In a year that brought us unmanned autonomous haulage vehicles, manufacturing-style mining operations and some astounding applications for virtual reality, it was always going to be hard to choose just 11 standout projects from hundreds of nominations.
Our annual awards celebrate commitment to innovation within the mining industry, something that many have criticised it as shying away from in the past. However, 2016 was, and I expect 2017 will be, different.
We are standing at a metaphorical crossroads; down one path are technologies such as cloud computing, 3-D modelling, robotics and artificial intelligence, which are now converging to reshape the mining landscape, creating an exciting new future and endless possibilities for fresh sources of revenue. Down the other paths are declining ore grades, anxious shareholders and increasing operational costs, along with some stalwart technologies and equipment which, although they have served us very well in the past, may not be fit for purpose in 20, 30 or 40 years’ time.
Do we take a deep breath and venture into the shiny new unknown, or do we linger and hope that we can reinvent the wheel sufficiently to get ourselves out of trouble?
“Any management team that says ‘we don’t do innovation’ is also telling shareholders that it is quite content to offer a declining return on their investment,” Doug Morrison, president and CEO at the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation, told me in a recent interview.
Morrison makes an excellent point: by hanging back and waiting for others to lead the way when it comes to innovation, mine management are essentially placing the future of their businesses (not to mention their investors’ money and trust) in other people’s hands.
Is that a situation you want to be in? No, I thought not.
It is time to be brave. Time to put on our big-kid pants, take a good, honest look at what’s holding this industry back, and put our heads together to solve the damn problems. That’s just what our 12 awards winners have done this year (yep, we had to give 12, because there’s no denying that collaboration is what’s going to rocket-fuel our efforts going forward).
I urge you to read our list of award winners and have a long hard look at what they’ve been doing. In fact, grab a pen and paper and take some notes as well. Because this time next year, there’s going to be a pop quiz and I’m going to ask what you’ve done to help secure the future of this industry (you think I’ll forget but I won’t – I like to name and shame the lazy ones too).
It’s high time we started taking some responsibility for a situation we have collectively created, and with a smorgasbord of new technologies at our disposal, there’s really no excuse not to.
So chop chop, get to it!