Innovation in the mining sector is difficult because companies cannot afford to fail, according to Resolute Mining Managing Director John Welborn.

Speaking on a panel at a business lunch in Perth on Friday on the topic of The Evolution of the Modern Miner, Mr Welborn said the notion of failing fast and pivoting did not work in the mining sector.

“If you’re operating an underground mine or a nuclear reactor, you can’t afford to fail,” he said. “We’re better at adopting tried and tested technology because we have to know it will work.”

He said the timelines around the emergence of new technologies were also a challenge for the mining industry.

“The time between the identification of a new technology and the commercial application of it is usually about seven years and for many Australian gold miners, that’s about double their mine life.

“We’re looking for innovation on a 12-month timeline.”

Westgold Resources Managing Director Peter Cook lamented the heavy burden of government regulation on the mining sector’s efforts to innovate.

Echoing concerns he expressed at the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies annual conference in Perth last month, Mr Cook said society had lost the concept of a risk worth taking.

“It’s not that there’s a lack of innovation, it’s the regulation of allowing us to use it,” he said.

He gave the example of WA mining entrepreneur Gina Rinehart having to lodge 4000 procedural documents to secure approval for her Roy Hill iron ore mine in the Pilbara.

Pitcher Partners executive chairman Bryan Hughes questioned who was pursuing innovation in the mining sector.

“There’s driverless trucks and trains, and that’s about it,” he said.

He was worried the WA mining sector could drop off the radar and become irrelevant.

Northern Star Resources Managing Director Bill Beament questioned the social costs of technology in the mining sector and the trend towards autonomous operations and reduced workforces.

He asked how the Government would fund hospitals and other essential services if there were fewer taxpayers as the economy became more automated and whether that made the mining sector a bigger target for governments trying to claw back the falling tax take.

Mr Welborn joked that the mine of the future would be staffed by a man and a dog. The man would be there to feed the dog and the dog would be there to bite the man if he touched anything. He said innovation did not always have to be about autonomous operations, but also about better management of the existing human workforce.

Image: Resolute Mining Managing Director John Welborn. Picture: The West Australian.