25/06/2008 - 22:00

Boom adds fuel to sector’s growth

25/06/2008 - 22:00

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The state's resources boom has created a platform to launch many local specialist software companies into the international marketplace, creating a wealth of opportunities and demand for mining services technology.

Boom adds fuel to sector’s growth

The state's resources boom has created a platform to launch many local specialist software companies into the international marketplace, creating a wealth of opportunities and demand for mining services technology.

Department head of Curtin University's Computing School, Geoff West, said the demand for application developers in Western Australia's mining and resources industry was growing rapidly, while demand in other industries was not as strong.

There are an estimated 1,800 software developers in the state, with more than 90 per cent working in the metropolitan area and up to 800 training places offered each year.

The WA Business News forum heard that WA was leading the charge of producing companies to compete in the niche mining software market.

While some participants at the forum believed the state's economic prosperity had elevated their companies to great heights, none believed their success had been exclusively a result of the boom.

Osborne Park-based Immersive Technologies first produced computer-based training systems for the mining industry in 1993.

In 1995, the company developed a comprehensive mining simulator research-and-development program, and in 1997 exhibited the first commercial dump truck simulator for the mining industry, which was bought by Caterpillar in 1998.

The R&D program paid significant dividends for Immersive, which is credited with training thousands of workers around the world with its advanced equipment simulators.

Immersive chief executive Peter Salfinger said although the boom had helped, the company's international growth was not exclusively a result of the current environment.

"Look, the boom has helped anyone who's got a focus on mining services and products, there's no doubt about that," he said.

"Interestingly enough, just prior to the boom we were already getting an increase in sales and in the number of placements of our simulators.

"So while the boom has helped us achieve the stellar numbers we've got today, we certainly had a major presence before it began."

In 2004, Immersive had 130 simulator modules installed at 50 locations in 13 countries. This year, 380 simulators are being used in 155 locations in 23 countries.

Mr Salfinger said more than 90 per cent of all advanced equipment simulators used to train operators on open cut mines around the world have been developed and supplied by Immersive.

Another company to enjoy success is privately owned Micromine, which has developed innovative software solutions for the mineral resources industry since 1986. From small beginnings in Perth, Micromine now services and supports a global client base with a competitive suite of integrated software products.

The Datamine Group, which has an office in Belmont, is another global supplier of technology to the mining industry.

Since 1981, global mining houses have used Datamine for industrial strength mining technology and the company now implements solutions in 70 countries.

Datamine has enjoyed the state's boom times, as has Gemcom Software, which now has a global reach delivering its services to mining centres in more than 90 countries.

In fiscal 2008, Gemcom reported a total revenue increase of 51 per cent to $54.2 million, up from $38.5 million in fiscal 2007.

About 30 per cent of the organic growth was taken into account after Gemcom's acquisition of Perth company, Surpac Minex, in 2006.

"As suppliers to the mining industry, undoubtedly we have prospered during a commodities boom, although this has not necessarily translated to all companies in the sector," Gemcom Australia managing director Nic Pollock said.

"The mining software market is fragmented and typified by small niche players [but] the market is growing and also maturing as the mining houses expect more from their software suppliers and in turn more maturity from them.

"The current boom has meant that our customers can be confident that Gemcom will be around for the long term, which is a critical factor in deciding on technology partners."

In May this year, Gemcom agreed to a buy-out by US-based JMI Equity and global company The Carlyle Group in an all-cash transaction, estimated to be worth $180 million.

Another firm delivering high-quality software products for the resources sector is publicly-listed ISS Group Limited, based in Nedlands.

The Maptek Group, which was established 27 years ago and recently moved to new offices in Northbridge, is yet another example of a global company with a local office at the forefront of innovative mining technology, enjoying success during the boom.

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