China's growing and maturing mining industry is actively seeking out Australian expertise in a range of areas, providing an increasing rate of opportunities for local companies. Australian Trade Commission chief economist Tim Harcourt said last month Chinese resource-sector demand for Australian technology and expertise was growing.
"I think there has been a lot of growth in this area; it’s like new economy and old economy clothes,” he said. “It's mining sure, but it's basically people developing new mining skills and mining technology, which we are very good at, and the Chinese want.”
Two examples of Australian mining ingenuity making inroads into China are Mine Site Technologies and Hydramatic Engineering – both leaders in their respective local market segments.
Denis Kent, business development manager for Australian-owned mine communication specialist MST, said the company had secured more business in China in the past year than in the previous four years. It had supplied a dozen of its ultra-low-frequency paging, control and blasting PED systems to Chinese coal mines in the past 12 months and was recently sought out by a Chinese miner to install one of its Tracker tagging systems.
“We have no doubt that our increased business in China has been a direct result of the rapid increase in the size of its resources sector,” he said. “Chinese companies are looking at Australia because of our close proximity and because of their coal market, they are well aware we are the largest exporter of coal in the world.
“Our reputation in Australia is also based around the fact that we have good safe mining practices and a lot of the Chinese companies are starting to come here to see what technology is around that they can use to make their practices safer and better.”
Gerry Te Velde, director of sales and marketing with mine roofbolting machine maker Hydramatic, said he had seen first-hand how the Chinese respected Australia's way of doing business.
“Australia's reputation has certainly helped us over there, particularly in our market where there are a lot of overseas companies that have set-up in China,” he said.
“I think Australian businesses have a different attitude to sales and the Chinese tend to like the way that we operate. They like the fact that we listen to what their needs are and I think it is an important thing that an Australian company will always listen.
“A lot of other companies try to say to the Chinese, this is what you need, but we ask them what they need and I think that is a major difference between Australian companies and others.”
Hydramatic has sold 45 of its unique four-headed mobile bolters in the past four years. Developed solely by the company, the bolters are particularly effective in underground place-change mining where they permit a pair of operators manning two roof bolters to work in tandem putting up four roof bolts at a time.
Te Velde said the four-headed bolter had been modified to suit the relatively dry roof conditions encountered in certain Chinese mining districts.
“Basically most machines use two roof bolters on a single arm per side so with our machine you are going to get a 50% increase in the number of bolts you can put up, saving some time and increasing productivity,” he said.
“The technology that we use in our machine gives us an advantage over similar products because we use a more efficient valve system, lode sensing controls and we use variable displacement pumps, which allow the machine to run a lot cooler.
“Particularly in our industry, the Chinese miners will come in and take a look to see what the rest of the market is using. If the technology is successful, which it has been, then they will try to find a way to utilise it in their own operations.”
Te Velde echoed Kent's sentiments, saying there were numerous opportunities for Australian companies to get their equipment and technology into Chinese in coming years.
“They (Chinese) are buying a hell of a lot of oil, a hell of a lot of iron ore and scrap iron from around the world to be able to produce the steel they need, but their own mining industry, particularly coal, is growing to support some of that need from within.
“If we keep doing the right thing by the Chinese mining industry, then those companies will keep supporting Australian services and technology companies and I think there are great opportunities, not only for ourselves, but for any company that has the right product for the Chinese market.”
Australia’s Mining Monthly