February 2011

Collaboration the key to innovation and success

AMIRA chairman discusses the challenges of innovation

By Eavan Moore

Photo courtesy of www.jameswalkerphotography.ca

Every innovation begins with an idea. But to bring that idea to fruition requires hard work and collaboration. That is the spirit of AMIRA International Limited. Formed in Melbourne, Australia, in 1959 by ten companies and one university, it has grown into a leading-edge research association providing innovative technological solutions for the mining industry. In 2011, it has grown to 221 researchers from 62 institutions around the world who are working on projects valued at $62.8 million. Douglas Magoon is the current chairman of AMIRA International. He has spent much of his career working in technology at Teck Resources Limited and continues to represent Teck at AMIRA. CIM Magazine recently spoke with Magoon about the challenges and opportunities for mining innovation, the role of research and collaboration, as well as some of the innovations AMIRA has pioneered.

CIM: In Canada, industry, government and educational institutions have identified the need to have a more coherent strategy for R&D and innovation; however, executing the strategy has proven difficult. What is the key to getting industry stakeholders to commit to R&D?

Magoon: A more coherent R&D strategy for Canada will be achieved when the key stakeholders realize that a critical avenue to stronger competitive advantage lies in developing a “Team Canada” mindset in which government and industry work in a truly collaborative manner. The key to getting industry stakeholders to commit to R&D is through education. Industry leaders, who are rightly proud of their companies’ capabilities and achievements, and government leaders must be fully briefed on three issues. The first is the status of technological capability of Canadian companies, especially where technical gaps exist vis-a-vis competitors in other jurisdictions. The second is the parallels and differences in R&D strategies of other natural resources-focused countries and the comparative magnitude of their government and corporate research funding. And third is a compelling benefit to be achieved, coupled with the path to its achievement.

CIM: Australia has the reputation of being an early adopter of new technology. Is that characterization accurate?

Magoon: In my view, Australia has been an early “developer” of new technology, and Australian companies have tended toward early adoption. It is a country richly endowed with natural resources and talented, competitive and determined people. Whether it be industry, commerce or sport, they have long possessed a proud and competitive “let’s pull together to succeed” mindset. This is well-exemplified by their 50-year history in the establishment and generous funding of research, not only in the minerals sector but in other scientific disciplines as well.

CIM: Can you tell us a bit about the West African Exploration Initiative?

Magoon: This is a $2.65 million project supported by the geological survey departments of 12 West African countries, ten mining corporations and eight universities in Europe, Africa and Australia. Its objectives include developing new geological frameworks to generate regional exploration insights, providing short courses and M.Sc. and PhD projects for African geoscientists, and improving local capacity to meet mineral industry needs in a region that has great potential but presents operational challenges.

CIM: Can you provide examples of some of the innovations that have resulted from AMIRA’s efforts and have been adopted at operations?

Magoon: Many of AMIRA’s thousand projects have created innovations used in industry today. Examples include SEM technologies, remote sensing in exploration, sulphide mineral flotation, cable bolting — and the list goes on. Companies generally use the technology developed in a project as a matter of course.

Several of the major projects have been independently audited. For example, the Thickener Technology project cost its 20 sponsors $9.78 million and benefited them by $289 million. Each sponsor earned $29 for each dollar spent.

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