Before an audience of 335, experts from the mining sector spoke of ways to engage with innovation and find new opportunities to advance innovative practice in the resources sector — warning that ‘new’ ideas were not always as useful as old ideas with new applications.
Resolute Mining CEO John Welborn said that for all the discussion around innovative new technologies and their role in transforming mining, there were limits in how new technology could be applied.
He drew a contrast between the fail early, fail often jargon used by tech start-ups and the more serious implications of untested ideas in resource extraction.
Fellow panel member Peter Cook agreed, pointing to the many thousands of government approvals needed to make even a simple change to mining processes.
“The distinction is important I think between innovation and technology,” Mr Welborn said.
“The distinction in the mining industry is that we can’t afford to fail fast.
“If you are doing an underground mine or a nuclear reactor, that can’t fail. Instead, we have to learn fast and that’s about adaption.”
While the industry had become good in adapting existing thinking for new purposes, he said many new technologies had a seven-year timeline to market, which could be twice the lifespan of a gold mine.
“There are still significant timelines,” he said.
“We are looking for innovation we can implement within 12 months.”
Mr Welborn said the challenge for the industry adopting innovation had for a long time been described as “be first to be second”.
“The goal now is to be first to be first.”
Toro Energy chair and ANSTO deputy chairman Erica Smyth said WA had the potential to create far more value through innovation but it required big corporations and businesses to collaborate on new thinking.
“We have strengths in six major science areas and we have international players who work here, centres of excellence but we all work in silos and we don’t know what is happening,” she said.
“We think that what we can do better than Silicon Valley is to learn from each other.”
Ms Smyth says more than 600 people now met regularly through Mega Data Cluster WA, from universities, industry, accounting firms, legal profession and other groups, to engage in conversation about big data and what it means for WA.
“We have astronomy people talking to mining people talking to marine biologists talking to geneticists,” she says.
“We have many groups with a lot in common even if they come from very different backgrounds.
“We are creating all sorts of interesting things and interesting conversations.”
Pitcher Partners Chairman Bryan Hughes said that the mining industry needs to push the envelope in terms of innovation if they want to see results.
“To truly innovate we need to take bolder steps and look more critically at every aspect of the business, the environment we operate in, and of the vision of the future we currently have,” he said.
“Technology is stepping up and what is possible in terms of the future is mind boggling, but also fundamental to the sustainability of every one of our businesses.”