Innovation occasion

COM 2012 celebrates industry progress

By Herb Mathisen

MetSoc Annual General Meeting and inauguration of new president

More than 700 metal and materials professionals from 35 countries came together at the 51st Annual Conference of Metallurgists (COM 2012), held in Niagara Falls, Ontario, September 30 to October 3, to celebrate how efforts to become more sustainable have positively impacted society and the environment, and to discuss how innovation and best practices must evolve to build an even more sustainable future for the industry.

The conference, themed “Metallurgy and Metals Impact on Society” and organized by the Metallurgy and Materials Society (MetSoc), featured 177 presentations on burning issues, including obstacles to true innovation and potential improvements to mining technologies and processes.

Chris Twigge-Molecey, plenary speaker and former CIM president, discussed the need to invest in innovation. While obstacles like short-term corporate thinking, a fear of failure and a lack of financial support can hinder the development and fostering of new ideas, benefits from innovative products and processes can be long-lasting.

“We have to come up with ways to make long-term investing for innovation attractive,” Twigge-Molecey said, adding that venture capital investment in Canada has gone down 70 per cent over the last 10 years. “This is particularly acute as most of the major mining and metallurgical companies are foreign-owned and flowing benefits to Canada is not their priority.”

Other plenary speakers included University of Waterloo professor Thomas Homer-Dixon, who discussed how companies could prosper through, what he termed, the “general purpose technology” transition – a time when the global economy will be disrupted by a move towards low-carbon and zero-carbon energy sources. Cameco’s Engin Özberk spoke about the benefits of collaborating to develop new technologies, and Bruce Conard, former vice-president of Inco, spoke about the future of ­sustainability.

For the first time, the conference also included a Rare Earth symposium. “The rare earth metal recovery rush, along with the need for recruitment, training and sustainability dominated the discussion,” says conference chair Vladimiros Papangelakis, adding the series was very well-attended.

The 52 student attendees were made to feel at home with a fun night at the Great Canadian Midway, and an industry-student mixer allowed the young professionals to rub shoulders with key players in the industry.

Next year’s conference, “Shaping the Future with Technological Breakthroughs in Metallurgy and Materials,” will be held in Montreal, Quebec, from October 27 to 31.

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