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Welborn resolute on changing the future

The future of mining is not automating mining equipment or digitalising the mine site. It is doing things that have not been done before and bringing in people who have never even thought of mining, according to Resolute boss John Welborn.
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John Welborn speaks at the Future of Mining Australia conference in Sydney

Noel Dyson in Sydney*

The Resolute Mining managing director was the keynote speaker at Aspermont's Future of Mining Australia 2019 conference in Sydney yesterday.

Welborn is the first to admit that the fully autonomous mine Resolute is creating in southern Mali is not transformational.

He said it was taking what mining companies had been doing for years and improving it a bit.

Okay, that improvement - along with a solar hybrid power station being built on site - has reduced the Syama mine's all-in sustaining cost by more than US$100 per ounce. However, it is only incremental change rather than the big step change advances the Future of Mining hopes to highlight.

Welborn highlighted a display Sandvik - Resolute's partner in the Syama automation - gave of its autonomous haul truck switching from the underground digital control to surface GPS-based control. He said it came out of the decline, navigated around some obstacles and then did a five-point turn to go back underground.

His question was, given it could go as fast in reverse as it did forward, why turn around at all?

Those are the sort of things, Welborn said, that would transform the way mines operated.

"Increasingly we're going to start bringing down the size of declines because the machines don't need the same margin of error," he said.

That decline size reduction will mean massive savings in terms of development costs.

"We've got to find new ways of solving problems," Welborn said.

"We can't keep doing the things we've always done.

"That means you need to bring young people in.

"We've got to reward people who take leveraged decisions to become more economic."

Welborn said delivering real community benefit would be another hallmark of the mining industry in future.

He pointed to the automation efforts at Syama that had been carried out without a single person losing their job. "It's actually creating jobs," he said.

"Ten years ago if you were operating a mine in Mali you would have to employ 10-year experience bogger operators and fly them in and out business class."

With the automation in the Mali mine, a lot of local workers are being trained to operate the equipment and the use of ex-patriates will become even less.

Welborn said bringing these higher end technology skills to the country was something the Malian government welcomed.

Not only are local workers getting jobs, they are also getting trained to operate at a higher level than they would have been before.

*Noel Dyson is editor of www.miningmonthly.com