Digital: A New Era in Mine Safety — Transcript & Video
Mining industry experts discuss the future of mining and attracting the next generation of employees
Last week we were thrilled to bring together Anthony Downs from Vale, Theo Yameogo from EY, and Don Duval from NORCAT for a virtual discussion on the impacts of digital innovation in mine safety. Our panel was moderated by our own Raffi Jabrayan, who’s time in the mining industry prior to Exyn grants him the unique perspective into how mining companies vet potential digital innovation projects.
During our hour-long discussion, the panel covered a variety of topics such as new technology enabling safer mining practices, keys to attracting the next generation of mining talent, and the difficulties of moving mining operations onto a next-gen cloud.
If you didn’t get a chance to join our webinar on Thursday, May 14 you can find a full recording and transcript below. We will be following up this post with answers to questions we couldn’t get to during the discussion, and be sure to stay tuned for more webinars and panels from Exyn and other experts in the field.
Raffi Jabrayan: Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to our webcast, Digital: A New Era in Mine Safety, hosted by Exyn Technologies.
First off, I hope all of you and your families have been keeping safe during these very interesting times. I would like to thank you all for taking the time to join us on this webcast, and we hope this next hour proves to be as interesting to you as it is for us.
Let’s jump right in so we can maximize the hour we have together. Let’s begin by introducing our exceptional panel of industry experts:
First, we’ll start off with:
Anthony Downs, Digital Leader, Vale — Anthony joined Vale in September 2019 as Head of Digital Transformation. Over the past 12 months Anthony has worked for Hatch as a Principle Consultant in the US. Prior to this, Anthony worked for Rio Tinto for 15 years, where he held numerous Operational and Corporate roles in various business units across their US, Canadian and Australian businesses.
Anthony, you want to tell us in one more or less what Vale is all about.
Anthony Downs: Thank you. I guess most people know Vale, we are an international mining company, we focus on iron ore and coal right here in Canada. We’re also focusing on nickel and copper along with precious metals. We run a range of mines across Canada and also have a number of processing plants both here in Canada, China, Japan and Wales as well.
Our second panelist is:
Theo Yameogo, National Mining & Metals Industry Co-Leader, EY — He is a Partner at Ernst & Young (EY), and co-leads the National Mining & Metals practice. Prior to EY, Theo was VP Digital Innovation at Dundee Precious Metals where he led the company on its digital transformation journey. Theo is a Professional Engineer in Ontario; he holds an MBA with Distinction from the University of Oxford, and a Ph.D. in rock mechanics from Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal.
Theo, welcome, and in a minute or less please tell us what E&Y is all about.
Theo Yameogo: So EY is one of the big 4 multinational accounting firms in the world and we do a lot of work in business consulting but also in audits, tax, and transaction support.
And last but not least we have:
Don Duval, CEO, NORCAT — As one of Canada’s foremost thinkers on innovation and the future of work and learning, Don Duval is the CEO of NORCAT, a global, multifaceted enterprise dedicated to advancing the dynamic and evolving needs of the new world of work and the innovation economy. Previously, Don served as VP of Strategy/Operations for the MaRS Discovery District and as Senior Manager, Strategy and Operations Consulting, at Deloitte.
Don, how about you take a minute and 15 because there’s a diverse group of things you can tell us what NORCAT is all about.
Don Duvan: That’s quite the preamble, that NORCAT is an interesting thing. I’ll build on that if I could. Yeah so, You’re not wrong. NORCAT has been in business for about 25 years, we’re headquartered in Sudbury Ontario but we have 6 locations, 5 in Canada and 1 in Latin America. And our focus is really 2 fold as it pertains to the panel. We pride ourselves as being a global leader in skilled labor training and development for the mining industry. And concurrent to that we serve as a mining-centric innovation center working with tech companies whether they be big or small, domestic or international, that are looking to bring emerging technologies to the mining industry that are arguable poised to transform the industry be it on productivity or safety. Underpinning both of those which is quite unique, NORCAT is the only skilled labor training center as well as innovation center in the world that actually owns and operates an underground mine. I use the term ownership loosely in that it’s a longterm lease of a dormant mine operated by Glencore but we use that as a referencable operating facility underground mine to enable hands-on training but also to enable tech companies a place to test and demonstrate technologies they’re looking to bring to market.
Thank you Don. And as somebody who’s done some work at NORCAT, everything he said is true. It’s a fantastic place. And really beneficial to test a product out.
And for anyone that doesn’t know me … my name is Raffi Jabrayan, and I’ll be your host this afternoon. I have been in the mining industry for 10 or so years, the majority of which I spent with Dundee Precious Metals in various roles in Europe, Africa, and then head office in Toronto. I joined Exyn Technologies about a year ago when it became evident they had a solution that could revolutionize the mining industry. I am the Director, Markets, and Industries, and I head-up the mining practice for the company. For those who are not aware, Exyn provides a fully autonomous drone solution that specializes in gathering data in impossible places. We have clients worldwide in mining, government, nuclear, construction, etc.
What we’re going to focus on today is going to be the intersection of digital innovation and safety in the mining industry. I also want to say that we will be having a Q & A section at the end of the panel so be sure to drop your comments into the chat window. And if you have a question for the panelists you can email it to us and we’ll get you a reply in short order.
And with that let’s get down to business … we know mining can have a reputation as being unsafe and dangerous, and sometimes, this is warranted. Working near open stopes or around heavy machinery in tight places can potentially be hazardous, which is why it generally shows up on risk assessments.
What we are going to talk about today is how digital innovation is playing a huge role in shaping the way that we approach safety in the mining industry. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and one of the key reasons I joined Exyn. As there have been tremendous advances in technology, and some fantastic new products and services on the market, we have seen more and more mining companies leverage these new technologies to enhance their safety policies and procedures, and ensure that the miners get home safely each and every day…which every mining company will tell you is the most important thing in the company.
One of those companies that we at Exyn have seen first hand take these measures is Vale, with their tagline of Obsession with Safety…so with that being said, let’s start with Anthony.
Q1: What role does digital innovation play in safety at Vale?
Anthony: At Vale, life matters most. It’s a key priority in all that we do. To the point that we pivoted our digital program last year. So initially our digital program was focused on safety but also on productivity and cost reductions. We had a rethink last year and we pivoted it to be focused solely on personal and process safety. What that means is we’re actively looking for ways that we can use technology to get workers out of harm’s way, but also telemetry and other systems so that we’re more situationally aware of risky situations that we can take steps to address those. Things like using autonomous equipment for inspection, next-generation instrumentation, and a lot of AI and data analytics go into that basket as well.
Raffi: Great. And would you say that’s been generally well-received by the workforce? Lots of buy-in?
Anthony: As you said, the work we do has a level of inherent risk in it and it’s important that we take whatever steps we can to reduce or remove that risk. Certainly, digital innovation is a key enabler to doing that and we have a philosophy that if we have safe processes that are stable and well understood in regards to situational awareness then we’re naturally going to have a productive operation. We’re naturally going to have a cost-focused and low-cost operation as an outcome of being focused on personal and process safety so the business understands that and definitely is accepting of it.
Raffi: Very interesting, thank you. The next question we’ll put out to all the panelists. Theo, we’ll kick it off with you first. And we’ll open up to Don and Anthony as well. Most of you have had the opportunity to work in mines all around the world and you guys many many different things.
Q2: What are some of the coolest technologies you’ve seen that are changing the landscape of health and safety in mining?
Theo: I think the fundamental aspect of getting out of harm’s way underground is really to avoid that people get into unsafe conditions, for example. Some of the early detections for rock mechanics, which is actually the last job that I had before the left the industry for consulting, it is easier because we early detection for ground movement and early direction for seismic activity and stuff like that. But with digital we’re seeing that those technologies are getting closer to the equipment or to the worker.
The equipment can create a sense of hyperawareness for the worker when they’re underground so they can see things coming and avoid being injured. And finally, another area of digital, and one of the reasons I came across Exyn, are robotic drones. Because underground not every situation will have an infrastructure to support digital. That’s often a problem in older mines. One of the major changes of the underground environment in the future is this ability of self-driven robotics, tools, and items, that do not require the mining company to make extensive changes to their infrastructure to have work.
Raffi: Fantastic, thanks, Theo. Now, Don, we’ll ask the same question to you. And you can bear in mind that the world’s first fully autonomous drone flew in your mine in Sudbury, so congratulations for that.
Don: The way I would look at it, and your comment segues to this, a lot of the emerging technologies that we’ve seen are rooted in the primary engagement where they come to the underground center and we have that unique perch as a first-hand perspective to see them. Some of the more interesting ones, building on Theo’s comments, this migration towards tele-remote autonomous vehicle systems to enable the worker to be removed from any high-risk situation we’ve seen some pretty significant investments in those platforms be it an original OEM installation or aftermarket installation, operating on WiFi, LTE, now 5G that is going to be a transformative technology that will continue to be deployed.
Some things that might be unconventional that the audience probably hasn’t seen, specifically with a company called Therotech, they’re the global leader in equipment simulators. So if you have a new workforce learning to use an LHD, you can put them in a simulator environment to learn how to operate that. And therotech is the global leader in manufacturing and distributing those. But from a safety perspective what I find fascinating is where they’re going, where they can essentially equip a sensor to gather data of the actual operator on the actual piece of equipment, gathering a series of data points on the operational effectiveness of that worker operating the equipment in an underground environment and then that data is fed back automatically to the simulator to customize a training program dealing with the problem areas that actual worker is dealing with in the field. So you can envision that for recruiting, preparation, ongoing training, and development that’s very specialized in terms of how that will improve not only productivity but safety.
And then one really interesting wacky one I thought I would share with the group a venture-backed company called hydrostore, which essentially does compressed air storage. Historically this was done by storing large bladders that they will put at the bottom of a lake and during the off-peak time they’ll pump it full of air, so it expands like a giant balloon and then when there is peak-demand they just reverse the turbine and the pressure of the water squeezes the air out and generates electricity the other way. Hydrostore is now doing this in Australia with Thormint underground mines, using it as a space for compressed air storage to essentially cool the air, keep it underground, and then when there’s peak demand, repurposing the air and letting it expand and heat up and generate electricity. The benefit there for health and safety is thinking about environmental conservation and converts an underground mine to a giant battery. I thought that was a great repurposing of a dormant facility. Anyhow, I have tons of these!
Raffi: I’m sure you do and those were quite interesting, thanks for that Don. Anthony, same question to you:
Anthony: I’d agree with the other panelists, I think semi-autonomous and autonomous kit where we can either have the equipment operate itself or operate it from the surface, get people out of those risky situations is pretty cool technology. But I think the game-changer for us was from trying to roll out wifi underground to trying to roll out an LTE network. The LTE network has really become the lifeline for us to do a whole range of different things underground, whether it’s enabling that autonomous or semi-autonomous equipment or enabling smart IoT sensors or whether it’s around worker and equipment tracking so that we know where they are if we need to evacuate a part of the mine we know who we need to go and look for. All that is possible because of the LTE network in place. SO that’s pretty cool and the opportunities of upgrading that LTE network to 5G just opens up another huge raft of opportunities on top of that.
Raffi: I definitely agree with you on that. LTE is going to open up a whole new world for us underground and again with the 5G as well. Thank you for that.
Theo: I’d like to add something Raffi. In some of the talks that I’ve had recently, this looks simple but because it’s invisible people don’t realize how important the infrastructure and the network are. Imagine that you buy a smart TV, but the signal coming to you is not the right signal because you’re not in the right network. It doesn’t matter how good your toy is, because you operate in a place that doesn’t have it. It’s like having a great smartphone but you’re in an area with no coverage. Because our society, our networking isn’t visible, it’s happening but something we can’t see, we tend to misunderstand the value of figuring out a network where all these devices can communicate with each other. Infrastructure never gets critical.
Anthony: The network is key
Raffi: Great points, thanks guys. It looks like we have over 80 people in here so if any of you have questions throughout fee free to drop it into the chatbox and we’ll get to you in due time.
No digital innovation discussion would be complete without the mention of robots. I’ll be quite honest with you before joining Exyn I didn’t know too much about them. Now you could say I’m pretty well versed in robots and we see the difference that it’s making in the mining industry. But more and more it’s becoming a part of our daily lives, and I don’t see that trend slowing down.
Don, as you head up NORCAT, I know you see some cutting edge technology…most of the time before it even hits the market. My question to you is:
Q3: What impact do you think robots will have on the future of mining?
Don: To preface that the term robot is kind of all-encompassing, so I’ll lay that as a foundation. I’ll build on Theo’s comment because it’s an interesting segue, where I would absolutely agree that there are a lot of mining tech companies that do get inspired and encouraged by an array of technologies, but the integration and adoption and deployment in their businesses is something that’s critical. To address your question more specifically, what impact will robots have … it’s going to be transformative. There have been studies by E&Y, Deloitte, Hatch, BDO, and the general consensus by 2025-2027ish there’s expectations that robots will replace about 50% of the mineworkers thereby reducing mining accidents by close to 75%. If that in and of itself isn’t transformative then I don’t know what is.
We can debate the timeline but I don’t think the mining industry has an innovation problem, they have challenges around adoption. And so the timeline on which we achieve this full integration and transformation of incorporating robots it might not be 2025 or 2027, but make no mistakes there is increasing shareholder pressure on these mining companies inspiring executives to be more creative than ever to invest in and deploy technologies that can enhance productivity and improve safety. It will absolutely differ in terms of implementation based on regional socioeconomic factors with where the mine operates but make no mistake I think it’s going to be absolutely transformative to the industry.
Raffi: Thanks Don. Theo, same question to you.
Theo: This is where the world is going. Typically what I say is 100% with Don on the adoption conundrum because most of time the mining worker has those technologies or some of the commercialized consumer technologies at home and at some point, they’re going to ask “why aren’t we doing this at work?” and this is what we have to think about. We have a lot of places where we’re still using manual work for mopping the floor and now we’re seeing more robots in people’s houses that are doing some of the work. We’re automating so many things in our lives at home that we should expect the same in the sectors. And if we look at other industries where the margins are really thing they’re going very fast.
Now there’s a question about the robot replacing the human, but there’s also the optimist thinking about the robot enhancing the human. And we don’t see that very quickly but the robot can enhance the human in a way that makes our lives much easier. So if you think about underground and say I work in mine rescue, typically I know how mining works today but what if mine rescue had robots that actually are still going underground and the mine rescue team can do their work from the surface. We have achieved the same results, but without the rescue team going into an adverse condition. This is how I see the robots helping the mining, it’s very complex but if we break it down into areas we can see “oh yeah that makes more sense to have 8 mine rescue guys sitting on the surface monitoring robots.” And that’s fine if you burn a robot. It’s a cost, sure. But you can’t take a human that close to a risky situation. These are the things that I’ve seen in health and safety that we should start thinking about.
Raffi: Perfect, thanks Theo. We actually have a couple of questions from our viewers now. The first one comes in from Ron Tinder from USC Consulting and it’s for anyone on the panel:
Q&A: “How are you seeing companies approach the transformation to more autonomous equipment and fewer equipment operators with its employees?”
Anthony, did you want to take that one?
Anthony: Where we’ve got a lot of old mines. A number of our mines are more than 100 years old and as we go deeper and deeper into those mines we face a number of challenges. It’s a long travel time, it takes a while to get people down to the face for the actual mining. We’re also seeing more and more seismic activity as we get deeper and deeper. So we’re going to get to a point with some of our deep mines where it’s not going to be safe to continue to mine them with humans underground on a day by day basis. So that will leave us with a decision, do we close and walk away from that mine and leave ore in the ground? Or do we use robots (semi-autonomous or autonomous) to mine that metal? What we’re finding is while we’re doing that we’re transitioning the operator from being on the equipment underground to being on the surface either operating the equipment or supervising a number of pieces of equipment that are operating down there. So we’re seeing an opportunity to continue to keep investing in the community, to continue to produce really important metal, rather than walking away from it. Because the risk/reward scenario doesn’t work out when they’re in those situations. The workforce understands that and is pretty accepting that they can still do their jobs but they’re doing it safely on the surface rather than kilometers and kilometers underground.
Raffi: That’s a great take, I totally agree. Don, Theo, any further thoughts?
Don: The only thing I can add, and again keep in mind these comments are rooted on primary anecdotal insight we get from tech companies coming into our facilities as well as gleaning the questions that mining executives when they come to our facility, what they’re thinking about. And in some respects, I think I have a strong opinion now, but it’s still being formulated. The differentiation between tele-remote and autonomous — there are a lot of discussions that are happening now that tele-remote is a stepping stone. It will soon be replaced with exclusively autonomous systems. And you can look at companies like Hardline RCT, which are quite sophisticated both in tele-remote and autonomous. But a lot of the questions that are coming now from mining companies are asking, the part that requires the hands-on operator on the surface operating the bucket at the scoop at the face who has to move the vehicle back before operating it autonomously, how close are we to having an intelligent, fully autonomous system that will actually operate the bucket and do all of that. So the trendline is looking to use tele-remote maybe as a stepping stone. And if you look at other really emerging technologies such as Forte, distributed via Shift a startup tech company headquartered here, the notion of going to fully autonomous is really rooted in their value proposition that can move inventory almost like an amazon warehouse distribution model. It can actually move inventory down a mine drift fully autonomously so there’ no supplementary resource that has to control it from surface. So what we’re seeing from a trendline is you’re seeing a lot of investment and exploration of how do you remove even the tele-remote component from that equation.
Raffi: There are a lot of questions, which are great but we’re going to put them aside until a little later. Switching gears here a little, we wanted to talk about the financial aspect a little. And since we know EY loves crunching numbers we figured Theo would be perfect for this since he is a natural fit. And this ties into some of the questions we’re getting from our audience. We know there are a lot of intangibles, and not everything is easily quantifiable with dollars and cents when kicking off a new project.
Q4: How do you assess the ROI of implementing a digital innovation program? What are some of the markers you look for and measure?
Theo: So in mining in general, the thing to go after is cost reduction. That’s another tendency, so clients will say, “well if I install this, what costs am I taking out?” When it comes to health and safety, it’s hard to come up with an ROI when there are lives in danger. So if you go by the traditional business cases of doing something new. The CFOs of this world will tell you that “our weighted average cost of capital is this number and we’re going to invest capital so you need to be this number plus something. But what is changing with digital is that, we have seen around the world that the digital some of the things are more of a beginning and it creates an intended set of consequences that can actually benefit the company and you don’t know those consequences. When I was at Dundee what we always did was to just do the ROI on the initial benefit. Because there’s some sort of network of benefits you can’t see right away. For example, when we did virtual reality training for someone in a very difficult environment where there is some strange level or material, we did not really know that this will drive all our training in the smelter department to change going from all in-person to virtual training. With virtual, we can track what people are good at before they get in there. That’s one health and safety aspect that you discover. With the automated drone, it started with just mapping stopes, but then we realized we could use it to map whole new areas of the mine where we’ve never been. And that was just a test! So basically the ROI can keep moving when you find more benefits. If you can create tighter milestones so you can work better in your present environment. What’s critical is actually learning how to let go of things, more than the ROI. Because mining adopts late anyway, we already know it has worked elsewhere the question is does it work in our environment.
Raffi: Perfect and that even leads us into one of the questions we had from Walter Farag from Dundee Precious Metals, and the question was,
Q&A: “as a finance guy, how does digital innovation impact productivity and the bottom line?”
And that was open to all panelists so if one of you guys wants to jump in feel free.”
Anthony: Yeah I might jump in. What we’re finding — and the safety initiative could be semi-autonomous, autonomous, smart censoring like the use of drones to capture data — is that it makes larger impacts throughout the business. Take semi-autonomous for example, we have a shift, we load explosives, we do a shift change while we let the blast clear. Normally that would have been dormant time in our underground mine, but with the use of autonomous equipment that allows us to keep material moving around the clock rather than having those dormant periods with every shift change. It even allows for someone during a shift to come out of the crew lineup sit in the seat and instantly start mucking and moving the material around rather than spending 45-60 minutes getting in the cage and moving to the face. We get that extra hour each and every shift. Then add in situational awareness and implementing on top of that short interval control, that increased awareness allows us to jump in and redirect things mid-shift when plans aren’t working out as well as they could. It increases incremental tons fairly easily and consistently into our network. There are not many safety initiatives that we have executed where there haven’t been very positive consequences in productivity and costs per ton as well.
Raffi: Thanks, Anthony. We have another question and since we were talking about autonomy I think we can send this to all the panelists. From Natan Segal,
Q&A: “will you please talk about the solutions your companies are considering and why you chose or didn’t choose the Exyn product.”
I wish I could answer that one but I’ll leave it to you guys.
Anthony: I’ll jump in. We run a lot of experiments, a lot of proof of concepts with all the technologies in the business so that we can find the right solution to address the business problem. What we were looking for when it came to underground surveying was, “how do we get the human out of harm’s way? How do we increase our ability to capture high-quality data?” So we looked at a range of solutions, some had the ability to fly some were working on tracks and a whole range of different initiatives but we set out a design criteria a performed the best experiments to find the right solution for us.
Theo: I can relate to the question. When I was at Dundee, you try to get the technical team to ask tough questions about the thing we’ve been doing for years one way and why we can’t do it a different way. One of the questions that came up was, “why are we using the tech that was created in the 80s to still do stope mapping?” And we were like, “we should be able to use a drone.” As many people know on the call, Dundee adopted WiFi very early, all-inclusive underground so we’re in the period where we’re thinking “do we go to LTE or do we wait for 5G? (in Bulgaria and Europe)”
Exyn is one solution in the robotics world but for underground mining it’s really this idea of having an automated system, something that you might not even have to touch because you didn’t add more work for the surveyors. Surveyors are getting rarer and rarer to hire. And we don’t want them to do low data scans. When we have discussions with clients about underground drone technology they ask, “Can it fly by itself? Does someone need to babysit it? Can you avoid cables?” Because underground is not a controlled environment. How does it do with dust? Humidity? These are items that every mining company should be checking. Always pilot before you deploy.
Raffi: Thanks, Theo. Another perfect segue because we’re covering the robotics angle but let’s not forget the human element and the people that are working in the mining industry. As we know, mining has traditionally had an older workforce and hasn’t been the most desirable place to work. Even a few years ago, it was unfathomable for a mining company to have a digital innovation department. It was groundbreaking when I was a part, but that’s been changing. There’s been a paradigm shift where you can’t not have a digital innovation department.
Having said that …
Q5: Anthony, how has Vale been attracting a new generation of miners, and what are some of the steps that Vale is taking to ensure that the future is loaded with young talent?
Anthony: you’re right, the stereotype of an underground mine is that it isn’t very helpful in the recruitment stage to attract people to come and work for us. We have very strong initiatives in place to attract first-generation miners, to attract a more diverse workforce both on the surface and underground and the way we’re tackling that is we’re actively improving what is it like to work at a mine and be underground. We’re also taking opportunities to go out and talk to people about what the new reality is in the mining industry. And most importantly we’re partnering with a whole host of people, with various colleges and universities, giving people an opportunity to come underground for a visit or part of a summer internship to experience what it’s really like. We’re also exploring some things with Don’s team around virtual reality. How do we give workers a realistic experience of what it’s like to be underground and to see what’s it like to be in our facilities to break down some of the stereotypes of what it was like to be in a coal mine in the 1800s? In reality, it’s much more different than that today.
Raffi: Thanks, Anthony. Do any other panelists want to chime in on that?
Don: Yeah, in terms of a new generation of miners — and extending that to a student’s perspective — from the Canadian perspective the Mining Industry HR Council of Canada is forecasting that the mining industry over the next 10 years is going to need 80 to 100 thousand new workers, so if you want the demand side of the equation to be intact, it is. And these are relatively good-paying jobs in a very controlled and safe environment. But on the supply side, if you look back over the last 15 – 20 years at colleges, high schools and universities in Canada there has been a significant decline in students pursuing and thinking about a career in the mining industry. As a data point, we at NORCAT among our various campuses we train about 25 – 30 thousand mine workers a year. So arguably a big university in some respects. And I’ve come to learn some interesting observations tracking young people’s careers in mining.
And Anthony hit on one of the ones I think is most important around the impression at a young age, and we even go work with grade school kids in Sudbury, the impression of what mining is even at the high school age, even when you have parents in the mining industry it is not one that they put in the forefront of their career opportunities. They have a vision as to what mining is and that influences them downstream so much so that in 2017 as a really interesting example, I attended the mining career fair at the University of Toronto and there was not a single mining company there. It was filled with service providers, on the engineering side and vendors, but there was no series of flagship mining companies taking the time to promote. And now that should change, to Anthony’s point. Anthony and the team at Vale educate and inspire. I would say they’re a leading organization, at least from a Canadian context, and it’s critically important to attract this new generation of miners. But the other thing I’ll dovetail on is the traditional incentives no longer exist for young prospective workers. Meaning you have to pay them enough, but paying them more won’t necessarily engage and retain them. You just have to take the money equation off the table, because they’re looking for different things. I have a hypothesis, as it pertains to robotics and technology, mining companies that invest in and deploy systems successfully, these emerging technologies, will not only with the economic, productivity, and safety part of the equation. And if you look at the incentive for what a new worker wants to do, they look at this is an organization that has embedded technology and I can operate an LHD using an iPad from the surface?! Hey pay me less, I’m ok with that, be at a coffee shop and muck out a few rounds. And we validate this by conducting surveys with inbound trainees who take our programs. Those mining companies that invest in new technologies to create an interesting and unique work environment I believe are going to win the battle for talent. We’ll see a big change over the next 5 years about what it means to have a career in mining.
Raffi: Yeah I tend to agree with you fully. We’ve seen it first hand at Exyn. The amount of young talent that we have who didn’t think they’d be working in mining. And even though they work for a robotics company, the fact that they get to experience the underground is opening up even more and more doors.
Theo, let’s get your take on that as well.
Theo: I think Anthony and Don covered everything I could think of there.
Raffi: Excellent. So let’s go to a rapid-fire round, open to all the panelists. And then we’ll take a few questions with the remaining time. Ok guys, if you can all look in your crystal balls, tell me.
Q6: What does the future of safety in mining look like?
Let’s start with Don.
Don: Ha I was hoping to go last. [laughter] I think it’s going to be rooted in earlier comments. I think mining companies are looking to minimize the risk of putting workers in dangerous situations. So looking at operations, putting fewer workers underground. You’re going to see continued investments in autonomous systems that have user interfaces that appeal to a younger generation. For workers that do need to be underground, I think you’re going to see some pretty interesting biometric-type sensor information. Some of the things we’ve seen being tested for the mining industry now, it’s been mindblowing. And these predictive analytics tools applies to Theo’s comments about rock mechanics, embedding into a worker to assess depression, fatigue, anything that might inhibit their ability to make sound decisions for those that do need to get put into environments with a high degree of risk I think you’re going to see a groundswell of interesting technologies that are stitched together that will take hold.
Raffi: Anthony, you want to go next?
Anthony: I think the future is one where we continue to be safer and safer. Deliberate deployment of technology and mine design to get the worker out of harm’s way. I think we’re going to see a situation where a worker will go from sitting on one piece of equipment to supervising a handful of pieces of equipment all autonomously being tasked to do various things. And I think that situational awareness will continue to grow, there’s a huge opportunity to capture better quality data and use that to drive better technical and strategic decisions. I see the future of mining, in particular underground, being much more data-driven going forward.
Raffi: Theo, your thoughts on that?
Theo: In addition to what Don and Anthony mentioned, I think we will also see an expanding role of safety outside of just the underground and the worker. Communities are going to start to look for signs of economic safety, environmental safety. Mining is going to be critical for the future of the world’s metals we need for economic development, but will also be under increased pressure from society to do more for their workers and the environment.
Don: Raffi, just to share an interesting anecdote, a few years back we were doing a fair bit of work for a couple of mining companies in Saudi Arabia, and when we looked at their data as to what was driving safety-related incidents. They discovered that the majority of safety-related injuries and issues with their workers happened off-site. And a lot of it was rooted in, those that were late for work were speeding and getting into car accidents. So they offered an incentive model to drive a safe all day everyday model. They created a program that actually awarded families of the worker for good behavior. And when the family knows they’re going to get a benefit, they’re going to remind them every day to be safe. And I know Vale has their Home Safe initiative, I think globally, that promotes something similar. I think you’re going to see more creativity and cultural elements in these programs that consider safety all day. And the Vale Home Safe was an amazing example of that.
Raffi: A mining company that I used to work for had “Stop and Think” cards but then those actually started going home and you’d start to think about risks at home the same way.
And the future of mining safety for me, if I were to look into my crystal ball, I would sum it up with two words: autonomy and efficiency. The more autonomous vehicles we have the more efficient we’re going to be, spending less time underground. And having miners safer and on the surface will not only attract a whole new generation of miners, it’ll allow us to be more efficient. And as you mentioned, Don, if you’re going to pay me a few dollars less but work in the safety of my office that will be a huge differentiator down the road.
We still have a few minutes so let’s take a few more questions from the viewers. We have one from Earnst Ortega,
Q&A: “Traditionally, mining companies have been slow to adopt next-gen new technologies such as cloud-native solutions. Have mining companies sped up their adoption? And if so which companies are leading the pack?”
Anthony: I can quickly talk about what Vale is doing. We are adopting cloud. One of the challenges until recently was around the diversity of network links, the distance between us and where the cloud touch-down points happened to be. Most of the major cloud providers now have operational side capabilities to host some of these capabilities on-prem and that’s opening up a whole range of opportunities that we wouldn’t have had in the past.
Theo: Cloud-native solutions are definitely going to help down the road. But what you discover once you pick a provider is what kind of service you’re going to get. The cloud options for mining companies aren’t black and white. It depends on the provider and country, if the redundancy is there, if it’s wifi or fiber, security is also a huge risk. You can’t just plug in any solution. Mining companies have internal systems that need to be updated for cloud. Most will move there eventually, but there’s a lot of work to do to get there.
Raffi: So there are still a few questions left but we’re almost out of time. We’ll be getting answers to all your questions and following up with everyone via email, and post them on our website.
Thanks to the panelists, it feels like the hour flew by. Any parting words?
Anthony: From Vale, if people have good ideas about how to make our operations safer we’re always willing to have a chat so feel free to look me up.
Don: To all you tech companies, NORCAT underground center is the place to get that first all-important customer reference for mining companies so if you’re looking for an operating mine to develop, test or demonstrate or something on the training or development side, we’re happy to talk.
Theo: Digital transformation will happen whether people want it or not, so it’s all about getting there ahead of time. Do what you need to do to get it done.
Raffi: A heartfelt thank you from Exyn Technologies to all the viewers. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will reply to those as well. Thank you again and stay safe.