Rio Tinto has launched a new pioneer lab concept in Brisbane, Australia, as it encourages pilot projects to help move the company “into the 21st Century”, CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques told an audience at the IMARC event in Melbourne, Australia, today.
The head of Rio told delegates that the company sent an open invitation to “the best and the brightest in Rio to nominate a colleague (or themselves) to join the lab for 12 months”. During this time, they would be emboldened to work through these pilots.
“We will also look even more to external sparring partners as well, in the very near future,” he said.
The news from the home of Rio’s growth and innovation hub came within a wide-ranging speech where Jacques reference Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Apple’s recycling goals and automotive companies Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi.
On the digital evolution in mining, Jacques said: “I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that digital and data will be the fundamental game changer in our industry. New digital technologies from AI to the Internet of Things, and new biotech, will force us to be more imaginative.”
This ranged from drones that perform in-situ scanning, to deep-sea robots that mine underwater, to water-neutral processing that removes the need for slurry ponds, he said.
“In our view, digital and data will touch every part of the industry’s value chain. From exploration to marketing – and re-shape the way we work.
“Look at exploration: in the future, exploration innovation won’t only be about engineers and geologists but be about computer scientists and bioengineers. Even now, the huge amounts of data being collected means we can create ‘digital twins’.
“Look at mining and processing: we already have remote operations and haul trucks with connectivity so we can use predictive maintenance. And will 3D or 4D printing mean we no longer need to procure spare parts from miles and miles away. Will they be made on-site?”
On the supply chain and logistics, Jacques said the industry already had autonomous trains – its own AutoHaul system – but, maybe not far off, could be autonomous ships. “This will change the ball game on supply chain optimisation and customer intimacy.
“And lastly let’s look at marketing and trading: digital and big data will play a very big role here. And blockchain will help our customers from governments to consumers check the ethics and value of all our products. As well as their environmental credentials.
“Of course, the challenge for us all is how to apply AI and IoT in an industry where the introduction of new tech has often meant big capital outlays.
“And, clearly, we are not going to get out of bed tomorrow and become Microsoft, or another software company, that isn’t the point. The point is how do we move into the digital age in a way that means we retain a competitive advantage?”
He concluded: “The key to this is to start small, with technology and digital pilots and scale up, and also more fundamentally, adopt a brand new spirit of partnership.”