Canadian Mining Journal

Feature

Harnessing the power of the crowd

How miners can leverage crowdsourcing



Team Koan Designs and BCG Engineering at Unearthed Toronto in 2017.
CREDIT: UNEARTHED

In management, Joy’s law is the principle that “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else,” attributed to Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy. Joy was prompted to state this observation through his dislike of Bill Gates’ view of “Microsoft as an IQ monopolist.” He argued that, instead, “It’s better to create an ecology that gets all the world’s smartest people toiling in your garden for your goals.”

Historically, the mining industry has been very closed with their business and operational challenges and associated data. Mining companies have therefore set hard organizational borders that rely on scouting and hiring smart tech talent, upskilling existing employees internally, or working with known established suppliers.

Data scientists and geologists join forces to tackle the Explorer Challenge.
CREDIT: UNEARTHED

The alternative to these hard organizational borders is softer, permeable borders that can take advantage of external talent, skills and opportunities.

For the uninitiated, crowdsourcing seeks to harness the collective intelligence of people around the globe to address tough challenges. It is the process by which a problem and the accompanying Mining companies have therefore set hard organizational borders that rely on scouting and hiring smart tech talent, upskilling existing employees internally, or working with known established suppliers.

The alternative to these hard organizational borders is softer, permeable borders that can take advantage of external talent, skills and opportunities.

For the uninitiated, crowdsourcing seeks to harness the collective intelligence of people around the globe to address tough challenges. It is the process by which a problem and the accompanying data is made available digitally to geographically distributed third parties, who then compete to deliver the best solution.

Crowdsourcing and open innovation are starting to be recognized within the mining industry as effective ways to quickly validate concepts at low risk, solve complex challenges, find new innovative suppliers, and automate work.

Resources sector open innovation platform Unearthed is an advocate for open data initiatives, and we are extremely proud of the work being delivered in partnership with industry leaders.

This article highlights some of these mining organizations, who can demonstrate the benefits of leveraging the diverse skill sets and technological solutions of external innovators to address their toughest operational challenges.

Unearthing buried treasure

Finding new exploration targets presents a key resources sector challenge that fits this open collaboration framework. Back in 2000, Goldcorp CEO Rob McEwen released the exploration data from the company’s Red Lake project to the public in a $1-million incentivized competition.

This helped McEwen and his team turn the company from a struggling junior to a leading gold miner, with an additional $6 billion worth of gold identified by the competition.

Considering this success, it’s surprising that more industry players haven’t followed suit and opened up their exploration data. After the Goldcorp challenge, it wasn’t until 2015 that Integra Gold held its own Goldrush challenge.

More recently, OZ Minerals launched its Explorer Challenge, releasing over two terabytes of private data from its Mount Woods project and offering a A$1-million prize pool. The company’s hope is that a global community of data scientists and geologists can help it find the next economic deposit on its land holdings.

As we see a shift towards the use of open data and machine learning, companies such as OZ Minerals, Integra and Goldcorp are leading the market and taking advantage of skills and new approaches by making their challenges and data publicly available, as well as employing a variety of data science approaches internally.

Engaging local innovation communities

Over the last few years, we have seen a large increase in the number of Canadian operators willing to share data and engage with their local innovation communities, in Canada and internationally. Teck Resources, SSR Mining, Barrick Gold, McEwen Mining, Agnico Eagle Mines and industry consultants Hatch have all participated in weekend-long, in person open innovation events called hackathons.

The hackathons not only equip mining company staff with new skills and ways of thinking, they also bring new skills and talent into the industry, which can help build technology businesses.

Koan Designs took part in Barrick’s first Unearthed hackathon in Toronto in 2017. Since then, Koan has become Koan Analytics, and in 2018, the company combined its expertise in applied mathematics, machine learning and computer graphics along with Barrick’s geology and mining expertise to develop a data aggregation, predictive analytics and visualization solution designed to capitalize on the vast quantity of static and unstructured data.

“We have been able to develop a bespoke resource sector data aggregation and analytics solution, because we had access to industry experts who were willing to look outside traditional industry solutions and partner-up Koan Analytics’ complementary skill sets,” said Rob Wood, a partner and business development lead with the company.

Award-winning Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality (VR/MR) studio LlamaZOO participated at Unearthed Vancouver to showcase their innovative application of virtual reality technology for the mining industry. The team came away with second place overall for its solution to Teck Resources’ Haul Truck Optimization challenge.

“There were two sides to the solution the dispatcher view, which allows the dispatcher to see a 10,000-foot view of the mine, the trucks and all their different statuses. The other side is communicating that to the operator,” said LlamaZOO Co-founder Kevin Oke. “In the case of the prototype, we built a 3-D cockpit.

You can fly the camera into the cockpit and see what the driver would see, and an approximation of what it would look like if they had augmented graphics overlaid onto their windshield.” “I think it’s fair to say that our involvement with Unearthed was the springboard to take our mining business international,” said Oke.

A strategy to open operational challenges to the crowd

Newcrest Mining has positioned itself as the first mining company to employ a global crowdsourcing strategy. This position is providing them a demonstrated competitive advantage by validating ideas, automating workflows and solving complex problems faster.

Newcrest has developed this position by building a pipeline of operational challenges, which they have shared openly with innovators around the world via the Newcrest Crowd. Newcrest provides information, data and tools that clearly articulate and quantify the problems, enabling innovators from different backgrounds to quickly present solutions back to the business.

Hydrosaver, Newcrest’s first online challenge, was released to the public in February 2018, to predict the density of a tailings underflow inefficiency at Cadia mine (and, therefore, water content), three hours ahead of time. Participation was truly global with solutions received from countries including Canada, India, the United States, Argentina, China and South Africa. 150 highly skilled individuals formed teams that submitted over 750 predictive models.

The winning team, Three Springs Technology, is a tech startup specializing in Artificial Intelligence solutions, and Hydrosaver was their first foray into the mining sector. In addition to A$6,000 in prize money, Three Springs Technology signed a contract with Newcrest to implement its solution in production and integrate it with the miner’s technology stack.

“We have finalized the production implementation, and we anticipate increasing average underflow density by 0.5 to 1%,” said Three Springs Technology Founder Sherief Khorshid.

Since Hydrosaver, Newcrest has run four additional crowdsourcing challenges via the Newcrest Crowd ranging from extracting data from exploration photography, to engineering solutions for crushing circuits and safe plant start-up processes.

Newcrest is already seeing a positive financial impact to their bottom line from crowdsourced solutions and partnering.

Are you missing out?

Several industry leaders are building competitive advantage by being open with their business challenges and data, allowing them to access a global network of diverse skills and technologies to accelerate their innovation initiatives in many areas of the mining value chain.

How could your organization benefit from external talent, skills and opportunities? As Joy’s Law argues – if you rely solely on your own employees, you will never solve all your most pressing challenges.


Holly Bridgwater is Crowdsourcing Lead at Unearthed, and an advocate for industry adoption of open innovation and crowdsourcing initiatives. Holly is currently working with OZ Minerals to deliver the Explorer Challenge, an online competition that invites innovators to test the limits of geology and data science to find new ways to explore. For more information, visit: https://unearthed.solutions/u/competitions/explorer-challenge. 


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