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Mining leaders optimistic about mid-term growth but current issues a concern

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By Colin Hay - 
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While rising operating costs have put significant pressure on miners to make their technology investments go further and build the digital talent necessary for a sustainable future, a new report has found the industry is feeling optimistic about the mid- and long-term future.

However, the Mining Technology Report 2023-24 also ascertains that mining leaders are less optimistic about the immediate future due to ongoing geopolitical tensions and economic concerns.

The new paper, published by digital infrastructure company Equinix, revealed that miners have identified that technology will play an increasing role in achieving a digital competitive advantage, meeting evolving safety and compliance standards.

ESG analytics, operational technology security controls and digital twin investments are all viewed favourably.

Challenges abound

“Australian mining leaders have much to contend with right now. But equally, the sector is expected to grow rapidly as the need for critical minerals reaches an inflection point,” Equinix Australia managing director Guy Danskine said.

“To capitalise on this opportunity, mining leaders know they need to strengthen their infrastructure and digital capabilities, to connect and power a global ecosystem of people, devices and the millions of terabytes of data being generated by advanced technologies.”

“While priorities may be changing, ensuring investment in the right technologies is critical in overcoming operational risks, rising costs, and skills shortage,” he added.

The biggest challenges respondents in the study see in the next one to three years.

The Australian Mining Technology Report 2023-24 was compiled following interviews with mining executives at several companies and industry representatives across the resources sector.

Australia well-positioned

The survey found that Australia is in the enviable position of having many of the critical minerals needed to move towards a renewable future, such as lithium, copper, zinc and vanadium.

Furthermore, the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act has dramatically shifted investment towards countries with free trade agreements, including Australia.

Natalie Taylor, president of the WA (Western Australia) Mining Club, said that despite the recent global economic downturn, the Australian mining sector has reasons for optimism.

“Western Australia continues to attract strong investments and overseas interest, while the energy transition is driving demand for metals and minerals,” she said.

“To increase productivity and reduce risks, miners are prioritising advanced wireless communication technologies, real-time location system sensors and tags and automation systems. However, attracting and retaining skilled workers remains the primary challenge for the mining industry to fully adopt these technologies.”

Skills pipeline needed

However, the paper found that there is pressure to build a skills pipeline necessary for the sustainable future.

Nicole Roocke, chief executive officer at the Mineral Research Institute of Western Australia says miners have a number of issues to consider in an ever-evolving landscape.

“The demand for commodities is soaring as global economies race to deploy clean energy technologies and the mining industry is well aware of the paradox staring it in the face: on the one hand, supplying the commodities to sustain the current appetite for decarbonisation will see it scaling up significantly,” Ms Roocke said.

“Conversely, it needs to work very hard to adhere to the tough ESG standards being put before it. The deployment of new technology is the big challenge for brownfields operations, due to the significant amount of sunk capital in infrastructure. For greenfield operations, which demand deployment of emerging technologies, they will face challenges in trying to secure capital and establish next-generation operations.”