Canadian innovation

The annual Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) convention was held this year on May 10-13 at the Palais des congrès de Montréal
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The exhibition floor at the CIM 2015 convention. Photo: @AnnualCIM

Ailbhe Goodbody

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘New Dimensions’, with a focus on topical issues facing the mining industry – including innovation, leadership and employment. Over 7,000 people from Canada and 50 other countries around the world attended.

The panels and sessions in the technical programme had 12 thematic streams including: environmental paradigms; innovation – present and future; West Africa; women in mining; operational excellence; maintenance engineering and underground mining; explosives and blasting; geology; and management and finance.

Of the 12 streams, three were separate symposia: iron ore, ethics in mining and planetary and terrestrial mining sciences.
“The basis of what we do in the minerals industry does not change, but how we do it does,” explained Sean Waller, president of CIM. “Every year, there are new developments in technology, new strategies in community engagement, and new applications for the products of mining that are key to our everyday lives. The theme of the conference, 'New Dimensions', reflects the new opportunities for improvement in every sector of our industry, and the conference programme is structured to provide a window where those in the global minerals industry can see and hear the latest developments.”

Edward Fast, Minister of International Trade in Canada, opened the plenary session by announcing steps that the Canadian government is taking to ensure that the country’s mining sector continues thriving and to stimulate technological developments. This included the announcement of C$147,800 (US$123,000) in Global Opportunities for Associations (GOA) funding this year for CIM to help its members expand abroad.

Panellists at the plenary session included: Andrew Scott, senior director, mining information technology at Barrick Gold; Kristan Straub, vice-president at Glencore’s Raglan mine in northern Quebec; Greg Lilleyman, group executive, technology and innovation at Rio Tinto; Jean Robitaille, senior vice-president, business strategy and technical services at Agnico Eagle Mines; and Pierre Lapointe, president and CEO of ArcelorMittal Mining Canada.

Luc Blanchette, Minister for Mines in Quebec, also spoke at the plenary session. Staying with the theme of new dimensions, he pointed out that 20 years ago there were no iPhones, tablets or mass-market electronic cars, but the ubiquity of these products now has driven new demand for certain minerals.

He noted that it is not necessarily the major players who will survive the downturn, but those that can adapt – which brought to mind the well-known quotation that is often misattributed to Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

(There is no record of Darwin ever saying this; it is more likely to be a streamlined version of remarks made by Dr Leon C. Megginson in 1963 when speaking about Darwin’s seminal work about evolution, On the Origin of Species.)

Either way, the central idea is worth remembering – that change and innovation are important to keep up in today’s changing world. Robitaille made a comment along similar lines: “Innovation is needed for the mining industry to be sustainable in the long run.”

This is particularly important regarding recent trends such as declines in productivity, lower mineral commodity prices and the need for deeper mines.

As the industry changes, so must we.