At the end of November 2019, the 12th German-Russian Raw Materials Conference took place at the Saint Petersburg Mining University. The key topics of the conference included the new global and ecological tasks of digitalisation, the way to a circular economy through the use of waste as a raw material, and collaboration in climate and sustainability research. Peter von Hartlieb (Figure 1), coordinator of the Smart Mining global mining industry network of North Rhine-Westphalia’s energy agency EnergieAgentur.NRW, Düsseldorf/Germany, moderated a workshop on the topic of digitalisation as part of the conference. He responded to three questions from the editorial team of Mining Report Glückauf on the subject of collaboration between Germany and Russia.
Mining Report Glückauf: Where are there similarities and where are there differences between the raw materials industry in Germany and in Russia, and what is of particular concern to you at this conference?
Peter von Hartlieb: The exports from North Rhine-Westphalia to Russia have increased again in 2019, and admittedly to over 7 % of the total exports of around 4.9 bn € from the German mining supply sector, which the network naturally cooperates with. Coal is and always has been considered a basic source of heat and energy generation in Russia. The Siberian Coal Energy Company (SUEK), the largest coal mining company in the country, speaks of a stable market situation both in Russia and the other nine CIS countries, as well as a clearly growing market. The signs point to expansion and further export-related success for our long-term processes, from surveying through to recultivation.
My concern with regard to the practically oriented working groups of the raw materials conference is to create a sustainable overarching network in which an ongoing exchange of ideas and experiences relating to the raw materials industry in Russia can take place. The topics and orientation of my working group “Digitalisation in the raw materials industry” guarantee a high level of practical relevance. Background experience of projects or from the day-to-day business of the working group members is supplemented by the expertise of representatives from the scientific field, industry associations or selected service providers.
MRG: A key topic of the conference, from which a workshop moderated by yourself has emerged, is digitalisation. What expertise does North Rhine-Westphalia and Russia possess in this regard and which synergies can be established or expanded on?
Von Hartlieb: Many companies from the mining supply sector in North Rhine-Westphalia and a number of medium-sized service providers have been dealing with topics relating to automation for around 40 years now. For several years, projects have been launched under the umbrella term of “digitalisation”, yet in many cases these have hardly been connected to one another up until now. It is precisely this area that corporate managers within the sector and ourselves – along with many Russian companies, as well – are addressing in order to press ahead with digital transformation with a uniform vision and strategy. This transformation can only occur if, firstly, all employees are involved and, secondly, the projects are moderated by an independent, neutral body to begin with. The scientific knowledge of both parties plays an important role here, since it ensures that access to projects remains manufacturer-independent and affordable.
MRG: What is the long-term goal for collaboration with Russia and where do you see potential?
Von Hartlieb: The entry into the market and establishment of a sales network in Russia require thorough preparation and targeted planning, as otherwise difficulties and problems are almost a matter of course – even if these are circumstances that we have essentially been familiar with for decades. Due to its industrial, energy and export policies, Russia offers a vast and steadily growing sales market for technologies that we no longer require at home, since the underground hard coal mining market there was phased out towards the end of 2018. Its potential for growth in Russia has not yet been exhausted by a long way, however – on the contrary, it continues to develop sustainably. Consequently, as specialists in efficiency, cost effectiveness and safety, we intend to work on future projects in the raw materials segment there on the basis of mutual respect and equal footing.