“Our ability to build and sustain technology partnerships across a diverse innovation ecosystem will be the defining approach by which we disrupt the status quo and redefine the future for Queensland resources.”
The digital age is upon us and the Queensland resources industry is well- placed to take advantage of it – and we’ll use this opportunity to apply innovations that move our people out of the line of fire.
Over the last few years there has been an increasing rallying cry for business to integrate social impact into their day-today activities and long-term strategies. Social impacts are reshaping businesses for the better, and digital technologies are a key enabler of the transition to real-time transparency of business performance for all stakeholders.
The digital age has brought industries together like never before with technology platforms common across mining, oil and gas, agriculture and forestry. This presents an amazing opportunity for Queensland to leverage innovation and capability across its full suite of industries.
Due to the scale of its mining and agriculture, Queensland is best placed to be the world leader in industrial field robotics. We must seize this opportunity with both hands, obtain global recognition, and seek export opportunities.
Alongside this, however, we must acknowledge that our efforts need acceleration by orders of magnitude. Australian productivity is lagging OECD countries, particularly labour productivity, as leading countries embrace digital and automation capabilities more quickly. As an example, Australia has 83 robots per 10,000 employees while South Korea has 631. The forecasts are for this negative productivity trend to further deteriorate as Australia’s economic investment intensity slows. This outlook is sobering and reminds us that innovation leadership and speed of adoption within the Queensland resources sector is critical.
It’s recognised that Industry 4.0 technologies are creating step-changes in both safety and productivity, two challenges shared by every operation in the industry. Examples of relevant technologies are:
- Robotics and autonomy – we’re seeing automated equipment now become smart – being situationally aware and able to make decisions.
- Sensor technology – the cost of sensors has come down by orders of magnitude, giving rise to many applications that generate real-time insights across an entire operation.
- Edge and cloud computing – the right combination of both, enabled by communications technologies such as 5G and LTE will underpin the Internet of Things.
Individually, these technologies offer incremental value. The step-changes occur when the technologies are integrated, taking an ecosystem approach where we re-think the business process.
Re-thinking a systems approach to automation
People and machinery simply don’t mix. We have seen first-hand that automation offers significant safety benefits by reducing exposure risks to dangerous tasks. This is achieved through tele-remote operations, increased situational awareness and full automation of tasks. Leading mining companies have reduced their LTIFR below 2.0 from above 10 since 2000.
Most companies take an ad-hoc approach and implement point-solution automation as it becomes available on the market. This market matching approach only captures a small portion of the full benefits of automation and is unlikely to deliver a competitive advantage.
Consciously adopting a systems approach to automation enabled by commercial innovation – a whole of business approach – creates the opportunity to capture significant upside, and ultimately, a competitive advantage. This approach builds a differentiated operating and functional capability, accelerating the safety and productivity benefits of investments in automation.
Adapting cross-industry automation solutions permits a fully integrated ecosystem of automated processes, decisions and equipment across sites, supply chains and functional support. Artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and machine learning can be applied to the vast amounts of data, and become central to planning, maintaining and operating a fully integrated business. The recipe for success
We have highlighted that the Queensland resources sector has a unique opportunity to leverage technologies across its industries. So what will be the recipe for delivery success? The answer is the ability to foster a strong innovation ecosystem – this will make or break the sector’s adoption of Industry 4.0.
Technology is only one integral piece of an innovation ecosystem. Consider universities, government, corporations, startups, venture capitalists, private investors, foundations, entrepreneurs, mentors, and the media. Each plays a significant role in creating value in the larger ecosystem by transforming new ideas into reality through access and financial investment. Queensland has made a strong start in establishing its innovation ecosystem. This includes our R&D Robotics Cluster in South East QLD (QUT, CSIRO, UQ) and our Mining and Engineering Technology Services Clusters (METS), supported by our regional capabilities to maintain robotics in the field for both mining and agriculture. Work must continue to connect Queensland Clusters with their global sister counterparts.
There is tremendous opportunity for the resources sector to transfer technology in from other sectors. For example, we must accelerate the move from equipment automation to the use of autonomous systems that can integrate and work collectively. The self-driving car industry is experiencing a global technology race never seen before. There is $80B in research going into self-driving cars numbering 1.32 billion worldwide, and counting. The resources sector must leverage this investment.
However, the technologies themselves are not enough. Our people are at the heart of this change and we need to support them through changing roles and processes that come with step-change technology. It is human nature for people to look for the paths of least resistance and risk. However, innovations and revolutions are precisely the opposite of that.
Each of the industrial revolutions has shown that the adaptation process follows this pattern:
- rejection and critique – led by the media and everyday people
- soft adaptation path – led by early adopters focused on the economic impact
- hard adaptation path – led by business visionaries focused on disrupting the established
- embrace change – a mass adoption of the technology
The question for the sector is whether we can shift ourselves to the hard adaption pathway and take a leadership position?
Our ability to build and sustain technology partnerships across a diverse innovation ecosystem will be the defining approach by which we disrupt the status quo and redefine the future for Queensland resources.