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Mining Matters: Mining & the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Through partnership with UArizona, Hexagon is staying one step ahead of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, an ongoing transformation of traditional industries with smart technologies. In mining, for instance, automation, analytics and artificial intelligence are changing the way mines operate. That makes finding a trusted technology partner more important than ever.

NJ: Thanks for tuning into Mining Matters. Hi, I’m Neville Judd from HxGN Radio. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, is an ongoing transformation of traditional industries with smart technologies. Automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence are changing the way mines operate. Here to discuss the implications of Industry 4.0 are Hexagon’s Mining division President Nick Hare; and representing the University of Arizona, current department head Moe Momayez; and former department head John Kemeny. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us today.

All: Thank you. Thank you.

NJ: Glad to have you here. So, for perspective, John and Moe, I wanted to start with you, and John, maybe you can start us off. I’m wondering how Industry 4.0 is impacting mining. And what are some of the major trends that you’re seeing?

JK: What ‘d like to say to start, I guess, is that many of the technologies that are in Industry 4.0 have been around for a very long time. For instance, Split Engineering. We started 22 years before getting merged to Hexagon. So, I think really for me what Industry 4.0 might represent for the mining industry is really the effective integration of all these technologies, both for safety and also for optimisation. And so, the idea could be that we improve the safety and we are able to do things and be, let’s say, agile in a fashion that we wouldn’t be able to do without that kind of smart integration.

NJ: And Moe, how about you? What are you seeing?

MM: Thank you, Nev, again, for this opportunity. So, I want to echo what John said. So, I absolutely agree. I think mining has been at the forefront of technologies and you take technologies in the industry. I can give a quick background. Like, if you remember 20 years ago, Garmin introduced StreetPilot GPS. So that was the first portable navigations system for automation use. It cost around $550, so that meant anyone could buy a unit and carry it in a car. Now go back another 20 years, so 40 years ago, for the first time, the mining industry installed a GPS unit or GPS units on board haul trucks and used it to stream data to run the first automated fleet-management system. So, what I want to say is that we are already observing a step change with the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence and data and analytics in a day-to-day mining operation. So, I think for today’s mining engineers, that’s very important. I think that’s where Hexagon is going and where the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering is going. It’s very important. So, for today’s mining engineer, having the skills to mine minerals and mine data go hand in hand. So, combining innovation and technology with intelligent application of data analytics in a high-tech industry, like mining, could potentially unlock huge returns for the mines of the future.

NJ: That’s a great historical perspective. It actually makes me feel quite old because I do remember those things. But it also leads us nicely to Nick. You’re the president of a leading technology provider, obviously, Hexagon Mining. How do you see Hexagon’s role in Industry 4.0?

NH: Yeah, absolutely. And so, I see Hexagon following the broader Hexagon vision and mission statement, which is we are a leader in sensor software and autonomy solutions, and we really attempt to take an industry focus, go to market approach. And so, we serve our customers with their needs, with specific solutions to increase productivity, safety, and quality, which, just as John and Moe said, I think mining is at the forefront of that technology advancement. But what’s really impressive to me is the adoption in the industry over the last three to five years. And I think you’re seeing an exponential curve in terms of how mines are viewing technology. And while you have capital spend looking to decrease as a total across the industry, the investment in the technology, both nominally and as a percentage, is growing. And so Hexagon has the widest portfolio from the entire lifecycle of a mine, from the mine plan to mine operations, mine safety, drill and blast, and our Enterprise solutions, that we can address those challenges at each point of the workflow and having the opportunity to partner with great universities like the University of Arizona to make sure we’re solving those challenges.

NJ: So, I mean, it could be argued that the mines are already preparing for this industrial revolution. But from a wider perspective, what do you think mines can do to embrace this industrial revolution? And Moe, we’ll start with you.

MM: I think to a great, like you said, to a great extent, mines have embraced or are embracing this mining revolution. What I think is, the challenge is not in acquiring the data, because we’re already doing that. The challenge is in sorting, analysing, and displaying the data in a meaningful way. So, in that respect, if you look at some of the mining companies, what they’ve been focusing on is the creation of remote operation centres. That’s the approach they have favoured. So, where the information from operations at different locations around the country and sometimes maybe around the world are aggregated, analysed, and made available for management to review. So, I think that’s where we’re going. And I think more and more companies are going to look at changing the way they operate and putting this type of technology in use at every planning operation.

NJ: John, anything to add to that?

JK: I would say that the mines have a difficult task, and this is where companies like Hexagon can really help, as well as educational institutions like the University of Arizona. I mean, I pose a question: Should a mining engineer also be a programmer today? Is that something necessary? Or should a mining engineer stick to mining engineering and maybe not have to go that direction? Or similarly, you could ask the same question for all the different kind of employees at a major mining operation. So, I think it really comes down to how do they continue to play the role they played before and now integrate some of the new ways we’re looking at things and new ways are integrating data, the new kind of technologies. It’s mind boggling in a way. And I think it’s fantastic, but I think it’s a challenge for the mining industry.

NJ: Nick, I guess I would add that by definition, I would think a customer of Hexagon’s is probably already preparing, if not embracing, the industrial revolution. Do you see any unifying theme or habits among customers that are doing this?

NH: Yeah, absolutely. And I think if you think about any business transformation and what best practises is, you need to take a holistic view, which is looking across people, process, and technology. And so just implementing a technology solution alone isn’t going to get you the results you need to make meaningful change. And so that’s having the right operational procedures in place, and that’s also considering how do you deal with a legacy environment coming into a new world of innovation? So, mines have a lifecycle 30 to 50 years. And if you look at what GMG just published for guidelines to autonomy, what’s the intersection between manned and unmanned vehicles, and how do you have a safe ecosystem where people on autonomous technology are working in synch? And that really takes taking a step back and looking strategically on how do you implement a holistic roadmap across those areas, which Hexagon’s solving the technology piece and working with our customers on what we see best practises from each mine to mine.

NJ: That’s a great point. Now, if we can stay with you, Nick, for a second. Presumably to help customers prepare and embrace for mining 4.0, you also need to have your own employees aligned behind that. What is Hexagon doing to prepare its employees for Industry or mining 4.0 and the changing needs of the mining industry?

NH: Absolutely. And so, as I mentioned, we very much take an industry-focused approach, which is we need to understand our customers, we need to understand what their challenges are, and we need to speak their language and operate in their culture. And so, for Hexagon, we’re investing. And I’m pleased to announce the partnership with the University of Arizona on Mining 4.E programme to provide the basics that anyone from the outside in can understand—the life cycle of the mine, the economics, the process areas, and where the areas for optimisation can occur using technology solutions. And so that will be an online training programme that we roll our employees through. It’s an immersive environment that the U of A professors bringing world-class experience or helping educate our employees. And it’s something that was very well received by our organisation. A lot of demand from our employees. It’s something I think our customers will appreciate that we’re bringing the right resources to the table, both those with the mining engineering background and those that have a technology background, to where we can be bringing the best of both.

NJ: Moe, can you give us the University of Arizona perspective on the Mining 4.E course?

MM: So, I think we’re in a unique position. So, I want to echo again what Nick said. We’re in a unique position because we can take employees at Hexagon or any other technology company and teach them about mining. And we’re also in a position where we can take mining engineers and mining operations and teach them about technology. So, this is a very sweet spot we’re in, and we’re very excited to be part of this 4.E revolution. And we can kind of have it both ways and interact with mining engineers as well as mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, computer engineers, and kind of be the bridge between all these different disciplines. So, I’m very excited about the future of the mining department, with the creation of these programmes, such as the Mining 4.E. And I want to thank John for spearheading that programme, because he was instrumental in creating the programme.

NJ: Well, I was going to ask, John. I mean, as a past department head, this must be gratifying to see this come to fruition.

JK: No, it’s fantastic. And you know, what we’re doing now with Moe charge is really good. And I want to say that this isn’t just a mining-department endeavour. We’ve got other people on campus that are really helping us to make this really great. We have the two different groups, the digital-learning group and also the professional-education group, that are going to make this really a successful software programme.
And I want to say that we’re adding some things that we think are kind of new to the educational environment, online education environment. Traditionally, students have always learnt a lot from, let’s say, field trips. And that’s something that’s a little bit hard to get from a textbook. And so, what we’re trying to do is incorporate what we call virtual field trips. The idea is every week there would be a virtual field trip as part of this Mining 4.E course, where they would really get to watch one of our professors as well as maybe an expert for the mining industry go out in the field and do something, and they get a little bit of that sort of hands-on experience. So that’s one aspect. We’re also having sort of virtual interviews with professionals in the industry. So, again, we’re trying to do things a little bit differently and see if we can really provide kind of a new type of education.

NJ: Thank you, John. Final question, and it’s sort of a two-part question for each of you. The pandemic has obviously changed the way people work for the industry as a whole. There’s a lot of media reports about an acceleration of uptake or interest in uptake of autonomous solutions in the wake of COVID. I’m just wondering, firstly, how this has affected each of you in the way you work, but also, do you think this will help drive Industry 4.0 and the adoption of technology in the mining industry? If we can start with you, Nick.

NH: Absolutely. I think COVID in 2020 has been a real challenge for all of us globally, whether in your work life or your personal life. And we’ve all had to adapt to that. And for us, we’re used to being close to our customers, near and dear, operating in 40 different countries that I’m used to being face to face. And so, challenges of, how do you deploy a safety system when you need to be physically at a machine to do that? And so, we’ve taken some innovative approaches to still support our customers through our services, using things like body cameras and video conferencing to help support them, and we might be thousands of kilometres away. And so, things like that. But I think those are trends that you see across industries. In terms of demand in the mining industry, I think, absolutely. We’ve seen just in Hexagon more utilisation of our software solutions that we can see in the Cloud. Some people have time remote and continue to drive and adopt those. I think you’ll see more and more, as I said earlier, the intersection between autonomous and non-autonomous solutions moving forward. And so how do we adapt to that, and how do we prepare the future workforce to work in this new world? I think that’s why we’re excited to partner with the University of Arizona and really appreciate all the work that Moe and John have done partnering with us.

NJ: Thanks, Nick. How about you, Moe?

MM: I’m quickly adjusting to the new normal. So, I can give you an example. This morning I came to my office around 7:30. First thing I did, I went to the student union and got tested for COVID because I thought I’d been exposed last week, when we had visitors here in the mines building. And within half an hour, 45 minutes, I had the results. So, obviously, I tested negative, so I’m very happy about that. And I think this is where we’re going, you know? These rapid tests were developed here at the University of Arizona, so I’m very proud of that. And I think this is where we’re going to go with the mining industry as well, with the introduction of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with the introduction of these technologies. And I’m sure we’re going to see wearable technologies becoming commonplace in the industry, and we can use that. We’re already doing that. Hexagon is doing an excellent job of fatigue monitoring, but we will be monitoring other health aspects as well in the very near future. And having developed a few sensors myself, we’re testing a few sensors at the San Xavier mine, monitoring the mine environment and worker health. I’m really proud of being a part of this in the Industrial Revolution and our partnership with Hexagon. So, I think the future is bright and our students are going to be extremely proficient in the use of technology in the very near future.

NJ: Thank you, Moe. How about you, John?

JK: Well, I’ll give you an example of something that happened to me today. I teach online now. I had a class this morning. I’m a big fan of in-class activities or collaborative learning. I feel like students, if you lecture to students, you don’t get 100 percent of their attention. When I put them in groups and we solve problems, then it’s fantastic to see how much learning takes place. So now we do the same thing in Zoom. We have Zoom breakout rooms, and we break up the students into groups of three, and we give them problems to solve, and we come back and we discuss, and then maybe they’ll go back into their breakout rooms. So, I’m seeing some real advancement in the way we are able to do things we didn’t think we could do online, online. So, I think, again, these online technologies and ways we can communicate are going to really change. And when it comes to the mining industry, of course, we have this concept of the digital twin and lot of the things, like Moe mentioned, are going to go into the digital twin. So, the idea is that you can really be operating a mine from a distance and really have the virtual experience of being in the mine. So, I think, again, I reiterate what Nick said and also Moe, this is just a fantastic opportunity. Putting together the COVID of forcing us to go online as well as the Industry 4.0 is going to produce some fantastic solutions in the future.

NJ: Yeah. Some of those scenarios you describe are something that none of us could really have envisaged a few months ago, which makes the insight all the more fascinating. Gentlemen, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us today.

All: All right. Thanks, Nev. Thanks, Nev for this shot. Thank you, Nev. Thanks. Thank you, Nev. Thank you, Hexagon.

NJ: Thank you. A big thank you to our guests, Nick, John, and Moe. For more info about today’s topic, visit hexagonmining.com. To listen to additional episodes of Mining Matters, visit hxgnspotlight.com. Thanks for tuning in.