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Monday 30 September 2013

Robotics & the "OK Principle" - Two of the keys to future competitiveness.

Last Friday I attended a luncheon in Brisbane at PWC's office to meet with other mining service providers to discuss the current state of the market and best practices to grow your business in this climate.

It was unanimous that mining company expenditure in Australia is radically down and impacting most companies represented. Furthermore everyone agreed that price was the main driver of these companies in this climate and most people said their profit margins are really suffering.

What struck me was that some of the companies represented there seem to be living in hope that the market will soon improve and they will ride it out and return to pre-global financial crisis sales and profitability. I personally believe those days are gone for good and that Australian mining, like many other industries, is undergoing a transformation in a bid to be globally competitive.

So what is the transformation? There are numerous things changing rapidly however the two big ones in my view is labor and equipment costs. 

Aussie miners cannot compete globally while paying equipment operators $140k++ per annum. The reality is that equipment operators in African mines are lucky to get $1000 per month. Rio Tinto is tackling this with unmanned(robotic) Komatsu mining trucks now operating in Western Australia. The truck fleet can be operated from a control room not even situated in Australia if they wish. Rio have also moved to unmanned trains to deliver the ore to port. 

Unmanned Komatsu mining trucks
The other trend is miners are offshore outsourcing business tasks to remain competitive and importing equipment from suppliers in China, India and other countries at lower costs. At lunch I must have heard it at least 4 times where an exec complained about margin pressure due to cheaper imports and how they were trying to convince their clients about quality. Admirable and it would be nice to keep Aussies employed but WAKE UP! The quality of Chinese imports is rapidly improving so the argument about quality is just about null and void. Many of the worlds biggest equipment manufacturers now have factories in China and the quality is excellent. You know the market is currently driven by price so that is what you need to give your customers. The best price. Period! The reality is that unless Aussie suppliers either go offshore for their manufacturing or transform their factory productions lines to be completely robotic they will cease to exist. You can't swim against the tide.

It is fair to say that mining in Australia has had an incredible run of growth for a long time. A "BOOM" is what has been proclaimed. At the height of it one of my major mining equipment supplier clients told me "It's like drinking water from a fire hose and swallowing as fast we can!". The boom is over now though and my belief is that while undergoing change the market is also normalising. 

So what is normal? Pre-boom volumes and conditions. It's not their fault but many of the execs at the luncheon and their employees(many of which are still on astronomical and nonsensical salaries...which are coming back to earth) have never seen anything but boom times so they are floundering.

A sense of urgency is required for these companies to fully accept the dynamics and state of the current market and re-engineer their businesses to be able to play in it in the long term as if the current climate is the new norm. They also need to be ready for volatility as the global economy is still very sick. 

To grow and survive they will have to adopt the "OK Principle". What is that? My team are probably sick of me saying it......

"Overheads Kill!"

All for now,

+Brad Skelton 

Sunday 29 September 2013

Beautiful Day

The Depth Industries team and I are doing the MS Moonlight Walk on Friday the 18th of October to raise funds to support people with Multiple Sclerosis and help end this disease.

We would be grateful if you would sponsor us and share this blog post to help us achieve our target.

We will post updates of our progress and the walk itself on +Depth Industries .

Thank you!