Connecting the dots
When I talk to people outside of mining about the new technology that’s starting to infiltrate the sector, they are invariably surprised that it doesn’t already exist in the industry.
For a society that’s constantly connected through our smart phones and awash in apps that can monitor your sleep habits or remotely control the temperature of your home, people assume that it’s standard for underground mines to be able to track the location of vehicles and people in real time, for example.
That may be why the perspective of mining outsiders has been so valuable in pushing forward innovation in the industry.
That is certainly the case with two of the people who feature in the pages of this month’s CMJ.
Mark Gelsomini engineered solutions to many of the problems Dundee Precious Metals identified at its Chelopech copper-gold mine nearly a decade ago. Now Dundee’s corporate director, information technologies, Gelsomini joined the company in 2009 with no experience in the mining sector.
With a background as a computer engineer in the manufacturing industry, Gelsomini’s solutions at Chelopech brought reliable and inexpensive Wi-Fi to the more than 60-year-old underground mine. He and his team also created software applications that analyzed the real-time information generated at the operation to increase productivity and safety (see Page 20).
Canadian Mining Innovation Council Executive Director Carl Weatherell is also more of an outsider to mining than an insider. Having studied chemistry and worked as a CanMet scientist for 14 years, he has also worked in academia, where he was involved in 13 different consortiums across multiple industries, as well as for-profit and non-profit organizations.
Weatherell’s diverse background has served him well at CMIC, whose job is to catalyze innovation in mining by connecting all the various members of the “mining ecosystem.” Many of the ideas Weatherell brings to CMIC are from other industries.
The striking thing about both Gelsomini and Weatherell is their ability to see, as outsiders, what insiders may not.
When Gelsomini, for example, joined the industry, he saw an aversion among miners to using and adapting solutions that weren’t built specifically for mining.
“What I noticed almost a decade ago is that the mining industry wasn’t utilizing stuff that could have been off the shelf ideas and technology and trying to apply it to improve their operations,” Gelsomini says.
For his part, Weatherell also sees a big part of his role as harnessing “stuff” that’s already being used in other sectors and bringing it into mining (see Page 10).
“Basically, what I see is connecting dots – where are the bright, shiny objects that exist somewhere else in another industry that we can bring in,” Weatherell says.
Of course, it also takes insiders to make change. Gelsomini was acting to carry out a vision that Dundee CEO (then COO) Rick Howes had to “take the lid off the mine.” Other mining companies have also started to warm up to the possibilities that come from working with experts in other fields. Several have partnerships that go beyond simply adopting new technology – see Goldcorp’s work with IBM Watson (Page 14).
Here’s hoping that these examples are just the start of a lot more cross-pollination, new perspectives and new ideas to come for our industry.