As the first female employee at a Rio Tinto-owned coal mine in the 1990s, Sharna Glover says she had her share of “good and trying times” as a young chemical engineer making her way in a male-dominated industry. But she doesn’t hesitate when asked to offer mining career advice for high-school girls now.
“I have seen the mining industry come so far since that time in support of inclusion in our workplaces,” Glover told InvestMETS.
“There are no limits to the pathways through which you can enter the mining industry and the technology sector that supports it.
“My advice to high-school girls is to explore your options within the resources industry for a long, fulfilling career. One of the best parts of the industry is the multitude of pathways to follow, whether you are interested in resource extraction, project management, sustainability or technology, there is something for everyone.”
After completing her studies and a Phd in mineral flotation, and spending nearly 20 years with BHP, Glover co-founded Queensland-based technology advisory start-up Imvelo (a Zulu word for ecosystem) in 2019 on a conviction that it was “time for a digital transformation within the mining industry”.
“Over the years the industry has seen productivity flatline with improvements often being piecemeal and localised,” says Imvelo CEO, Glover. Co-founder Dr Alan Bye is managing director of the company.
“Meanwhile, we are still seeing people working in high-risk areas of the mine, where robotics and automation can remove people from these areas.
“Hence, Imvelo was founded to create system-wide improvements along the whole value chain by taking a holistic-solutions focused approach to the delivery of step-change industry 4.0 technologies.
“Over the past three years we have seen the mining industry’s appetite for technology really grow.
“Companies are looking for technologies that will boost productivity, cut costs and deliver safety benefits.
“Most importantly, they are looking for technologies that can provide a holistic solution by working together across all aspects of the value chain.”
Glover says mining tech start-ups need to look for “synergies in your offering that will result in holistic solutions”.
“Working within the technology ecosystem can create efficiencies and drive speed of technology development and uptake in the industry. Grow your networks by taking part in industry events and accelerator programs that will open your doors to key players, and look for cross-sector opportunities to expand your market.”
Imvelo started with four staff and now has a workforce of 23 including contractors.
“We expect to continue our significant growth over the next couple of years, with the potential to double or even triple the Imvelo team,” Glover says.
She cites AlphaBeta research indicating automation and robotics technologies could add A$52 billion of value to the circa-$400 billion Australian mining sector in 2030.
“Key indicators suggest the attractiveness for technology in mining has never been higher due to record high labour shortages, record inflation impacting operating costs, electrification and decarbonisation drivers, and safety,” Glover says.
“We are seeing more OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] developing their autonomous solutions suite, and more miners integrating technology across the entire value chain.
“Technology is being used to remove employees from high-risk situations through the use of robotics, automation, remote operations centres and digital twinning.”
Glover says mixed-fleet mining environments are most common at mines worldwide and “a lack of interoperable solutions constrain the roll-out of full mine site autonomy”.
“With over 80,000 pieces of mobile equipment deployed across the mining industry from plus-30 vendors, it is critical that the technology interfaces can fully work together without restrictions,” she says.
“Working collaboratively on open inter-operable automation solutions as an ecosystem dramatically improves the rate of innovation and improvement cycles.
“Individually, technologies offer incremental value: the step-change occurs when the technologies are integrated taking an ecosystem approach. By increasing and improving collaboration through open inter-operable solutions, the industry will realise productivity and value benefits.
“Taking an interoperable approach to automation solutions enables a fully integrated ecosystem of automated processes, decisions and equipment across sites, supply chains and functional support. The interoperable automation approach provides mines a systems-level understanding and control of their pit-to-port operation, providing access to more robust data analytics and process management. This capability enables mine managers to make superior decisions based on operation-wide insight that deliver end-to-end optimisation.
“In contrast, OEM-provided technology creates fragmented automation across the mine site which cannot work together to make smarter, more informed decisions. OEM solutions are also typically much slower to develop and improve, and struggle to keep up with the needs of mining operations.”
Mentoring women in mining remains important to Glover.
“I believe that by actively sharing my experiences with other women that this will accelerate more women into the domain and assist them to be successful,” she says.
“One of my favourite industry events of the year is the Queensland Resources Council/Women in Mining and Resources Queensland [awards] for women.
“This event celebrates exceptional women in the resources industry and recognises the significant contributions that women make to the industry.
“What I love about the breakfast is seeing the crowd full of both women and men from the industry as it is so important for men to also be champions of change to drive more diversity and inclusion.”