Nathan Stubina, managing director at McEwen Mining, challenged the industry to integrate more "emotional, creative types" into metallurgy during the COM plenary. Luigi D'Astolfo

Metallurgy needs to innovate to meet its current and future challenges. That was the message to attendees at the 56th Annual Conference of Metallurgists (COM) in Vancouver in late August.

The conference, which brought out more than 800 attendees from 36 countries, focused on the creativity, flexibility and diversity necessary to make metallurgical innovation a reality.

Nathan Stubina, managing director at McEwen Mining, set the tone at the opening plenary by asking “where are the innovators?” and challenging scientists, engineers, operators, suppliers and managers to seek out and integrate more “emotional, creative types” into the industry.

“Creative people are rarely found working as engineers and metallurgists in the mine processing space, and we need to invite them in and make them feel more welcome,” he said, citing a 2011 study in The Journal of The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy that found most mining engineering practitioners are rational, sequential thinkers, but too few thought about problems imaginatively or holistically.

Jeanette Southwood, vice-president of strategy and partnerships at Engineers Canada, echoed this message during her presentation at the Women of Innovation one-day special symposium, stating that, “innovation is a team sport.” Her fellow panellist, Denise Pothier, vice-president of aboriginal relations at Stantec, also suggested the sector correct the dominance of quantitative, conservative thinkers by seeking out people who “look beyond the math and science” and have a passion for collaboration and problem-solving.

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Several creative solutions were presented during the three days of concurrent technical sessions to address age-old challenges faced by the industry, such as real-time material characterization and new ways to increase energy, processing and water-use efficiency. The Reducing Water Usage session was a full-house, as attendees gathered to hear about efforts to use less and recycle more water during gold processing, and to transition mines to dry tailings.

It is clear that innovation through competition is gaining momentum in the sector, in the form of hackathons, crowd-sourcing and “Dragon’s Den”-style competitions, to encourage diverse, tech-savvy teams to come up with creative, imaginative workflows to solve specific processing challenges. According to Simon Hille, vice-president of metallurgy and process at Goldcorp, vendors bidding “hackathon-style” on a recent project to make processes more energy efficient at NuevaUnión, the company’s 50/50 joint venture with Teck Resources in Chile, described the creative, competitive bidding process as “liberating.”

COM 2017 was a joint venture between CIM, AusIMM and SAIMM, and hosted the seventh World Gold Conference and the fourth Nickel-Cobalt Conference.