The digital future of the Western Australian METS sector

The digital future of the Western Australian METS sector

The Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) sector showed its resilience as the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to find new ways of working.

Austmine, the leading industry body for the Australian METS sector, said it was pleased to see many examples around the world of its members changing to provide remote services, collaborating to access project opportunities, and delivering a new wave of digital technologies.

In Austmine’s Securing Mining’s Future Workforce eBook, Membership Manager for New South Wales and South Australia Sheldon Varcoe said mining is in an unprecedented era of digital disruption which is changing the nature of traditional roles, led by rapid technology change from the METS sector.

“A vast array of new technologies, advanced software, and the impact of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) mean that traditional tasks such as maintenance, inspections, testing and operating equipment no longer need to be carried out by on-site technicians,” he said.

“This provides an opportunity for the mining industry to reframe the perception of traditional roles, opening up avenues to attract gender, age and skills diversity to perform tasks such as operating remote fleets, undertaking data analysis and managing cross-functional teams.”

The eBook featured METS sector leaders Dassault Systèmes, Assetivity and Intov8 exploring the changing workforce demands of the mining industry and what it means for recruitment and retention strategies.

Dassault Systèmes Vice President, Energy and Materials, Thomas Grand said: “The current crisis is accelerating the pace of this evolution, as resources become increasingly inaccessible combined with an even stronger aversion to risk due to increased public and investor scrutiny.

“The mining sector will increasingly need to adopt automation, simulation, and digital twin technologies in order to stay resilient. Tomorrow’s successful mining company is a fully model-based enterprise with a digital twin of the organisation, its processes, its assets and its people.”

One option for the mining sector to adopt is transformational technology.

Dassault Systèmes Chief Executive Officer, GEOVIA, Michelle Ash said: “Technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality are perfect to enable remote support and/or training.

“Transformational technologies will remove people from the ‘rock face’ and allow for more remote working, and collaboration will continue to be increasingly adopted by the mining sector.”

In the WA Mining Club’s July Newsletter, Deloitte released its Intelligent mining in a post-COVID world report, which found that the future of work will include shifts in the workplace that will accelerate already ongoing remote and virtual working.

“The crisis has accelerated and emphasised the importance of the workforce operating safely, while remaining engaged and connected,” the report said.

“The enforced transition to remote working by most organisations should provide leaders with increased confidence to accelerate investment in digital capabilities and automation of operations and support processes.”

This was exemplified earlier this year with Austmine partnering with the State Government to launch the WA METS Digital Mining Export Hub.

The State Government committed $400,000 to establish this new initiative, which will enable the State to build export capacity, knowledge and opportunities between regional, remote and metropolitan small and medium sized enterprises.

Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said: “(The) launch of Austmine’s WA METS Digital Mining Export Hub is ground breaking for the local METS sector and a fantastic result for Western Australia.

“The export hub will not only be vital in supporting the State’s recovery post-COVID-19 but will also be a boost to jobs and our local economies.”

However, this rapid shift in work practices can make it difficult for resources companies to formulate innovative solutions to business challenges.

In a bid to accelerate the adoption of innovative solutions, Austmine partnered with BHP to launch the BHP Austmine Supplier Innovation Program, which provides opportunities for METS companies to partner with BHP to solve some of its business challenges.

“As our industry shifts towards more remote and technologically-enable operations, our ability to find unique and innovative solutions to business challenges will be critical,” BHP Group Procurement Office Sundeep Singh said.

“This program is different to our usual approach to sourcing, where we know what we need to buy. Instead, we will go to the market with a question instead of an answer and ask potential vendors how to solve it.”

In Austmine’s handbook, Assetivity, Managing Director Sandy Dunn noted that the mining industry is uniquely suited to handle issues such as these.

“The mining industry has a formidable reputation for getting things done, despite all the obstacles that get in the way,” Mr Dunn said.

“Perhaps it is due to the geographical isolation associated with mine sites, but miners are a resourceful bunch who almost always find a way to succeed, despite limited support.”

Austmine General Manager, Membership, Vanessa Haberland said relationships such as these help to encourage innovation in the METS sector by helping companies understand just how quickly the workforce is shifting to new ways of working.

“By linking companies in the METS sector with the right miners, we can encourage a consistent flow of dialogue and help build a picture of how the shift toward digital and automated solutions are changing the way miners operate,” Ms Haberland said.