Capturing ideas and transforming them into technological innovations will mold the mining industry’s future but the greatest challenge that developers and technology providers face is overcoming miners’ resistance to engage them in technological innovation, agreed panelists at the Mexico Mining Forum 2018 at the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Along the path to technological innovation, it is crucial to start by giving ideas the opportunity to develop, implying a willingness to accept the failure of some, said Ben Whiting, Vice President of Exploration at Orex Minerals. “Not all ideas will improve the situation. You have to let your people try some new ones, even at the cost of them not being successful in the end, knowing that some will be different and bring change.” Cindy Collins, panel moderator and Founder of Mining Technology Partners, agreed, saying, “some ideas may not achieve your objective, but other ideas will arise from them that may indeed.”
Joel Carrasco, Director General of Solum Consulting Group (SCG), said his company has set its own corporate challenge of investing in initiatives that will innovate operations and implement new technologies. But once the idea has been transformed into a new technology, the key question for succeeding becomes how to present it to potential users. “We want to get our clients to start thinking about the new technologies that are out there and how they can incorporate them into their investment plans,” Carrasco said.
Educating the market is part of the process for achieving a higher acceptance of new technologies, added Felipe Rivera, Automation Hub Leader of Schneider Electric Systems Mexico. Even the way that companies innovate has changed: “Today, technological development requires interaction between the developer, the user and the provider, among others,” he said.
The use of strategies to better integrate all the members of the innovation process, such as focus groups, has helped companies like Schneider Electric to better meet client needs. Likewise, simulation, virtual reality rooms and modeling processes have also proved to be successful to better engage miners with technological advancements. “Innovation is here to stay. We have available technology to simulate and foresee the transformation of most minerals,” he said. The ability to predict the impact that new technologies will have on mine operations also helps clients to be more open to adopting these technologies.
Alfredo Bertrand, General Manager of Epiroc Mexico, added that “modeling and simulations that measure the efficiency and durability of new models are really helpful to make users understand how technology allows the improvement of security standards that leads to more efficient operations.” Epiroc, formerly Atlas Copco, remembers the installation of the first subterranean computer 25 years ago, he said, stressing how mining technologies have advanced to automation, monitoring and simulation since then.
Orex Minerals stands at the other end of the road regarding technological innovation: it does not generate it but incorporates it into its models to better work with changing geologies and open the door to discovering new resources. Orex’s Whiting is convinced that “education is a key part of the ongoing process to implement innovation, as everybody within an organization must have continuous development as part of the corporate culture.”
As mankind advances in its usage of technology, the capacity to process information grows exponentially. Companies like Schneider Electric strive to provide greater access to technology for miners and to engage them with new ideas, Rivera said. But the industry is broad, added Whiting, saying that “we find people who are very resistant to change and others that want all the new tools in the market for their projects. So, the industry has the full spectrum.”