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Mining equipment at Elizabeth Quay.

Topical talks at the Perth Resources Technology Showcase

The sight of gigantic mining trucks at Elizabeth Quay will likely have commuters doing double-takes this week.

But it’s way more than just a visual oddity – rather, it’s a reflection of the global resources spotlight shining on Perth.

Here’s a look at six key topical talks ahead of tomorrow’s launch of the Resources Technology Showcase at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Rocking the Mike
When Mike Henry was initially confirmed as the Wednesday morning keynote speaker for this event, he was only BHP’s President of Operations Mineral Australia.  His address would still have held plenty of interest but now he’s been announced as CEO-elect it takes on all kinds of extra resonance.

From January 1, Henry will take charge of the next big chapter in the Big Australian’s future, which will include increased investment decisions in petroleum and potash but also the likelihood that iron ore prices may soften, while the copper price also remains under pressure as the US-China trade wars play out.

Henry’s nominated subject on Wednesday is “BHP’s technology future”, which is fascinating in itself and might even touch on the turnaround success of its Nickel West unit, a key supplier to battery makers. But expect the audience to also be hanging on every off-topic word he might say as a pointer to what the Henry era at BHP may bring.

WA on the global stage
Make no mistake, this is a global conference. There will be visitors from around the world, an international media corps including a significant contingent from China and a speaker list that boasts AI experts from the US and Israel and Caterpillar’s US-based automation and robotics expert Jean Savage.

But it’s equally apparent from a quick look at the program that WA is an absolute world leader in the resources sector and the technology associated with it. Among the organisations represented on the speaking agenda are Woodside Petroleum, Shell, Fortescue Metals Group, Rio Tinto, Chevron, INPEX, Saracen Mineral Holdings, Curtin University, UWA and the WA School of Mines.

There is a neat geographical fit to all of that but it’s also a very strong pointer to the way WA is at the forefront of the continuous evolution and revolution of practices in the resources sector. Premier Mark McGowan’s welcoming comments, entitled “Positioning Perth as a centre of excellence”, are well named.

Footprint not a footnote
Given the current political climate, the carbon footprint of the sector is not an issue to be ignored and an hour’s worth of panel discussion will be devoted to “decarbonising technologies” at the end of Wednesday’s proceedings. It’s a quality panel, too: WA’s Chief Scientist Peter Klinken will be moderating and world-renowned botanist Kingsley Dixon will be flanked by Fortescue Metals Group’s manager of energy and power strategy and legal, Bethwyn Cowcher, and Woodside’s vice president of health, safety, environment and quality, Debbie Morrow.

My tip – this won’t be one of those day-ending sessions where people clock off while thinking of the night ahead!

Way more than hot air
It is interesting – and perhaps telling – that amid all the tales of innovation and automation only two commodities have standalone sessions devoted to them: LNG, which has a fairly familiar narrative for most in WA, and hydrogen, which is more of an unknown to the general public.

A panel featuring representatives from UWA, Woodside Petroleum, BHP, Fortescue Metals Group and Austrade will discuss The Hydrogen Horizon: The role that Australia’s resources industry can play in the new energy world.  If that mix doesn’t tell you something about the growing significance of a hydrogen-fuelled renewable energy future, then I don’t know what will!

Tomorrow’s workforce

There often is a superficial focus on how automation in the resources sector has changed the job opportunities for human beings. Too often we forget to look at the skills – many of them new – required from the next generation of resources sector workers. A stellar panel line-up on Thursday morning headed by Premier Mark McGowan and also featuring BHP’s iron ore boss Edgar Basto and Woodside Petroleum’s Meg O’Neill will discuss Skilling up: What is needed from the workforce of tomorrow, maximising diversity, standardising qualifications and reforming procurement.

Computer says yes
Hundreds of schoolkids are expected to participate in RTS activities and activations – which will include giant mining machinery taking up station at Elizabeth Quay. But just because robots will feature at the conference doesn’t mean it’s child play.

Expect lots of adult interest on Wednesday when Woodside Petroleum chief technology officer Shaun Gregory outlines the oil and gas producer’s experience with a robotics program and NASA collaborations, and also on Thursday in a panel discussion entitled Robotics: On the seas, in the air and underground. Meanwhile, a Wednesday lunchtime panel on Scaling AI out of the innovation lab and into production features a mining CEO, a variety of digital gurus and experts in risk management and the defence sector.

It’s that kind of eclectic mix of disciplines, expertise and technology that promises to make Resources Technology Showcase 2019 such an informative and engaging affair.

Peter Klinger is Cannings Purple’s Director of Media Strategy and has provided strategic communications advice on more than $1 billion worth of corporate transactions over the past year. Peter is a former Business Editor of The West Australian and has also worked for The Times (London) and the Financial Review. Contact Peter

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