Innovations in Mining Engineering 2013

Last week (Sept. 9-12, 2013), the mining engineering program at Missouri University of Science & Technology (Missouri S&T) hosted the third edition of the Innovations in Mining Engineering conference in St. Louis, MO. The conference theme was “Exploring Global Mining Frontiers: Challenges and  opportunities for winning the competition.” As I often do, I want to share with you my impressions of the IME 2013 conference and invite you to join us in 2015.

The IME conference was started in 2009 by Missouri S&T mining engineering as a way to get the program’s stakeholders together to discuss key issues in the industry. Although organized by a university department, this conference is really focused on the issues facing our industry’s boardrooms. You only have to look at the keynote speakers to see the level of discussions. The conference is usually well attended by a wide range of professionals but is small enough to facilitate meaningful discussions. This year, the general conference chair was Gary B. Halverson, President, Barrick Gold of North America, Inc. There was, as usual, a wide range of high level speakers from industry, and the conference was attended by 165 participants. The recent drop in commodities prices was mentioned several times. However, many speakers pointed out we are still in a supercycle. Whether the recent drop in prices signals the beginning of the end or is a temporary correction is unclear. Over the two days that I was able to attend, the major themes I heard were:

  • Mining is global business,which needs to be discussed in that context
  • Good talent is scarce in this global business; and
  • New technology (say autonomy) can help solve some of the problems going forward but a lot of the technology that has already been introduced by the OEMs is currently under-utilized.

Talent shortage has been high on the agenda for our industry in the last few years. I thought the executive forum on talent at this conference was one of the most interesting. The panel for the forum was made up of Leigh Freeman (Manager, Downing Teal), Kurt Salvatori (VP Human Resources, CONSOL Energy), Marshall Koval (President & CEO, Anfield Nickel Corp.), Fouzi Bubshait (VP Human Resources, Ma’aden Mining Co.)
Richard Marston (Principal & Senior Practice Leader – Mining, Golder Associates Inc.). In their opening remarks, the panel members observed that the recent drop has eased some of the talent problems in the short term. But long term, the problems (shortage of new talent, aging working force, and disparity in skill-set around the world) still exist and companies need to address them.

Some of the suggestions given in that forum included: (i) identifying young high performers deliberately and developing them for leadership; (ii) a call for more collaboration between the mining and minerals schools in the developed and those in the developing world to upgrade skills of graduates entering the workforce; and (iii) innovative industry-government partnerships to train skilled labor. These last two suggestions above are illustrated by Maden’s collaboration with the Saudi Technical and Vocational Corporation, and Missouri S&T to establish the Saudi Mining Polytechnic (SMP). SMP is part of Ma’aden’s strategy to train qualified skilled labor (operators and technicians) for their expanding business.

A host of new technology was discussed. Caterpillar, Immersive Technologies, Komatsu, Joy Global and the Doe Run Company all hosted company sessions to introduce new technology. Missouri S&T and the Center for Excellence in Mining Innovation (Ontario, Canada) also hosted company sessions. One theme that emerged, though, is the feeling that mines are under utilizing the technology that already exists. This thought was first highlighted by Rod Schrader (Chairman and CEO, Komatsu America Corp.) and repeated several times. One highlighted example was the thousands or millions of data points collected by mining equipment these days via telemetry. The OEMs feel the end user is not taking full advantage of the data. I tend to agree.

All in all, it was a good conference. This was the first time the conference was held in St. Louis (Marriott St. Louis Airport) instead of on the Missouri S&T campus in Rolla. The new location seems to have worked out great. And the conference delivered great discussion for the participants to enjoy. I hope to see you in St. Louis in 2015.