Mining Russia's tech potential

Michael McBride of String Transport Systems explains how long-forgotten Russian technology could level the playing field in Australia's mining sector.

Russia in its heyday invested large sums educating its engineers, who went on to produce vast amounts of new technology. The collapse of the Soviet empire restricted capital, however, and much of the technology has been lost to the world because few westerners can read Russian.

Today’s Management Insights interview with Michael McBride of the privately-owned String Transport Systems operation reveals that a group of Australians has teamed with some Russian speakers to ensure this technology is not forgotten and they may transform the outlook for our small miners in the process.

In most areas of business, new technology is changing the way we operate. But one area where technology has so far not changed dramatically is in the construction of rail lines and haulage of minerals using those rail networks.

It is true that we have become a lot more efficient in managing our rail systems, but they are based on old technology. Michael McBride and his String Transport Systems group believes they can rewrite the rail technology rules. And what they have come up with is a way of cutting the cost of erecting and operating an iron ore rail network by about 50 per cent. They have undertaken trial programs, but there is still work to be done, which is being carried out in Russia because the Australian group is basically tapping the skills of the old Russian technology.

If String is successful, it will open up opportunities for small miners that today they can only dream of. Most small miners look to link up with a larger miner and piggyback on the rail network. But if they are required to establish their own rail operation, they need a bigger ore body and access to lots of capital.

The initial trials of the Russian technology indicate that it can be converted to an operating system that will transform the outlook for miners with smaller deposits.

What is also exciting is that what is happening in rail is being duplicated over wide areas of business.

The successful companies of the future will be those that select the right technology and apply it to the right circumstances. Many will fail, but some will succeed and see their businesses transformed. And the technology will not always be found here in Australia.

A clear lesson from the String operation is that the answers to peoples’ problems can be generated in many countries and significantly, the Chinese are undertaking similar education processes in the 21st century. As such, we may end up going to China for many technologies in the future.