Eacon CEO says: ‘We are excited by what lies ahead’

‘In China we aim to add a further 1000 autonomous trucks next year’

The CEO of the fastest growing company in the global mining autonomy market says the firm is determined to build on its lead in 2024, with plans to more than quadruple the size of its operating autonomous mine haulage fleet and continue to invest heavily in new energy and auto-mobility technologies.

On the back of a US$55.2 million series C equity raise that reflected strong Chinese PE and VC support for its progress and outlook, Eacon Mining Technology and its co-founder, Wason Lan, are bullish about prospects for the next 12 months despite some market headwinds for the sector.

They include the fierce battle for talent among international tech companies, emphasis among some miners and contractors on eliminating scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions ahead of autonomous fleet planning, and uncertainty about the duration of this year’s pullback in tech funding.

Lan, who spoke with InvestMETS.com editor Richard Roberts from Eacon’s Beijing headquarters, said the company was advantaged on all three fronts.

He said while competition for new and experienced data science and AI, and engineering, personnel in China was as intense as in other parts of the world, Eacon had more than trebled its headcount in the past three years as it successfully established the credentials of its technology in the domestic market while also demonstrating high-speed transfer of R&D and engineering into the field.

“This is an important advantage that we have,” Lan said.

“Our engineering team and also our R&D team can go to site very often and spend lots of time with our systems in the field.

“We have now more than 300 autonomous trucks in operation at four sites, including 203 vehicles at a major coal mine. We have people not only creating the algorithms, doing the high-tech work, but also the engineers turning that into real products and spending a lot of time on site; getting to know how their products are really performing and iterating faster.

“The automotive and robotics engineering talent pool in China is huge and there are lots of experienced engineers, but I think a key advantage for Eacon is that we are able to find experts in all different parts of the technology value chain, including battery-electric and hybrid energy, and bring everything together seamlessly.

“And we are an attractive place for people to work because we have established such a large population of operating vehicles in the field.

“We are pushing hard to advance the technology and apply it in real-world scenarios.”

Eacon’s latest equity fundraising is the fourth largest in the mining-tech space this year, based on an InvestMETS.com list of about 70 financing and M&A transactions worth more than US$1.6 billion completed so far in 2023.

It also takes capital raised by Eacon this year past $62 million, setting the company up to accelerate its domestic and international growth.

“This funding underscores the confidence our investors have in our technology and our positioning in the market,” Lan said.

“Our technology is quite mature. Right now we are focusing on developing the market. Our revenues are growing strongly.

“Financing for technology start-ups that haven’t reached breakeven stage is harder at the moment in China, and elsewhere.

“But there is huge pressure now on mine safety in China, and increasing pressure to adopt new-energy systems, so the investor appetite for autonomy and non-diesel vehicles is certainly growing.

“There is also increasing competition in China for auto-mobility and e-mobility investment. So far this year there has been an estimated $200 million invested in this area in China.

“There is competition among the start-ups based solely on price, which is not healthy.

“But there is also competition for technological advantage, and for talented people, which helps speed the development and sharing of knowledge.

“That I think is good for the whole industry.”

Lan sees Australia as an international benchmark for mine automation safety regulation and overall operating standards, so “if we can grow there we can expand to other countries”.

Beyond a planned pilot project in Australia in 2024, Eacon has its sights on Chile, Saudi Arabia and other international markets.

Lan said while ultra-class trucks and other equipment had become common at mines around the world in the past 20 or so years, more and more operators were assessing the benefits of autonomous, electric, smaller-vehicle fleets requiring precise, reliable scheduling and control. This includes mine operators in Australia.

He said China’s higher-quality 5G coverage meant the company was working on reducing network load requirements for systems deployed in other markets.

The company is also working on a high-altitude autonomous and hybrid-electric haul fleet deployment in China, and advancing work on hydrogen-battery vehicles.

Lan said Eacon had gone from seeking out new customer sites in 2022 to now weighing the merits of different projects actively pursuing its technology and services.

“We have to work out how best to apply our available resources,” he said.

“That has been a huge change for us in the past year.

“Hard-rock metalliferous mines are a priority.

“In China we aim to add a further 1000 autonomous trucks next year.

“On the hydrogen trucks we are doing a pilot on the first trucks with our partners and hopefully next year we can get these trucks in our mine sites.

“And then on the international front our focus is on Australia.

“We are very excited by what lies in front of us.”


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