives, to thought leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. The experience was eye opening, impressive and thought provoking.

The impetus to attend came from one of our major clients – a senior manager who felt that the technological innovation that he was looking for was not going to be found within the quarry industry – and if not there, then where? After some debate, we decided that the best way forward was to look for solutions in a related field, in this case mining, and hence the visit to IMARC.

So, what did we find out and why do I think it has any relevance to our industry?

There was a strong acknowledgement by the presenters at IMARC that diversity and inclusion are important and in many cases these principles are now established (or establishing) parts of many mining businesses. It was further noted that the next critical step for businesses was how they would meet the global challenge of decarbonisation – by way of example, it is expected that annual average demand for minerals to support decarbonisation will require a 60-100 per cent increase in output over the next ten years. 

Interestingly, the mining industry also saw that their successful participation in global decarbonisation was the greatest opportunity the industry has ever had to reposition itself in terms of how the industry is viewed by the public. So, on the whole, there are exciting, challenging, and likely buoyant times ahead, working towards a common purpose of a decarbonised community.

From ambition to strategy

The issue, of course, is how do you do achieve this? How do you turn ambition into strategy? The general view was that this would be achieved through the application of technological innovation, and as the conference rolled forward, it was very clear that this was a topic forefront in most people’s minds.

There seemed to be two approaches. BHP was forthcoming in making it clear that they believed that the Australian mining technology sector was one of the best in the world and that they wanted to do everything they could to partner with it to leverage the advances.

In the same week, Rio Tinto advised the market that they were bringing all software development in house, setting up a group in Brisbane for this purpose.

Without getting into a debate about the rights and wrongs of these approaches, what is apparent is that there is groundbreaking and valuable technology right under our noses.

Whether it was autonomous haul trucks and equipment, battery electric trucks, advanced passive geophysical exploration tools or artificial intelligence (AI) driven diamond core logging and the smart software to make the most of these different technologies, there was a group at IMARC displaying groundbreaking innovation.

It was also interesting to hear that the major companies were the ones pushing the manufacturers to create the electric and autonomous equipment they know they will need to achieve their sustainability targets. This is a welcome change. Some three years ago, my question as to when this technology was coming (to a senior manager of one of the major manufacturers) was answered with there was little interest in autonomous and electric equipment at that time. How things have changed!

Quarry Innovation
Domani, a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft drone from Carbonix, is capable of executing rapid aerial surveys over very large areas.

Developing the skillset

If construction materials companies are to meet their sustainability targets, they will have to look outside of our industry. The concerning thing, however, is that they are going to go looking for those skills and technologies at the same time as they are already in short supply.

Whether the companies decide to develop these skills themselves or ask a partner – such as a dealer or a consultant – they may either not be available or be in such high demand that they will have to recalibrate their expectations for remuneration. This is such a problem within the mining industry that major players have had to create specialised autonomous technology training centres and develop whole new skill sets, training people from scratch to be able to deliver the type of services needed to support their autonomous technology.

At my presentation to the recent IQA National Conference, I predicted that autonomous and electric technology was likely five years away. More recently, my research would suggest that this timeframe is likely to be significantly shortened, perhaps down to two to three years, from a technological sense. There is already a sixty-tonne diesel haul truck running autonomous trials in Australia with the company concerned advising me that they will be ready to show it within three-six months. We are very much interested to go and see it in action and a quick ring around of key clients showed a great interest in attending the demonstrations.

We know that autonomous technology is on our doorstep and electric technology is not far behind, but I would posit that as an industry, we are not ready for it and further, that we need to make it a primary focus of our planning now, not later. We need to start preparing now – determining the skills needed, finding the people and training them, installing the communications bandwidth, the power and power storage capacity needed, designing our operations to accommodate these new machines and having the detailed plans and schedules needed to make them a success.

Quarry Innovation
Steve Franklin, Eltirus Founder.

Change management

All of the speakers at IMARC who discussed these subjects had a clear secondary theme: change management. Specifically, they noted that operations needed help with new technologies to make it work and to make it stick. It was not enough to introduce something new and expect people to figure it out. It requires real forethought and planning. They also want outcomes, not tools.

One of the better sources of information on the change management that will be needed to bring autonomous and electric technologies to our industry can be found in the current (and upcoming) work of the Global Mining Guidelines Group (GMG) – well worth a look if you are interested in this area. They are currently working on the small autonomous haul truck (sub 100 tonnes) guideline and we at Eltirus are working with them to bring our experience of the construction and industrial minerals industry to this discussion.

Make no mistake, this change will come to our industry. Those who grasp it and work to make it their own will have a clear lead on their competitors. It will be a defining characteristic of their business and a selling point to the bright people they will need to hire to make it a reality, not to mention a make good of social responsibility and a major factor in determining both access to and cost of capital.

Will you ignore it until it’s too late, go for it alone or seek a partner? If it’s the latter, feel free to reach out to me. At Eltirus we have been studying this area for the past five years and we would be pleased to share what we know and compare notes.

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