February 2006

CIM poll speaks to industry's future

By H. Ednie

As an industry, we celebrate innovation, recognizing those that create the new technologies, studying new processes to help us do our jobs better. The minerals industry has changed vastly over the past few decades, as computers, satellite technology, automation, and other leaps in scientific know-how have resulted in new equipment and more efficient operations. But, can we do better?

We rely on innovation to increase productivity and profitability. Through innovation, we continue to compete globally. But at the same time, we sense a lack of focus on innovation, and the research required, and a diminishing support and ability to affect the next wave of development. We seem caught up in a balancing act, between pride in our accomplishments in this area, and fear of not continuing in the future.

The CIM Society for Innovative Mining Technology was created as a place to help foster innovation in the minerals industry. Spanning all facets of the minerals cycle, the SIMT mandate is to promote the development of new technology and solutions to support industry’s needs. Innovation is not only new technologies, it encompasses all processes and developments that improve practices and operations.

Last month, an innovation poll was sent to CIM members via email. Approximately 3,250 emails were sent, and 75 responses returned. Opinions varied greatly, but certain ideas emerged where there was agreement. This article is the result of the poll—the beginning of a discussion on innovation and industry’s needs that will continue throughout the year. It’s simply a taste of the ideas and foreseen requirements, and aims to promote further discussion on what are industry’s needs for innovation, and what must the minerals industry do to ensure the required developments are realized.

Innovations in mining

What is innovation? How has it had the greatest impact on our industry? Participants of the poll were asked to name some of the most recent innovations in mining or minerals that have had a great impact on the industry. And the answers were varied. In total, over 55 different areas of technology or process were identified, which have been grouped in the table “Areas where innovation has impacted industry.” Answers spanned the interests of the industry, from exploration, to mining and milling, to human resources, environmental, and management.

Innovation drivers

People talk about the need to foster more innovation in the industry, but who should drive it? Is it the responsibility of individuals or research groups? Or are mining companies and their suppliers responsible? Finally, does it come down to responsibility, or is it a case of willingness and ability? Poll respondents were asked to share their views on who will drive innovation in mining.

Over half the innovation poll respondents agree that mining companies, or industry, will be one of the main drivers of innovation. Some believe it will be the major companies because they have the means to finance R&D, while others added the large companies are more willing to take risks. “The main driver of innovation in mining is the mining company… they understand their needs and challenges best and as they say, ‘necessity (or need) is the mother of all invention,’ ” one person wrote.

After the mining companies, people believe that equipment manufacturers, or suppliers, and universities will be a major source of innovation, because product development is the suppliers’ bread and butter, and universities are home to some of the most talented minds in the business.

A number of other drivers of innovation were brought up by the poll, including: necessity; environmental requirements; management; contractors/ consultants; R&D centres; new graduates and recruits; cost; competition; technical groups and organizations; the public and shareholders; the scientific community; and regulations.

Overall, the expectation is that with good reason, everyone is likely to get involved in the creation of new technologies and processes at some point.

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