by Kathie McGregor
If you operate in today’s mineral processing environment, you are probably not immune to the growing pressure to innovate. Due to the increasing demand to adapt to changes in the market place, producers are facing unique challenges related to attracting finance, depleting ore quality, energy and water availability, lack of growth, and recruiting competitive talent.
With disruption affecting so many aspects of the industry, organisations are faced with the challenge of retrofitting new innovations within existing processes to ensure the operation remains efficient and cost effective.
However, while there is an ongoing pressure to address operational challenges, producers also need to adapt the way they approach R&D if they want to stay relevant and benefit from successful long-term innovation.
The ability to innovate helps drive ongoing improvements, reveal new ideas that can transform business operations, and ultimately leads to increased productivity — the origin of rising wealth in any economy.
However, organisations often lack the in-house capability that is required to continuously innovate. And despite research and science organisations having the capacity to help, many mineral producers are either:
But in the face of today’s disrupted climate, producers who are open to collaboration and continuous improvement often gain an advantage and remain competitive in the market.
If you lack the capacity or you do not invest the time and effort to innovate, you may hit significant operational roadblocks. This can appear in the form of failing product quality and yield, decreased productivity, inability to keep up with changing market demands, or competitors gaining larger market share.
When faced with these hurdles, as well as wider industry challenges — such as new business models, new entrants, and falling commodity prices — it’s valuable to understand how science-led collaboration and commercial engagements can be utilised to address these issues head-on.
Mineral and metal producers may not always know the best way to engage with a science organisation.
In our experience, there often are some misconceptions when organisations first approach us to help solve their operational and strategic challenges. These include — but are not limited — to:
We are very flexible in our approach to customer engagement at CSIRO. Science and R&D-led projects can be designed to address the operational problems and inefficiencies of today, and focus on planning the strategic mineral and metal processing industry of the future.
Once the problem has been defined and the R&D framework has been established, we collaborate with our research partners to develop the most effective commercial model. Within the mineral and metal processing industry, the most common models we see applied are:
We work in collaboration with customers to prepare a scope document which outlines the project requirements. This usually specifies the problem, the approach, the cost and timing, and the deliverables. Typically, no IP is generated in the project and any background IP resides with CSIRO. However, existing technology, facilities, and “know-how” will be applied to the problem.
At CSIRO, we develop technologies and processes in-house that are typically protected through patents or “know-how”. Through using this model, clients can be granted a licence to use these innovations. Depending on the contractual arrangements, there may be options for an exclusivity period before additional licenses are granted.
This model involves an organisation providing funding for CSIRO to develop a technology, allowing them to use our capabilities as an extension to their own R&D. This format is usually used for laboratory to pilot scale projects wherein the IP resides with the client. In this case, the client may restrict any further work by CSIRO.
Organisations that employ process technologies and have specific R&D requirements often align with CSIRO’s areas of expertise and strategic direction. In such cases, the IP rights can be customised and the projects co-funded by CSIRO and the client throughout the program. In these types of projects, the client will often gain rights to use the technology for an exclusive period.
We can also assist with connecting organisations to the research sector, and enabling innovation-driven partnerships through facilitating funding, support and resources.
We have a number of Heads of Agreement and Memorandums of Understanding in place with mineral and metal producers across Australia and around the world. These high level agreements often lay the foundations for medium-to-long term research programs by stipulating contractual arrangement for commercial models, IP, and standard payment terms. Therefore, legal reviews and program development timelines can be significantly fast-tracked, for both parties.
At CSIRO, we engage with the industry through flexible and collaborative commercial models to drive win-wins for both parties. This is achieved by applying unique scientific and engineering insight to operational and strategic business problems. Our expertise, facilities, and extensive research capabilities can be further leveraged to increase productivity, improve the financial return of mineral and metal production operations, and drive improved social and environmental outcomes.
Contact the CSIRO Mineral Resources Optimisation team on +61 3 9545 8912 or email me, Kathie.Mcgregor@csiro.au to talk about how we can work together on your next R&D project.