The pictures were coming in last week from the EXPONOR conference in Chile over on the Emerson Process Management Facebook page. Emerson’s Juan Carlos Bravo, a member of the Metals & Mining industry team, shares his perspectives from the conference.
On June 17th, I attended the International Exhibit of the Mining Industry, EXPONOR 2013, in Antofagasta Chile. This exhibit brings together more than 1,000 exhibitors from 30 different countries and massive assistance from all the local mining companies.
The Antofagasta region is the core of Chile’s mining and produces 18% of the global copper production—making it the largest producing region in the world. This provides great opportunities for suppliers and miners to learning about new technologies and exchange ideas that will help solve the ever-growing mining challenges in the region.
While talking with several mining professionals during the fair, one of the most common themes I heard was the pressure to extract more material with the same number of people. It didn’t matter whether I spoke with people in maintenance or operations, all of them were feeling the pressure to minimize machinery downtime, optimize the process and reduce energy.
It really matches what was said by BHP Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie to REUTERS in an article published on June 20th. He said that miners are under pressure from investors for higher returns and they want to get the most out of every shovel, grinder and truck to help maintain margins, which are being squeezed by high labor and energy costs and cooling commodity prices. He mentioned, “For BHP, every 1 per cent improvement in productivity translates to a $170 million saving.” This is something that makes sense since half of BHP’s operating costs are labor and contractors.
I believe that Mr. Mackenzie views reflect the challenges all the big mining companies face and explain the reluctance of adding new workers, especially in Chile, which is one of the highest cost labor markets in Latin America. Chile is already tackling some of these problems by introducing initiatives that will bring more workers to the industry and ultimately seeking some control in the overall labor costs. But it will take some time until the industry feels the effect of these initiatives. In the mean time, mining companies will continue putting pressure in maximizing worker productivity.
The opportunity for miners is to find technologies and suppliers who can become partners in helping alleviate these problems more quickly. This includes making tasks easier and remote, optimizing processes with new solutions and minimizing machinery downtime by predicting failure events in order to increase production and impact near term financials.
In this regard, Emerson is positioned to help mining companies in Chile with these challenges by introducing technologies such as Online Conditional Monitoring and wireless vibration transmitters that are already helping miners increase productivity in leaching and reduce downtime in mobile equipment. Also with the announcement made at the EXPONOR of the opening of Emerson’s Mining Center of Excellence later this year, Emerson will increase its support, services and solution development presence to better serve the mining industry in the region.
Challenges are growing in the mining industry and it will take determination and perseverance to tackle them in order for companies to remain competitive. I think events such as EXPONOR definitely help to bring miners and technology providers together to share ideas and create new solutions.
For one week, Antofagasta became the center of the mining world. Time will tell if the innovation, technology and key partnerships formed during this conference, it will become a leading example of how to overcome some of the current mining challenges.