In June 2021, Swann Group founder, John Murray, was invited to present at the Critical Minerals Association‘s G7 event in Cornwall to discuss the importance of mining to society.
In his talk John highlighted six issues facing mining beyond the immediate challenge of the pandemic.
In this series of articles, John expands on his G7 presentation and explores those challenges in more detail. In some cases, he makes some suggestions for how we might address them, based both on interviews with some of the mining greats and his own lifetime of experience in the industry. In others, he poses questions to provoke thought and discussion for inclusion in a future update.
The articles are gathered in a single publication readers can download from the Swann Group website research page: https://the-swann-group.com/research/
In this part John explores mining’s relationship with technology.
Part 3 – Evolving technology in mining
Mining’s adoption of new technology has been mixed.
An early adopter of interconnectivity and the Internet of Things, the industry nevertheless remains more reliant on manual labour and plant that has not been required to change radically.
It is time to embrace the technologies that have the ability to transform the industry, applying existing technologies from other industries and developing new ones to address challenges particular to mining.
Large, established miners that resist the adoption of new technologies risk being outcompeted by more agile, small-scale miners that are unencumbered by massive investments in old technology. Such firms may be more attractive investment vehicles than the mega projects, offering lower risk and faster returns. We see it already in oil and gas, with fracking and enhanced oil recovery in some geographies.
Firms that fail to embrace incremental technological change will reach a point where the only option is a sudden step change in technology, with all the disruption and expense that accompanies such change.
Technological solutions have a major role to play in the wider process of changing perceptions of mining. They can reduce exposure to tough working conditions, resulting in a safer working environment with fewer injuries and stoppages. And they can make the industry cleaner, greener, more sustainable and more profitable.
Such changes are likely to require a need for new skillsets in mining, with a greater need for more skilled roles in IT, analytics and automation. Local workforces will need to be educated in the use of the technologies, resulting in a welcome upskilling of local communities.
It is also worth noting the demands new technologies place on miners to keep on mining. Renewables, electric cars, and wind turbines are all heavily dependent on commodities produced by the much-maligned mining industry. And we might do well to educate the Millennials and Generation Z that the smart phones from which they are inseparable are packed with materials from the extractive industries.
This presents an opportunity to reconnect the next generation with the positive side of mining and the possibilities of a mining career.
Data. Data. Data.
Mining companies are awash with data, and this flow will only become more overwhelming with the introduction of more technology and automation. But in itself, data is of limited use. What matters is how it is analysed, considered and turned into insights that inform decision-making.
There will be increased demand on miners to provide data to the ESG Houses – at no charge – and then witness it being sold to competitors and other industries as commoditised data.
How organisations prepare for the increase in data and the increased demand for it from stakeholders will be another challenge for mining. At Swann we have long argued for the importance of the analyst’s role in mining, to prioritise and interpret the data and find the story within it, presenting another opportunity to attract a new kind of talent to the sector.
The challenge and opportunity of recycling
- Improved technology is driving down the cost and energy requirements of recycling. This trend, combined with increased public demand for more recycling, makes it an increasingly attractive option.
- Does this mean recycling presents an investment opportunity for traditional mining houses? Should mining companies encourage manufacturing business partners to ensure that items made from their raw materials can be recycled and become part of the circular economy? Or is it an industry for others to focus on?
- Given that 87Mt of steel scrap was recycled in the EU during 2019 and a further 17Mt to follow from North Sea decommissioning, there could be a significant threat to commodities that miners cannot afford to ignore.
 Bureau of International Recycling Ferrous Report 2019
 OSPAR Offshore Installations Inventory 2017
John Murray, Founder and Advisor
In the next article in this series, John looks at mining and the rise of nationalism.
Image (c) Shutterstock | Parilov