"The industry will continue relying on automation, but it must incorporate other initiatives to ensure diversity and inclusion."

How did Aprimin’s members maintain supply chain continuity in 2020?

Chile’s experience with the social unrest in October of 2019 gave it a trial run at remote work, so companies were to some extent prepared for the Covid-19 outbreak and operations were smooth as measures ensuring employees were trained and equipped for working at home were already in place. Operational continuity was a priority for mining companies and service providers abd they adapted to following strict Covid-19 safety protocols. Another priority was ensuring a clear communicative channel between all the stakeholders to ensure no delays and quick decision-making. Digital practices played a significant role in the industry’s survival during the pandemic.

What are Aprimin’s initiatives for 2021 under your leadership?

We defined five axes of productivity for 2021: operational continuity of the mining sector amid Covid; continue supporting our members to work remotely efficiently and effectively; an emphasis on automation in processes, to allow remote control and the importance of incorporating technology such as artificial intelligence (AI); smart contracts and improving time on tool; and the social license to operate, as we are promoting the use of green energy sources such as green hydrogen, solar power, wind, desalinated and seawater. Another initiative we are leading is ensuring the industry is diverse and inclusive since women make up only 12-13% of the workforce for the mining suppliers in Chile.

The increase in the copper price and its promising future is exciting for the industry, which is expected to contribute an additional over budget of US$1.5 – 2.5 billion in taxes and mining royalties this year. This would help reduce the national debt or generate savings and new resources in case of need.

Can you elaborate on the membership requirements for Aprimin and the benefits it provides?

Aprimin currently has 109 members who hold a majority market share in Chile’s mining supplier market. Local service providers make up 57 of our members, and the remaining 52 are multinational corporations. To qualify for our association, the mining service provider must have annual revenue of at least US$4 million and agree with Aprimin’s vision for the industry as well as health and safety protocols. Aprimin was created to negotiate with mining companies on behalf of the industry’s suppliers and protect their interests. Today we cooperate with multiple associations to ensure our members’ best interest and promote innovation and sustainability.

What are some of the barriers to innovation in the sector today?

Covid-19 reduced the barriers to innovation in Chile, but one barrier in Chile is that mining companies refuse to incorporate unproven products and services into their operations as it risks their volume or continued operation. There are not many places to pilot technology on an industrial scale. Approximately one-third of Chilean mining suppliers do not allocate resources to innovation. Canada and Australia are ahead of Chile in mining technology development and implementation. On the other hand, financing is not a significant barrier to innovation in the sector and some government agencies also provide support to innovators in partnership with mining companies. Suppliers also have the option to partner with a mining company.

How will changes to the constitution impact the Chilean mining industry?

We expect that changes will not significantly impact the mining industry, which is a pillar of the Chilean economy. Chile has parties across the political spectrum, however, they tend to meet in the center. This decade we expect investment in the mining industry to amount to US$70 billion, mostly in upgrading existing operations.

Do you have a final message to our international readership?

The growth and transformation momentum in the Chilean mining industry must be maintained and fostered. As ore grades are declining, mines must invest in innovations to ensure higher copper ore grades are extracted and productivity is achieved to remain competitive. The industry will continue relying on automation, but it must incorporate other initiatives to ensure diversity and inclusion. Finally, we are sure the market will bring good news to the copper industry and its suppliers, because the copper demand will be higher than the offer for a long period of time.