It was Friday afternoon, and I just couldn’t finish the draft of my article on Inco (pages 10-21 of this issue) by the end of the day, my self-imposed deadline. I thought, “I’ll have to come into the office on Saturday to finish it off.” Working in the office on the weekend is anathema to me, so my imagination worked until I came upon an analogy that was both apt and helpful.
I was reading a futuristic scenario in a speech given last year by Peter Jones, Inco’s executive vice-president, operations, to a symposium on mine mechanization and automation at Laurentian University.
It’s 2010 on a cold February night.
Check (except for the year).
Seated in comfortable chairs in front of banks of TV monitors, a handful of Inco employees control drills, LHDs, trucks and other equipment in four different underground mines.
Notes in my steno pad took me back a week to my interview with Greg Baiden, manager of Mines Research for Inco in Sudbury. He had said: “It [remote controlled mining] has created so much room for the people here. Before, no one could take off the constraints from conventional mining. Our work has taken away huge blockages in our thought processes.” Greg’s talking to me across time and space!
If the miners at Sudbury can teleoperate underground equipment, what’s stopping me from taking home a diskette and finishing off my writing… seated in a comfortable chair in front of our home computer? Nothing! The work still has to be done, but the location of the worker is really irrelevant. What’s more, I won’t have to waste an hour or two commuting to the office; I could just bring in the file on Monday. Even better, I could send the file by internet to Marilyn (our field editor) in Ottawa for proofing.
What makes my home writing (and the teleremote mining) scenario work are sophisticated communications, and an incentive to look at all the possibilities.
When I was interviewing Baiden, I found myself trying to pick holes in his tidal wave of ideas. What if the machines went haywire and wouldn’t do what you thought you were telling them to do? What if a surface operator didn’t like his underground counterpart and wasn’t too careful about where the drill’s boom swung? What about a power outage?
Finding problems is easy. It is the job of Baiden’s research group not to find the problems but to find, test and implement the solutions, and to recognize more possibilities than were apparent at first. They are a generation beyond the defensive attitude of so many mining people today. We could all borrow a leaf from their book.
CMJ’s art director, Steve Maver, has designed and typeset this magazine since I returned to it 30 months ago. This will be his last issue. He is graduating to web site design for Southam magazines including, I hope, canadianminingjournal.com, which is in the works.
Thanks, Steve, for your creativity, energy, ideas and taste (both good and bad). Creating the look of each issue with you has been one of the favourite parts of my job, surpassed only by receiving irate messages from readers.