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17 Mar 2020 - Industry News, Event News, Business Management

PDAC highlights rocky outlook for mineral exploration in 2020

PDAC highlights rocky outlook for mineral exploration in 2020

Attendance expectations were down in the days leading up to PDAC 2020, as world events started to have greater impact leading up to the convention. However, the first day was optimistically busy with a healthy crowd of attendees visiting the opening ceremonies, trade shows and investors exchange. By the end of the event, the annual convention was still considered the premier mineral exploration conference in the world, with over 23,000 mining professionals, investors, analysts, geologists, students and government officials in attendance. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned, making him the first sitting prime minister to appear for two consecutive years.

This is the must-attend event for anyone connected to the mineral and mining industry across the world, and marks my 33rd straight year,” said PDAC President Felix Lee. “The PDAC Convention’s significance is now widely recognized by all levels of government who look forward to using it as an opportunity for announcements—including Prime Minister Trudeau.

The convention featured a trade show spanning across north and south halls hosting a raft of companies showcasing the latest innovations across equipment, technology, and services. PDAC programming highlighted commodity and market outlooks and the technical program showcased a range of trends and opportunities across exploration and mining.

We give our insights from PDAC 2020:

Global uncertainty affects mining outlook

Over the last few years the industry has been cautiously optimistic for a market rebound. However a 3% decline in planned exploration spend over 2019 has paused this view. S&P Global’s annual report, PDAC Special Edition: World Exploration Trends 2019, noted the global exploration budget for nonferrous metals decreased in 2019. The lower 2019 budget was mostly the result of challenging prices for many commodities throughout the year, and by M&A activity in the gold sector. Budgets for Australia increased by 15% to a seven year high while Canada dropped by 9%. Gold, while experiencing a decline was still a high performing commodity, as was copper.

Uncertainty prevails with many analysts unable to give firm predictions on whether mining is experiencing a market pause or about to undertake a downward swing due to geopolitical and macroeconomic issues, not to mention the impact of a global health crisis. Paul Robinson, of CRU Group, addressed a smaller than usual audience for his presentation on “Drivers of change, uncertainty and tension in the metals & mining sector”. In it he addressed the impact of coronavirus on the global economy.

“As long as the rest of the world isn’t affected this year (by coronavirus) we should see a return to positive growth… But we need to see a return to sustainable demand growth before we’re going to see the bottom of the price cycle.”

One week after attending PDAC 2020 we are seeing a huge downward swing as COVID-19 spreads globally and at time of writing it is highly likely this impact will continue to be felt throughout 2020.

New technologies continue to evolve

Each year PDAC provides the platform for a plethora of mining companies and suppliers to showcase their new innovations and technologies. 3D visualisation solutions were featured at platinum sponsor, Teck Resources’ booth and the technical program dedicated a session to exploring big data through artificial intelligence and machine learning. It featured insights on major breakthroughs in Deep Learning from having access to more powerful computing hardware, increases in available data and innovations in algorithms. KORE Geosystems and Barrick Gold Corporation presented on how it is now being used for geoscience applications.

Each year at the conference we are seeing a shift from merely talking about these technologies, to seeing real life case studies giving tangible results. During acQuire’s annual panel discussion featuring industry experts, guest speaker Jason Kozar, Director of Information Technology at Hudbay Minerals, highlighted how previously manual processes are now being turned into digital processes to track performance optimisation. Small operational efficiencies achieved through technological improvements allow companies to improve throughput.

Witnessing the industry-wide adoption of intelligent technologies marks an exciting future towards smarter mining.

Data key to mining future

Data, and how it is utilised, is sparking innovation in the mining industry. Maggie Currie, Computer Applications Geologist and Database Manager from Centerra Gold, believes data plays a big role. During acQuire’s panel discussion on the Trade Show floor on March 3, “Data:  How is it leading the change in people, process and technology across the mining industry?” she explained:

“We’re able to access and centralise all of our information so that people are able to spend less time fixing it and messing around with it and figuring out how they can use it. I think it’s allowed people to look at things in different ways. It makes data available to do more innovative things like machine learning and upload that to algorithms and look at things a different way. We see data as the backbone for new technologies leading the way into smarter mining.”

Jason Kozar from Hudbay Minerals also reinforced how data is playing a key part in innovation, “the more data points are gathered, the more innovative things will become”.  He also highlighted the industry is still needing more research and development and companies need to be comfortable with failure before technology like machine learning and AI is working optimally.

Joel Hrominchuk, Regional Manager – Exploration North America at Vale, warned education is key as we use more and more data. Educating companies around expected failures when undertaking initiatives is important he explained, “Because if you do, then that failure can be a success, because it’s part of a process.”

He also highlighted the importance of being able to trust your data in exploration, “There are a lot of risks around data and understanding data is a big spectrum of things, is part of it. It is part of understanding the qualification of data.

Where did it come from? What’s the quality of it? What’s the reliability and the precision of that data?”

The discussion supported the viewpoint for more reliable, quality data so people can start to explore how to use the data for future innovations.

Look out for more soon from acQuire

acQuire attended the four day convention from 1 – 4 March, hosting booth 823 on the Trade Show floor showcasing the latest geoscience data software developments, including a new mobile data capture app. Keep your eye on acQuire’s newsroom for more insights from this year’s event.

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