Martin Cox: Six months in the president's seat

13 Jul 2017
Martin Cox, IOM3 President

After six months in the president’s seat, I thought it was high time to pen a few notes outlining some of the activities attended, getting around the UK and further afield representing the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), trying to provide support and promote interest in existing engagement while gauging areas of potential future involvement and development, with a view to scotching the rumour that all the President does is attend dinners.

Well, the President does indeed attend quite a few dinners, but it’s not so obvious at the start of the year when I informally took over from the immediate Past President Mike Hicks with the assurance that the next two years would be enjoyable, but they would also pass in the blink of an eye. Looking back there’s a period of ‘phoney presidency’ as the year gets going in January and February, I even had an idea that professional review interviews and assessor training would be able to continue over the two years as I’ve always enjoyed this area.

February presented the opportunity to travel to Cape Town, South Africa and join the Global Mining Professional Alliance, which is presently meeting annually and keeps the International Mining and Minerals Association part of IOM3 in connection with mining activities and mining institutes that are solely focussed on mining and extraction. Presently participating is Australia, Canada, Chile, South Africa, USA, although Germany will be making their first appearance in 2018. There is a view that this alliance will expand in the future, taking up some of the slack between the International Mining Council, and the various Institutions, its intended spread to match that of the reserves co-ordinating organisation, CRISCRO UK associated via PERC.

Come the end of March is the realisation that it’s just not possible to keep all the balls in the air and the need to modify your approach no matter what the intent, and with it my first clash of commitments coming into view at the end of the month with the Mining Institute of Scotland holding their annual prestige lecture at Garvock House Hotel, Dunfermline, followed the next night by the annual dinner of the Ebbw Vale Works Museum.

Use of plane, train and automobile, along with the assistance of Sarah Boad, IOM3 Membership Development Manager, who picked me up from Birmingham Airport after an overnight trip up to Edinburgh, which included a car trip across the Forth Bridge to Dunfermline on the North side of the Forth. It was good to see friends and colleagues, both in the Council Meeting and the lecture.

Heading to Ebbw Vale with Sarah Boad for their annual dinner, turned out to be an evening of revelation, coming into contact with much of the origins of South Wales’s industrial past and where it presently sits, not to mention seeing the rugby ground which I’m pretty sure I played some 30 years ago – and recall taking a heavy industrial blow at the back of a line-out in the first half. As they say, "they made men of steel", production of steel in the town came to an end in 2002, what I wasn’t aware of was that the Ebbw Vale works started in 1789. The museum is within the works building, and forms part of the experience of understanding the development of iron and steel making in the Valley, growing from the estate system with access to raw materials, coal and water from the surrounding areas.

Coming into contact with South Wales’s industrial past also brought me back to my own family origins, memories being stirred by the visit to Ebbw Vale and knowing of family movement from the valleys down to Swansea/Port Talbot, and with it knowledge from the metallurgical industry into the new oil industry – Swansea being the location for the UK’s first oil refinery as crude oil was shipped from the oilfields of Iran in the 1920’s to the Llandarcy oil refinery (named in honour of William Knox-Darcy, investor in Australian goldfields and founder of Anglo-Iranian – the company that became BP). The combination of materials knowledge and development of refinery practice to process Persian and Arabian crudes not only saw the growth of Llandarcy, it also provided technical know-how and knowledge to build-up the Abadan refinery in Iran, which became the UK’s largest single overseas investment, eventually nationalised by the Iranian government in 1953. Many South Wales families spent time in Iran and the Gulf States, some being born in the company refinery and oilfield communities (your President being one of them – on the Dukhan Oilfield, Qatar). 

4 April brought the formal handover from Mike Hicks, who now moves on to chair the Managing Board. This took place at the presidential address and new fellows' lunch at 297 Euston Road, London. Thanks to Mike for his steady guidance over the last two years, and his continued interest in those that follow him, as the frequency of meetings and events invited to increases, the period of ‘phoney presidency’ comes abruptly to an end.

Two events come to mind in April, both examples of the future direction of the IOM3, internationally and at home and the need to deliver benefit to its membership to attract participation. 

The first was to accompany our Chief Executive, Bernie Rickinson, to the Embassy of Argentina in London to an event organised by the British Argentine Chamber of Commerce, and an introduction to the Argentine Minister of Energy and Mining, Daniel Meilan. Argentina holds a major proportion of the world’s lithium and copper deposits (outside of China), and is looking to expand its energy industry with both an expansion of conventional hydrocarbon production, shale gas exploitation and offshore oil exploration. The need to be an early mover to develop links for the future was agreed and arrangements were made to make a trip to Buenos Aires, combining the visit with the Brazilian final of the Young Persons' Lecture Competition at the sponsors Araxa's mining and processing location. The South American visit, consisting of Sao Paulo, Araxa and Buenos Aires, was made in the second and third weeks of May. 

The second was to attend what has become an annual event for my home local society, held by the Midlands Institute of Mining Engineers (MIME) in Sheffield on 7 April, Safely Managing the challenge of change. This event has been running for several years now. I have attended it since returning from Aberdeen in 2010 and it’s level of engagement has improved every year. It brings together all aspects of extractive industry, which has seen major change in the region over the period. Not only with the final closure of deep coal mining capacity, but the birth of multiple new opportunities and a willingness and resilience of the MIME to support its membership with exposure to new ideas, working practices and general knowledge, keeping engagement, support and doing all it can to keep the knowledge and experience held and keeping energies directed to the future – I was given a pile of Association of British Mining Equipment Consortium brochures to take to South America with me. Congratulations to the MIME for what they have done, and have no doubt they will go on to achieve great success. 

Approach the end of June, there’s been a head of steam building behind the ITPB generating ‘Materials Protecting Society’ events, with the first of these taking place in September. We’ve written to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, putting in a request to see if he would make an appearance to help publicise the sequence of events. Sadly with recent events both in London and Manchester, the need for engagement is no longer just driven by professional interest but also by the pressing needs of the public community. 

The end of June saw a return to South Wales for a further visit to The Works Museum in Ebbw Vale. Through the Ebbw Vale Society, Sarah Boad and I also managed to get in to Coleg Gwent, the college of further education in Gwent, to see the courses being run. As a former apprentice myself, I am keen on creating a few opportunities for students to have the options for industrial placements. Coleg Gwent runs courses that feed into aero-engines, aeronautics, not to mention the materials industries. Plan that you will be hearing more of this in the future, and if you have any suggestions to help, please let me know.

Attending the South Wales Materials Society dinner in Swansea with a large enthusiastic attendance and a chief guest and speaker, Mark Colbourne was both exciting and inspiring. The materials area is really humming, and as I left on the Saturday morning, I reflected on the level of energy in the area felt similar to Aberdeen in the mid-1980’s as North Sea oil and gas production climbed.

Looking to the second half of the year, divisions are getting their 297 Euston Road conferences underway. The first being the Energy Materials Lecture with Dame Sue Ion on 13 July. Please feel free to put your conference ideas forward through your division and the ITPB.

IOM3 activities are set to continue at a pace, with overseas visits planned for Australia and Russia, meetings and awards dinners. Not forgetting my pet project, student/apprentice industrial placement, which an application to the ITPB project fund will be made to get things underway. 

Mr Martin C Cox, IOM3 President 


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