Innovators see tech shifts amid mining inertia

‘With digital and technology advancement the inertia is changing’

CORE Hot 30 innovation leaders targeting global markets they believe are worth billions of dollars have told resistance to change is still a barrier to entry in mining. However, many are seeing signs of progress as the industry’s investors, customers and workforce ask more questions about the status quo.

“Adoption is slow due to the late-adopter mindset of the industry,” says Philip van der Burg, CEO of long-range drone survey firm, Carbonix, recognised by Australia’s CORE Innovation Hub as its mining and energy 2023 Innovator of the Year.

He claims incumbent methods don’t match up economically or results-wise against Carbonix’s high-resolution data collection and analysis, but that often doesn’t shift the view that “if it ain’t broke we don’t need to fix it”.

Geologist and mining engineer, Daniel Goldstein, who started RockAI in 2020, puts the “mining industry’s predisposition to resist innovation” ahead of rivals as his main potential blocker in the market. But he is optimistic.

“With the advancement of digital solutions and technology advancement the inertia is changing,” he says.

“As part of that cultural shift a few other start-ups are attempting to collect more information about subsurface conditions using hardware such as sensors.

“But the mining industry is already drowning in data and starved for knowledge.

“Before attempting to obtain additional data, we should do the most with what we already have on hand and have spent a lot of money to capture.”

Others among the Hot 30 nominate the usual funding, recruitment and scaling trials small firms face among their primary business challenges. They say educating prospective users about the value of technology and innovation is a particular challenge in mining.

“We’ve found that mining and METS [mining equipment, technology and services] customers still really lack knowledge about the role earth observation data can play in helping transform their business,” says QL Space CEO, Raj Gautam.

“As such we are having to do a real education piece to customers before we can even get to the sales part, which means the sale pipeline in long.

“That can be tricky for a start-up.”

Gautam says mining is one of the markets QL is targeting. The company is “committed to disrupting the traditional use of satellite data to promote efficiency, resource management, risk management, data-driven decision-making and environmental responsibility”.

“I come from a tech and data analysis background and I could see the ways the mining and METs industry was wrestling with how to capitalise on, and derive meaningful terrestrial value and insights from, global-scale satellite imagery,” he says.

“Often it’s difficult to understand, unstructured and unscalable, so many businesses continue to stick to their old manual processes despite them being slower and more costly.

“Better the devil you know.

“In 2022 the commercial satellite imaging market size stood at US$3.75 billion.

“This is projected to increase at 11.20% compound annual growth rate during 2022-2030, reaching US$8.78 billion by 2030.

“So the sky really is the limit.

“Space technology is coming and the future of mining really will come from the sky.

“Advances in satellite and imaging technology are now an affordable reality for the mining sector.”

Indigenous Innovation Award winner Koodaideri Innovation and Technology is getting market traction for its patented Hydratune product, described as a system of universal remote actuators and feedback devices installed by maintenance personnel when plant and equipment is shut down that can then be accessed remotely when the machinery is running.

Founder Shane Lewis says he started Koodaideri in 2018 to address preventable injuries and fatalities in mining maintenance.

“Our first major innovation was a remote diagnostic system that allowed maintainers to remotely measure system pressures, temperatures, speeds and wear,” he says.

“We started development of Hydratune technology in late 2018 after realising that despite creating remote measurement tools, if a defect was found the technicians still needed to be inside live running equipment to adjust hydraulic system valves to restore normal equipment functionality.

“The size of the opportunity for Hydratune is substantial, as it targets the global mining maintenance market, which was valued at US$127 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $185 billion by 2027. This market is driven by the potential to improve worker safety, labour efficiency, servicing proficiency, and asset performance.

“Hydratune has the potential to expand into adjacent equipment markets, such as agriculture, energy, petroleum and construction.

“The key challenge for Hydratune is education and awareness of the risks posed by live industrial maintenance.

“Many decision makers are disconnected from frontline maintenance teams and are not aware how serious the risks are.

“Coupled with the risk normalisation behaviour of experienced maintainers, this has resulted in an industry that has changed very little with real advances in maintenance technology few and far between.”

Women Led Innovation Award winner Kareena Waters, founder and managing director of Industry OneCARD, believes digital change is coming fast to other parts of the mining industry.

“Training-records management will emerge from being the bridesmaid of [companies’] admin priorities to being the bride,” she says.

“I was employed as a training manager in the blue-collar and resources sector for 20-plus years, with the last 10 in mining and resources.

“I had to deal daily with employees’ training and licence records, or should I say lack of records.

“The systems I had to use only did part of what was required and we could never get on top of the compliance. I had a unique helicopter view, as the company I worked for was mobilising to a large number of sites, large and small, and the issues around employee records were not just related to a site, or a client, not even to a demographic of trades.

“The issue was systemic and growing.

“The other opportunity I saw was around the duplication of training and assessment activities that were costing the industry millions each year.

“I was made redundant just before Christmas 2016 and founded Industry OneCARD in February 2017.”

Waters says the Industry OneCARD workforce compliance software and platform has been designed “with the future in mind”.

“It is an over-$40 billion market globally,” she says.

“By the end of 2023 we will have our new platform launched and this will enable IOC to scale.

“We aim to have on board some smart investors and partnerships with the industry to support our scale and increase organic growth.”

Another Hot 30 company in the middle of a significant mining industry transition is Magellan Power.

It’s not your average “start-up”, having been in the DC/AC power system and equipment manufacturing business since 1991. However, a new enterprise is being built on the back of mining’s heavy-vehicle electrification shift. With the physical transition comes a new education and training paradigm.

“Magellan Power has developed a comprehensive business model to support the responsible management of the whole-of-life of the huge volume of batteries that will come into service over the next 10 years in the Western Australian mining sector and other heavy industry sectors,” Magellan founder Masoud Abshar says.

“We offer a full battery life-cycle service, where we supply, service and sustainably dispose of the batteries.

“We also offer repurposing of large industrial truck batteries into other applications such as energy storage, the batteries may not be fit for purpose for trucks, however, they can be successfully used for other operations.

“The global battery market size was valued at US$36 billion in 2020 and is forecast to grow to US$133-151 billion by 2030.

“Diversified battery industries could contribute $7.4 billion annually to Australia’s economy in 2030.

“Integration, service, maintenance and recycling present longer-term opportunities for Australia.

“Together, they could potentially contribute $600 million in value-added and a further 5,600 jobs.”

Two other Hot 30 innovators say technology improvements have put them in a position to deliver value to miners. Educating the market about where and how the value can be realised is central to their growth ambitions.

“We started Nomad Atomics to move quantum sensing solutions out of the lab and into industries where their true value could be realised,” says the company’s CEO, Kyle Hardman.

“The ability to map and monitor the subsurface is critical to enabling responsible use of our natural resources and mitigation of risks associated with changes that are occurring as a result of this use.

“Gravimetry is an attractive technique for interrogating the subsurface because it detects changes in the characteristics and distribution of mass in a non-invasive and non-destructive manner.

“However, the limitations of current gravimeters have constrained the range of situations that gravimeters can be used, and the usefulness of the information obtained.

“Many of the potential applications, such as timelapse or airborne gravimetry, require an understanding of the absolute value of gravity and measuring true gravity can only be achieved with absolute gravimeters.

“Current commercial absolute devices have a complicated architecture, and their large size, fragility, high cost and dependence on main power supply has restricted how they can be deployed.

“Smaller, lighter and less power-demanding instruments, such as our survey-style quantum absolute gravimeter, allow us to expand how and where gravity data can be collected and fully realise the value of this technique.”

Mahmood Hussein, co-founder of Global Energy Learning Solutions, says the company is aiming to fill a “significant gap in the mining and metals industry for high-quality training and education solutions”; specifically customised augmented and virtual reality training technology.

“As the industry continues to grow, so too does the demand for high-quality training and education solutions, creating an expanding opportunity for GELS,” Hussein says.

“Our goal is to become the leading provider of innovative and effective AR VR training solutions for the mining and metals industry.”


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