Difficult to define but becoming impossible to ignore, the Australian METS sector – made up of mining equipment, technology and services companies – has emerged from the mining boom as a leader in technological innovation.
While experts are divided about how best to classify the METS sector, they are in agreement about its meteoric rise, which has contributed billions to the Australian economy.
Recent findings by consultant Don Scott-Kemmis, who has written several reports to government and industry groups on the state of METS, show overall sales from more than 270 METS companies exceeded $71 billion in 2012.
In a survey published in May, Austmine found 860 METS companies contributed 6.4 per cent to Australia's economy and generated $90 billion in revenue.
Austmine defined METS companies as having a core competency in mining and minerals and surveyed companies with turnovers ranging from less than $500,000 a year to well over $1 billion.
"Based on that, what we did was take the percentage of turnover that was from mining and minerals business and we calculated the $90 billion," Ms Gibbs Stewart said.
Mr Scott-Kemmis, who used information from ABARE's bureau of rural sciences surveys, considered only companies for which the mining sector is the main or only market, and which provide services based on information and communications technology or products that incorporate other scientific, technical or engineering-based technologies, as well as services that provide expertise within these technology areas.
In a government report published in December 2012, Mr Scott-Kemmis provided revenues from 2010-11 for several major companies, many privately owned, from a group of 160 METS companies with total sales of $43 billion.
Mr Scott-Kemmis said despite METS companies' contribution to the Australian economy, the sector remained largely under-appreciated because of its association with the commodities sector.
He said the key strength of Australia's METS sector was that companies were innovative and technically advanced.
Innovation has largely been driven by the desire to address safety issues, a skills shortage in remote mining areas and the impact a fly-in, fly-out workforce has on local communities and workers.
"The key trajectory for innovation in mining is now based on smart, rather than brute, technology," Mr Scott-Kemmis said.