REGARDLESS of how much talk there is of boom and bust cycles for quarries and open cut mines, one aspect of the business will never change.
Planning, designing and commissioning a technologically up-to-date materials handling system is always required as quickly as possible to keep associated construction costs down and limit plant downtime.
As a result, conveying specialists have unwittingly become the challengers to engineering consultants for the business in this sector; not because the consultancies are faltering, it is due to demand from plant managers for faster turnkey supply in the global era.
Mr Don Erskine, managing director of international conveying and materials handling specialist Industrial Conveying Australia (ICA), says this new shift in expectation plays directly into the hands of the specialised conveying and materials handling suppliers.
"The more attuned and successful conveying specialist has almost certainly adopted lean manufacturing as a pivotal factor in its expansion in the current business environment," said Mr Erskine.
"By listening to the market, it was clear to our organisation that quarries and mines now want the entire project - from design to completion - as quickly as possible with a high degree of engineering accuracy and with strong access to post-completion technical support."
With current commodity prices high, the market views such an arrangement as a necessary change in culture where a new form of 'partnering' is focusing directly on design engineering and project development for companies from the ground up.
Significantly, it reduces the clients concern about engineering drawings and tender documents yet always remains in control of the project, the costs, and is given complete communication throughout the timeframe.
"Basically, the onus is on companies such as ours to ensure complete accuracy of each and every project.
"The client is not dealing with a consultancy which requires engineering drawings to be supplied which are then tendered to a list of third party providers; it is dealing with a solitary supplier so responsibility can never be deflected.
"This is a massive positive for quarries and mines which have sometimes been stifled by 'blame games' when technical problems have arisen during the course of works and post-completion."
ICA is a longstanding company serving the general mining and quarrying industries with specialised conveyors and conveyor projects - from single units to entire systems.
From its base in Bendigo, Victoria, the company manufactures and installs belt conveyors, radial stackers, drag chain conveyors and high impact conveyors independently or in systems.
Its fast-growing technical office in Melbourne employs some of Australia's most proficient materials handling design engineers.
Mr Erskine is adamant that the small to medium sector of the market is a major beneficiary of the emergence of conveying specialists for materials handling solutions.
"The SME - and we are talking fitouts worth anywhere from $50K to $10 million - was finding affordable solutions difficult to come by under the old third party supply regime," said Mr Erskine.
"It was clear the market demanded solutions on a turnkey; so our solution was to set up a dedicated design arm of our business that works closely and directly with our clients to engineer the ultimate design and these are linked closely and quickly with our manufacturing centre in Australia.
"What the market gains is flexibility of product design, rapid implementation of technology, and a virtually modular solution concept allowing us to pick and place various technologies to work in sync with one another which can also be relocated as required on a particular job site."
Near-elimination of the tender process can only be of benefit to quarries. Naturally, there will still be projects that require a tender process - particularly the very large scale projects.
But overall, management of quarries and mines have for a long time expressed concerns about the inefficiencies of the tender process and the time and cost factor involved in a process they can take months or even years.
And this is all even before the design process begins; let alone construction, delivery and commissioning.
"Now quarries and mines have direct access to suppliers that can completely understand the materials handling needs, design instantly for these needs and provide the full turnkey solution in a fraction of the time it used to," said Mr Erskine.
"There is also greater level of confidentiality between both parties. Plant requirements and technical solutions are not shared around the market, which could lead to theft of intellectual property.
"Conveying specialists are now more dynamic - there is an excellent understanding of the complete overview of project requirements."