New Age Mining
Standing as a global player in the mining and aggregates industry, Weir Minerals represents the progressive future of the sector through female inclusion, technological development, and sustainable aims. We speak with Strategy Director, Melissa Davison
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: Thomas Arnold
“Not only do we need to actively engage in initiatives to attract female participation in the industry, we also need to work on initiatives focused on retaining women. Making sure we have targets and actively seeking out female participation in graduate programmes and apprenticeships is an important step towards helping to address the issue of participation.”
For Melissa Davison, Strategy Director at Weir Minerals (Weir), the allure of working in the mining industry – a male-dominated sector, from workers in the pits to senior management in the boardrooms – extends beyond playing a role in processing the minerals essential to our daily lives. As a female leader, she understands the challenges women face, but knows the importance of increasing female representation.
Based in Australia, Weir Minerals Australia is a division of the larger Weir Group, a well-known global name in international industry, specialising in mining and aggregates.
“Weir engineers and manufactures world-class equipment for mining, sand and aggregates, power, oil sands, and general industrial markets around the world,” Davison tells us. “We are a global leader in the provision of mill circuit technology and services, as well as the market leader in slurry-handling equipment and associated aftermarket support for abrasive high-wear applications. Together with Weir ESCO, we are the only global provider of premium mining solutions from extraction to concentration.
“Innovating and engineering to solve customers’ problems is in our blood, it’s the foundation from which this company has been built.”
An evolving industry
For Davison, the industry is at a precipice of change and is one of the most exciting spaces to be operating within. Not only is there a greater awareness of the need for diversity and gender inclusion, but there is also a transition in the way business is conducted. With the recent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology is changing the way we work, with digital forms of communication central to our ability to operate. Weir is not blind to this.
“Right now, some of the market trends affecting the industry include: resource nationalism, new economy commodities and energy transition, sustainable tailings solutions, intelligent and efficient equipment, underground mobility, transformational ore processing, additive manufacturing, and ESG,” Davison informs us. “Technology has a role to play in all these areas. There is going to be a convergence of technological advancement and environmental, social and governance factors that help drive change.
“Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has forced a faster adoption of digital technologies. Customers are creating digital twins, producers are embracing automated fleets and robotics, and suppliers are making their products smarter, more energy and water efficient, as well as starting to experiment in 3D printing. Augmented and virtual reality is being adopted and, as travel has been restricted, the use of things like smart glasses to commission and inspect equipment is gaining momentum. As there’s a shift towards a growing reliance on complex ore bodies, the adoption of technology required to process it will be key to sustaining supply fundamentals.”
On top of this, there is a significant rise in the realm of sustainability practices. According to Davison, decarbonisation and the advent of battery minerals are a driving force behind substantial excitement and change in the industry. On the back of that, there’s a rise in non-mining companies entering the sector in different shapes and forms as they look to sure up supply chains.
“Undoubtably, ESG is one of the key factors driving change in the industry,” Davison explains. “From decarbonisation to cultivating and maintaining a social licence to operate, operating disclosure will become increasingly important and, in some ways, I believe it will become the new frontier of competition. This will occur as corporate governance frameworks are leveraged and turned into a competitive advantage, attracting talent and the new generation of innovators.
“Recently we’ve seen some of the big players in the industry struggling to build trust and secure their licence to operate. It’s going to become more important as the socially conscious, tech savvy new generation of consumers and investors demand greater transparency.”
Part of this industry and business evolution will involve increasing female representation.
Today, more than one in six mining industry workers are female; 15 years ago, it was one in 10. Female participation in the industry is currently tracking at between 15 to 20 percent, depending on the level within the industry. For Davison, this is a substantial improvement, but the industry has a long way to go, and because of this, mentoring – both formal and informal – plays an important role in the workplace.
“Whether it’s a scheduled mentoring session with a graduate, or simply a casual chat in the office with a new mother on how to navigate the pressures of building a career and being a mum, having my door always open and making the time for these conversations is hugely important,” Davison reflects. “I’m fortunate to work with some incredibly talented females and males every day, and I continually draw on inspiration from those around me.
“Throughout my career, I have been lucky to have many company leaders believe in me, perhaps more than I’ve believed in myself. They’ve pushed and exposed me to great strategic projects. They have mentored, shaped, and encouraged me and I hope I can do the same for others. My mantra is whether you believe in leaning in or leaning out, believe in yourself. Be authentic - be you. But, most importantly, stand to the front; take that seat at the table and put your hand up to take on a project or role. Women are often not wired to do that; we need allies to encourage and promote us and that’s what I hope I can do for others.”
Davison aims to elevate and promote the success of females across Weir wherever and whenever she can. Weir sponsors the Excellence in Mining category for the Women in Industry Awards, highlighting inspirational female leaders, pioneering initiatives, and championing the talent of today and the leaders of tomorrow. Sponsorship of this award aligns with Weir Mineral’s own global inclusion and diversity agenda to ensure the company develops a culture whereby everyone’s voice is heard, and where Weir cares for, respects, and encourages employees. This is aimed at helping champion gender equality within the business and the wider industry.
“In 2020, Weir nominated five of my colleagues for awards across different categories and had one finalist,” Davison tells us proudly. “This year we made three nominations and have two finalists; we have great female talent across the business and it’s important to celebrate and promote this.”
Weir also partnered with AusIMM earlier this year to sponsor International Women’s Day events, an initiative well supported and attended by both men and women across the business.
“As a science graduate myself, I am passionate about creating pathways and promoting female participation in STEM and believe it’s something that needs to be fostered at the school level, as well as at universities,” Davison continues. “Women make great problem solvers and making young girls aware of companies like Weir and the roles that are possible within the industry is invaluable. Weir supports the Women in Mining mentoring programme.”
Female Talent Retention
Internally, Weir also boasts the Weir Women’s Network, an affinity group dedicated to the attraction, retention, and continued development of women in the company. The group is open to all Weir women and their allies who are devoted to working with, supporting, and championing the work of the Weir Women’s Network. Members can engage in quarterly events, networking opportunities, and local-led events.
“I’ve really enjoyed interacting and learning from other talented females across Weir by attending events and expanding my network,” Davison elaborates. “In terms of retaining female workers, there has been a focus over the past couple of years on increasing female representation at the C-Suite and I think it’s starting to have a positive effect. We probably now need to concentrate more on providing pathways that promote female leadership at that mid-management level.
“Providing employees with more flexibility is key. I think COVID-19 has forced many organisations to look at their flexible working options. Mentoring and coaching initiatives are vital, as well as having males involved to help build institutional support. It’s important to have acceptance of diversity across the industry and allies at all levels.”
For Weir’s on-site employees, whether in manufacturing or on a mine, access and improvements to conditions and amenities is, for Davison, another area that requires further investment.
“Different companies across the sector are looking at a range of initiatives, including ensuring there is a women’s range of PPE readily available, instead of just offering a men’s range in smaller sizes, with some companies even offering a maternity range,” she explains. “Others are looking at safety gear and adapting designs to cater to the differences in the female physique, such as harnesses that avoid pressure on the chest, as well as increasing sanitary provisions at company facilities. Flexible work arrangements that accommodate different roster patterns, policies that address inclusion and diversity, and a growing awareness of issues like domestic violence are essential these days.”
At a federal level, the Australian Government launched the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WISE) grants programme, aimed to support investment in gender equity initiatives for the lasting systemic change and elimination of barriers for female workers in both education and careers. WISE aims to provide $9.95 million in its first three rounds.
“Innovating and engineering to solve customers' problems is in our blood, it’s the foundation from which this company has been built”
Moving with the times
In the face of a growing digital age, Weir is leveraging new technology within its operations in multiple ways. According to Davison, the Weir Innovation Network has become a great breeding ground for embedding new technologies and driving innovation in the business.
“New technologies are being adopted across different departments, from marketing where holograms are being used at conferences to showcase products to customer sites and manufacturing centres where smart glasses are being used to conduct safety walk throughs, audits and factory acceptance reviews on critical pieces of equipment,” she explains. “Our site engineers are leveraging the latest 3D scanning technology to enable us to design innovative solutions to fit our customer sites.”
In Sydney, Weir operates a foundry, assembly line, machine shop and elastomer rubber shop, which allows it to service domestic customers, while also boasting world-class manufacturing capabilities. Weir is adopting technology in line with the industry, streamlining its operations with Industry 4.0 technologies, such as automation and remote monitoring.
“We’ve just commissioned an eight million dollar capital upgrade of the foundry to semi-automate our processes through the Heavy Bay Fast Shuttle,” Davison continues. “By creating a semi-automated operation, the factory’s capacity and production is improved by allowing more space than traditional methods. The shuttle will be connected to the Weir smart factory network to deliver data on the manufacturing process in real time, leaning into the fundamental capabilities of Industry 4.0.”
Weir’s programmable logic controllers and control systems are modified to include process controls and high-speed digital cameras to monitor the manufacturing process.
By using quality control imaging and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to track products and tooling through the process, Weir supports its workers in creating a consistent product with the aid of technology, optimising the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), as Davison elaborates.
“We are able to get critical measurements to determine the rate at which our plant is running,” she tells us. “For example, by using the RFID barcodes embedded into the castings, we can track everything and gain additional processing and manufacturing insights. The adoption of new technology with the Heavy Bay Fast Shuttle also enhances the company’s management of the materials and products it creates, while simultaneously predicting any errors to encourage preventative maintenance.”
“I’m fortunate to work with some incredibly talented females and males every day, and I continually draw on inspiration from those around me”
Working with the environment
When it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR), Weir’s goal is to enable the sustainable and efficient delivery of the natural resources essential to create a better future for the world.
“It’s in our ethos to do this by challenging ourselves to see things differently and foster innovative engineering, all in the pursuit of delivering excellent outcomes for our stakeholders,” Davison states. “There is huge pressure on the industry to undergo a technology transformation to reduce energy, water, and waste, while also improving productivity.
“Creating sustainable solutions is a key component of our sustainability roadmap; it’s something that Weir thinks about in the broadest sense. It includes a commitment to zero-harm Weir operations, nurturing our unique culture, and cutting our scope one and two CO2e emissions in half by 2030.”
The company’s partnership with ENGIE, the French multinational utility company operating in the fields of energy transition, electricity generation and other areas, plays a significant role in supporting Weir’s CO2e reduction initiatives. In July 2020, Weir signed a landmark agreement with ENGIE Australia and New Zealand to source renewable energy for its operations in New South Wales and Queensland.
“The renewable energy from our power purchase agreement represents a reduction of more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2e over the lifetime of the five-year agreement,” Davison says proudly. “We’ve also implemented shutoff initiatives to drive CO2e reductions in our Artarmon manufacturing plant together with lighting upgrades and controls. Recycling and scrap initiatives are also another area we are focusing on to help reduce waste and save materials.”
From past to present
Female inclusion, technological development and sustainable aims are currently core progressive goals for Weir. Davison has had the privilege of watching the company transition, as well as helping be a driving force behind such aims. With a 25-year career spanning the oil and gas, telecommunications, IT, power, and mining sectors, Davison has a breadth of experience that has helped her shape Weir to this day.
“I have always gravitated to more industrial markets and I think it’s an environment I feel most comfortable in,” she tells us. “Throughout my career I have worked with companies such as Shell, Motorola, Schneider Electric and now Weir. Having worked with many multi-nationals I’ve been fortunate enough to work across Asia Pacific, Europe and North America on top of having had several global roles. I’ve never shied away from working in more male dominated industries, either; fortunately, I’ve had great leaders and mentors along the way that have really helped shape my career, both at Weir and elsewhere.
“Having no experience in mining and commodity markets, I actively sought out roles in the industry. It was a contract role to work on the annual strategic plan that first brought me into Weir. The fact that the mining and minerals industry is so embedded in our society’s economic engine, as well as being vital to the low carbon future, meant it was a sector I wanted to know more about. I had a steep learning curve, asked an endless number of questions, and immersed myself in industry knowledge from whoever and wherever I could get it. Fortunately for me, Weir is full of great people, and no one has ever shied away from my questions or not been willing to help me learn about the industry.”
Almost six years later, Davison is aware that she is still learning and evolving within the sector and is moving forward to take on a new role within Weir as Regional Managing Director for ESCO Australasia. This new role will see Davison shift focus to a different part of the value chain - extraction.
“I think as people we are constantly morphing, growing, and re-inventing ourselves, and that’s the great thing about a company like Weir. There are opportunities to grow and change and there are great support mechanisms in place to allow that to happen,” she says. “One of the things I love about working in the industry, and at Weir in particular, is the variety. You can go from being in the office in a suit to the manufacturing floor in the same day, then - the next - you might be at one of the service centres or at a customer site in hard hat and boots.
“No two days are ever the same.”