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What Innovations are Expected for the Mining Industry in 2015?

We are closing the first trimester of the year and the mining industry is already providing us with clues in regards to innovation that will stand out in 2015.

Juan Cariamo, partner and co-CEO of Vantaz, made a diagnosis of the main concerns that the mining industry had for the current year, in Chile as well as all over the world. It was highlighted that the three major pillars of innovation in which the market will be focused on this year are safety, sustainability and productivity.

Likewise, Cariamo also stressed the work that Vantaz is carrying out in order to innovate within the Chilean market. He spoke about the new project concerning locking systems for machinery, which seeks to change the way of making innovation happen in the mining industry.

Safety and Sustainability: the Goals to be Accomplished

Juan: Just as major industries in general, the mining industry has already defined a series of priorities with regard to what its challenges are in order to maintain itself as a healthy and sustainable industry, as well as one that adds productivity to the country. They have identified four or five areas where it is actually necessary to innovate and create things that are different. Some of these tasks are water use, environmental management, automation of operations, worker safety, and efficient use of energy, amongst other issues. These are the chief topics that the industry has already determined to face over the next few years.

Specifically during 2015, the priorities are focused on containing costs. As a consequence, what is happening in terms of innovation is focused on issues such as the use of technology in order to make production monitoring more efficient as well as accelerating the decision making processes, the use of more resistant materials, the use of biotechnology, and the modification of processes. There was progress made in several areas, but there is evidently much more to be done.

That being said, the work in matters of innovation is not centred in the mining companies, but rather in its suppliers. Why? This is due to the fact that, generally speaking, they are the ones who innovate within the mining industry as well as any other industry. What the industry does is to operate, extract copper, explore, and transport material, so that it is finally marketed. All of this is done by using equipment that someone produced, automation developed by someone else, and engineering systems designed by yet other people. The mining companies buy the equipment, launch the project, and mostly operate.

Countries such as Australia created an institutional structure that is much deeper, where they made a public and private effort that began many years ago, thus creating major centres of innovation, one of which is present in Chile called CSIRO. It’s a major centre that renders transversal services to many industries, with a massive portfolio of innovations in areas such as the use of water, transport of materials, technology or the use of new materials, and so forth.

How is Chile Welcoming Innovation?

Juan: In Chile, various efforts have been carried out for many years, by means of what are known as the Cluster Projects. A kind of institutional structure was created, strongly boosted by mining companies, mainly BHP Billiton and CODELCO (among other companies), alongside the government through CORFO. Furthermore, life was given to new surroundings, which until last year created some fruits in terms of innovations with regard to the topics of the mining industry that I have mentioned before. This Cluster Projects are strongly focused on the suppliers, especially the Chilean ones, so that they can achieve a world-class level. In saying this, I mean that their products, pumps and tubes, among other materials, have to be excellent, exportable, and able to compete side by side with Finnish, German or Japanese ones. In order to accomplish this as a supplier, not only do I have to take care in terms of my design by having the highest standards, but also I need to focus on the use of innovations with regard to materials, as well as a management model that can meet any challenge. This is the leap in innovation that suppliers must bring about this year, due to the fact that the mining industry in Chile is highly competitive. The companies that are coming are large-scale and world-class providers, such as Komatsu. Only in the past few years has the scene started to change somewhat, where innovation is taking place and these changes are focused on safety and the environment.

As I mentioned before, countries such as Australia are ahead of us with regard to innovation. However, the good thing is that together we seek to create connections and bring to our country the modern innovations of the mining industry. This makes me connect the aforementioned to what Vantaz is working on today in order to create new things where there were none.

Vantaz: Importing Innovations

Juan: Vantaz is interested in innovating, being facilitators or creators of projects that develop suppliers. We were hired by suppliers BHP and CODELCO in order to help them go forward within the industry, so that their products reach a higher level, better quality, and have more structure. On the other hand, we also want to create innovation on our own. This is the reason by which we have organized ourselves, making joint efforts with other companies so that we can offer innovative solutions to other companies. In order to do so, we are working under an association of suppliers called Minnovex, where we want to create a real industry of technology and services for the industry.

In order to offer unique and innovative solutions, at Vantaz we use our presence in Australia so as to serve as a link between the technological development of our country and other nations that are still stuck in their work processes. By participating in forums, conferences and other events, we hope to be active agents in terms of the technological transfer of solutions that are available in Australia and that may be used in Chile, as well as in all of Latin America. We aim to be a bridge between countries that already have technological solutions and those that do not yet have these innovations but that, due to the necessities of the business, require them in an urgent manner. This is what we have been trying to do.

Vantaz and the Machine Locking System that Seeks to Improve the Industry

Vantaz is concerned with the innovations that are coming during 2015, centred on safety and productivity. A year ago, alongside other companies—including four suppliers, two engineering and technology companies, one project management company, and ourselves contributing with change management—we started working with a major mining corporation so as to offer a solution to safety in the industry. It should allow us to make a safer effort as well as a more productive one with regard to the locking of equipment, not only in minerals, but also in other industries that use heavy machinery.

The project completed its design stage towards the end of 2014. It seeks to solve the problem of the market that today has no alternatives. This is why we offer a conceptual solution. At present, we are working on the building phase, fully entering the creation of the solution. This is to say, if we use software technology, we should start developing it; if we are going to have system of experts, we should start shaping it as soon as possible. This is the stage we currently find ourselves in.

In 2015 we hope to have our first technological meeting in order to make the locking out theme a reality. During this year we want to give birth to and resolve for the first time a problem that, as of yet, does not have a solution in the market. This is the number one objective and we hope to be able to test it as a pilot project. If it turns out to be successful, it will be taken to other companies in order to start to upscale it.

Thus, why is it so important? The centre of attention for the mining industry this year is, without a doubt, safety. This is not only due to the fact that there are no existing solutions, but also because there is an urgent need to achieve a new locking system as it affects all of the industries that intensively use equipment of enormous dimensions. These machines need to be fully stopped in order to maintain them because if not, serious accidents and deaths can occur, as well as massive time waste. Clearly, switching off mining equipment is not the same as turning off a television. Many hours—and sometimes even days—are required in order to plan their stoppage, and the same amount of time to switch them on again. As a result, any tool that allows automation of this task so as to reduce time needed and create safer work procedures, is a massive contribution to the value of the industry and this is the kind of innovation that is needed today.

This locking system solves two problems. The first one has to do with safety, as it is a very serious issue in this industry as we continue to have high rates of death and which is why we are very sensitive to the issue of accidents and improving safety. The second one is that productivity is solved in a job that takes many hours and is quite cumbersome.

VKN (Vantaz Knowledge Network)

In the end, it is important for us to have a model that is being applied in Vantaz with a group of young people, called VKN (Vantaz Knowledge Network). They are in charge of translating the experience of Vantaz into valuable information for the rest of the members of the team, in terms of lessons learned, discoveries, and any other interesting topic. Their job is to make this information available to everyone, so that it may be utilized in the future to make new projects better, thus maintaining a group of people that help to identify opportunities for innovation.

We not only want to innovate in the external industry, but we also want to do it within the members of our teams. If there is a problem within the industry, we will be able to talk, help the teams and create a feedback in which we can benefit as well as our clients. If we have the means to solve problems, then we will solve them. If we do not have the means, then we will associate ourselves with other teams that are able to do so. For Vantaz, it is crucial to create a culture of innovation.