President's notes: The future of mining

2017-05-08

Michael WinshipSpeaking to future trends in mining is much like predicting future gold prices: It’s a mug’s game.

At a CIM conference in Toronto in 1991, a miner operated an LHD in Sudbury from the Royal York Hotel lobby. Here we are a quarter century later and that technology is only just starting to gain some traction. I can also recall when Inco proclaimed Crean Hill the all-electric mine of the future. I was the last mine manager of that property when miners operating diesel equipment got the final ore at depth, the tethered electric vehicles having been abandoned after proving impractical. The majors of the day, Falconbridge, Noranda and Inco, put lots of money into mining research, but the gains fell short of the lofty predictions.

Today, the future mining talk is around ideas such as automation, battery power, continuous mining, microgrid, renewable energy, digitization and big data. It will be interesting to see where the major gains are and where the niches will be. Where will the new leaders come from; big or small mining companies, equipment suppliers, Silicon Valley companies, research organizations, universities, government or startups? Will the technologies that actually get widespread adoption arise from “clusters of excellence” where innovation efforts are made in cooperation? Is Intellectual property dead in the mining industry, as leaders such as Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani have projected?

What is the future for women and other underrepresented groups in mining? Can we expect any social innovation in mining? Such questions have left experts on future-of-mining panels tap dancing for an appropriate response.

It strikes me that the mining industry is often tradition-bound in the “drill, blast and muck” phase as the people side of technology implementation is often not well thought through. For new technologies to take root, leadership will need to have a well-developed response when they are asked by the workforce, “What’s in it for me?”

Together we have succeeded in answering that question for safety. Our industry has become one of the safest. So there is clear evidence that when our values and efforts are aligned with all stakeholders, the mining industry can accomplish great things!

Michael Winship