Exhibit space was expanded 40 per cent for the 2012 edition of Minexpo | Neal Young
Despite a cooling metals market and uninspiring economic forecasts, Minexpo in Las Vegas
was an oasis of optimism for the global mining industry. This
year’s event, the largest the National Mining Association has ever hosted, packed over 1,800 companies into 80,000 square metres of exhibit space, both
inside and outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. Since 2008, when the event was last held, organizers expanded to a third exhibition hall, representing
a 40 per cent growth of floor space.
With all that space, the onus was on exhibitors to go big. In July, around the time Caterpillar posted its best quarter ever, the company began the
physical set up of what was its largest exhibit at the show to date. The industry giant showed off with more than two dozen pieces of surface and
underground mining equipment, a theatre-sized screen and, wisely included, an information kiosque to help visitors navigate the 4,800-square-metre exhibit.
Caterpillar, with a series of acquisitions that has expanded its reach in surface and underground mining, had plenty to showcase, as did other equipment
heavyweights like Komatsu, Liebherr, Hitachi, Sandvik, Joy Global and Atlas Copco.
“The total planning time for a show of this size is about 18 months,” said Richard Smith, director of product marketing and planning for Komatsu’s mining
division. “The heavy planning starts in earnest about one year ahead of time.”
And as the event is only held every four years, exhibitors must seize the opportunity to showcase new equipment, announce acquisitions or declare ambitious
plans, as General Electric did with the formal rollout of its dedicated mining business unit. The company is making an aggressive move into mining with
recent purchases, including Fairchild International, the manufacturer of underground mining equipment and vehicles.
Uncertainty about the future did colour the event, however. During the show, Caterpillar announced more modest profit expectations for the next three
years, which CEO Doug Oberhelman attributed to “modest global economic growth.”
That sluggish growth was on the mind of Goodyear’s David Anckaert, leading up to the exhibition. “We weren’t quite sure how it would go,” said the
company’s general manager for global off-the-road tires, on the second day of the show, “but there has been lots of activity.” In addition to a full
schedule during the day, Anckaert explained people had booked times for meetings in the early morning, hours before the convention center opened its doors.
Corey Poppe, marketing manager for Superior Industries, whose growing Minnesota-based company first exhibited at Minexpo four years ago, returned this year
with a much bigger budget and greater expectations. “Our objective was to have 60 per cent more leads than 2008, and I believe we met that goal,” he said.
“Everyone wants to be bullish,” observed Lee Laviolette, global lead for operational excellence with management consulting firm Accenture. A specialist in
process and innovation performance, Laviolette participated in the technical program and offered case studies detailing how investments in equipment alone
do not guarantee immediate returns. New technologies like those filling the halls, he pointed out, can require new skills of the workforce, which mine
operators do not always anticipate. Interviewed after his presentation, Laviolette said the hard times that hit the industry following the previous Minexpo
have sharpened operations’ focus on asset performance. “The challenge is getting the most out of the investment you make,” he said.
That challenge was on the mind of mining systems and automation consultant Tim Skinner while walking the showroom floor. He set out to ask engineers for
original equipment manufacturers questions like: “How does my customer find out if a shovel bucket is hanging, waiting for a truck, just by using the
onboard data?” and, “How would we get that information?” Skinner, a long-time advocate for better access to data generated by equipment and systems for
mine operators, is also an executive on the new CIM Global Mining Standards and Guidelines Committee. The organization, created to establish a common
standard for data exchange between original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and mine operators, held its first general meeting at the event. Skinner said he
was pleased by the enthusiasm of committee members and encouraged by the progress that has been made since Minexpo 2008.
“There seems to be more awareness and discussion of the importance and need to more easily access onboard data,” said Skinner, who believes a lot has
changed in the four years since the last Minexpo. “There seems to be a movement to provide greater capabilities to allow this. Four years ago, if you had
brought this up with the OEMs, they would have looked at you funny.”