As a result of research in established heavy industry and mining, and from interviews with personnel involved with both successful and unsuccessful innovations, the author has developed an innovation scheme about how to take an idea through to commercialization in the Australian mining industry. This involves a structured approach where the project is evaluated, demonstrated, then developed to prototype. As the technology matures and is more widely understood, often a series of associated products and services spin off from the original core project to reach commercialization in their own right.
The innovation scheme suggests there are 5 distinct steps, none of which can be bypassed, to move from concept through to mature industry acceptance and application. These are:
• Step 1 Estimate the size of the prize and cost of achieving it to determine
if the outcome is worth effort.
• Step 2 Undertake a more focussed and detailed desktop study on an
example site to confirm the potential and identify practical issues.
• Step 3 Run a trial/demonstration to prove the concept in field conditions.
• Step 4 A successful outcome of the trial would be acceptance by the
industry and resulting full scale commercialisation.
• Step 5 Once the technology becomes accepted, it begins to mature, with
engineers continuing to refine and adapt it so as to widen its application.
It is imperative that both the technical and non-technical issues are addressed throughout this process. There are many instances of sound projects stalling because of difficulties of a non-technical nature, particularly due to misconceptions of the management or workforce on the site where the innovation is to be applied.
Central to the thesis is a detailed case study with which the author was intimately associated - the introduction of highwall mining to Australia. It is a pertinent test of the innovation scheme. The progress of this innovation is examined in depth in the light of the scheme, tracing technical, financial and human factors as they impacted the acceptance of highwall mining.
Ultimately, highwall mining was demonstrated at Callide Mine in 1992 in an operating environment. From this trial, geotechnical understanding, ground monitoring instruments, application and assessment techniques, industrial relations structures and a range of operating machine designs evolved. The commercial contracting of highwall mining services is now well established in Australia. There has even been an influence from these developments into various underground extraction and roadway development techniques.
The innovation scheme presented here is a guide for those seeking to innovate within the Australian mining industry. It identifies a structured approach based on research and the author's personal experience, which assists in progress from idea to commercial application, recognizing the importance of technical, financial and people imperatives at all stages.