11 Start-Ups Digging Deep To Transform The Mining Industry13 Nov, 20198:44
For many people the mining industry still conjures up images of dirt smeared workers wieldin...
For many people the mining industry still conjures up images of dirt smeared workers wielding pickaxes and diesel belching dump trucks transporting vast cargoes of coal and ores. The reality couldn’t be more different.
Under the surface the mining industry is embracing novel digital technologies which could be straight from a Silicon Valley campus to increase efficiency, improve safety and generate more value for shareholders. Behind these changes is a plucky band of technology start-ups that are digging deep to transform the mining industry.
Embracing tech to maximise value
Many industries across the world have embraced the digital agenda and have profited handsomely because of it. Now it’s the turn of the mining industry. A recent paper from the World Economic Forum and Accenture estimates digitalisation could create more than $425 billion of value for the mining industry, its customers, wider society and the environment from now until 2025.
That’s a figure that’s hard to ignore. Which is why a swathe of ambitious start-ups focused on machine learning, blockchain, robotics, automation and more are claiming to have created solutions which will help the mining industry meet the challenges of the twenty first century.
So, who are these companies and what exactly are they promising? Let’s take a closer look at ten of the most exciting start-ups on the mining scene.
The financial, automotive and healthcare industries have all made extensive use of machine learning and deep learning approaches. Now OreFox is bringing these approaches to the mining industry.
The story of OreFox goes back to 2014 when the two founders, Warwick Anderson and Sheree Burdinat were asked to interrogate a large historic mining database. Rather than attempt to wade through and interpret this vast mound of data manually, the couple decided to use machine learning to parse the data which eventually led to the creation of a broader artificial intelligence system.
By June 2017 OreFox had perfected this system and was successfully predicting the locations of new gold deposits.
Since then OreFox has developed two distinct products. The first of which is its hybrid artificial intelligence system which processes data for a client’s exploration area, and produces prospectivity maps, showing the areas most likely to contain economic mineral deposits.
The second product is the OreFox Deep Learning (DL) system which helps predict geology and other elements of exploration, allowing a faster way to vector in on economic mineralisation. The DL system enables mining companies to upload their new data via the internet and have it process and mapped. They can then quickly make informed decisions as to the next stages of their exploration activity.
Universal Field Robots
Despite recent advancements, the mining industry remains a labour intensive industry. Universal Field Robots wants to change that by bringing to market a fully-autonomous robot with industrial-scale capabilities.
Universal Field Robots has already made impressive progress towards fulfilling this aim having created the UFR3C - a 3-ton robot based on a Caterpillar excavator which, thanks to a variety of attachments such as mowers, mulchers, augers, trenchers, slashers, drilling buckets and grab assemblies, is capable of an impressive array of tasks.
Software development for each of these tasks is currently underway and Universal Field Robots is confident that the robot will soon be deployed across the company’s target industries of mining, construction, agriculture and forestry.
The company has already received acclaim for its efforts and was shortlisted for this year’s Australian Mining Prospect Awards and also took first place at the Australian Technologies Competition 2019.
Trying to communicate work site conditions using traditional methods can be a real challenge. If you’ve ever worked in a mine, you’ll know that trying to describe situations using words alone can sometimes be impossible. SeePilot thinks it can improve workplace communication thanks to its immersive visual communication tool.
SeePilot allows workers on-site to capture a 360 view of the mine using a special camera. The SeePilot application then allows these scenes to be layered with information (very much like the Augmented Reality apps you may have played around with on your smartphone).
These scenes can then be sent to colleagues enabling them to gain an accurate, informed picture of the mine site - improving the speed and accuracy of decision making. SeePilot uses the nifty heuristic of ‘Capture, Annotate, Communicate’ to describe how this process works.
As you can imagine, such a tool could have applications beyond mining and SeePilot is already gaining customers in other industries such as transmission and distribution, oil and gas, infrastructure and construction and logistics.
Taking a data-driven approach to improving mine operations, AVA Solutions carries the tagline ‘improving management through data and innovation’ which neatly summarises this start-up’s ethos.
AVA aims to deliver improved data through the following five areas:
Operational discipline - digitally managing the performance of assets within mines.
Maintenance management - providing mine operators with a holistic view of their overall fleet maintenance to increase efficiency.
Equipment effectiveness - ensuring that all assets are running at optimal levels using a number of various digital dashboards.
Short-term interval control - tracking compliance to plan in real time via digital tools therefore increasing efficiency and productivity.
Realistic planning & event simulation - providing larger amounts of information so that mines can improve planning and run simulations to predict outcomes.
These may all sound like rather marginal improvements, rather than the wholesale transformative changes that are often associated with the use of digital technology. But as anyone who is familiar with the ‘marginal gains’ philosophy of certain sports teams can tell you, minor improvements and amends can add up to a massive improvement in overall performance.
It’s clearly a convincing argument as the South African based AVA Solutions has already gained major clients such as South32 and Exxaro, with the start-up’s website boasting that their solutions are currently being used to track over 1,000 vehicles across 20 mines sites in 3 countries.
Ensuring supply chain integrity has been a perennial issue for the mining industry. Consumers, from businesses to individuals, increasingly want to know where their minerals and resources have come from. Until recently, it’s been difficult for mining companies to truly provide a transparent picture of their supply chain and to guarantee that their minerals have come from responsible sources.
Start-up Minespider has a solution though. By using blockchain technology Minespider hopes to transform the raw materials industry so that it has a safe, reliable and secure method of tracking responsible minerals.
Describing their approach as “tracking certified responsible minerals along every stage of the supply-chain’ Minespider has created a protocol which has three key features:
A public blockchain - decentralised so that no single entity controls supply chain data.
Application layer - enterprise software grants access to the protocol.
Silq Token - which allows the system to function without centralised control.
Minespider describe how this protocol will work, saying:
“Data collected will be stored as encrypted self-sovereign data packet ‘certificates’, under complete control of the data owner. The protocol itself will be largely data agnostic, allowing companies freedom to use any service provider they choose for certification and access to the protocol, however the data collected by Minespider will be structured according to guidelines developed by the Responsible Minerals Initiative.”
It’s a solution which promises to bring about enormous positive social change and because of that Minespider has already garnered the attention of many major manufacturing companies including the likes of Volkswagen.
Imago has set itself a simple goal. To make the increase the likelihood of discovery.
By creating a platform which can extract data and meaningful insights from geoscience imagery, Imago hopes it can make exploration activities far more successful than using traditional methods.
So, how does Imago’s platform work? In short, it consolidates images from any source, transforms them into understandable data and then connects them to the appropriate geological or mining activity. The company describes this process in the following terms:
Capture > Catalog > Connect > Learn.
The platform has also been designed to work across several cycles of the mining process from exploration (from field to office), to resource development (from rig to model) through to grade control (from mine to mill).
It’s a platform which is already winning praise from mining geologists. In November 2018, Australian gold producer Bellevue Gold implemented Imago and has stated that the platform has ‘transformed our geology process.’
The mining industry has some fantastic stories to tell. After all, it’s the mining industry which is providing many of the raw materials which make the green energy transition possible. However, these stories are often dense in data, and packed full of statistics, visuals, charts and graphs.
Canadian mining tech start-up Vrify is making it easier to tell the industry’s stories thanks to its new content platform which enables mining companies to present 3D models which are overlaid with information and details.
We’ll let Vrify describe their product in more detail:
“Until now we have relied on two-dimensional tools to convey three-dimensional stories. People want information simplified, readily accessible, and presented in a digestible manner they can understand without a Ph.D. Our mission is to refine stories down to simple, informative and visually compelling experiences which effortlessly communicate what matters, without all the noise.”
“At Vrify we are leveraging technology to build a content driven platform which every investor and stakeholder alike will use to assess and evaluate a company’s value proposition. Success for us is divergence. We will be the filter that investors and stakeholders use to separate the good from the bad, the deep value from the empty promote.”
Vrify has already made quite an impact upon the mining industry, quickly gaining customers such as Newmont Goldcorp, Ascot Resources, Lion One Metals, Marathon Gold Corporation and tens of others.
Founded in 2016, Goldspot Discoveries has set out to revolutionise the mineral exploration business by utilising artificial intelligence to ‘reduce capital risk while working to increase efficiencies and success rates in resource exploration’.
It’s another company that’s all about those marginal gains.
Similar to OreFox, Goldspot Discoveries sees the recent inverse relation between exploration spending and discoveries as being a key concern for the global gold mining industry. And also similar to OreFox, Goldspot Discoveries sees big data and the use of AI to generate useful insights as the answer to this problem.
Major mining houses clearly see potential in Goldspot Discoveries, with Vale amongst the major players to have made use of the company’s AI platform to enhance their exploration activity.
Resembling a Silicon-Valley start-up more than a mining company, Earth AI has rapidly established itself as an innovator within the industry. Led by Roman Teslyuk, Earth AI’s first major product was a machine learning algorithm able to process millions of data points from all over the world to predict were commercially viable mineral deposits could be located (even in previously unexplored greenfield areas).
Following this initial success, Earth AI has not slowed down on the innovation front. More recent projects include the use of drones to conduct high-precision magnetic surveys of prospects, and an automated diamond drilling rig.
With such novel and future-focused projects within its portfolio, it's no surprise to find that Earth AI has attracted a wide range of backers and investors such as Australian Mines Ltd, Peel Mining, Hammer Metals, Toro Energy, Bligh Resources, Red Metal Ltd, AirTree and more.
Exiro Minerals is looking into the past to find the way forward for the future.
This Toronto-based start-up is an exploration company which has harnessed the potential of machine learning with vast swatches of historical paper records to uncover new high-quality mineral prospects.
Focused on discovering Tier 1 prospects, Exiro Minerals takes historical records which are typically too difficult to use and process, digitises them and feeds them into its proprietary machine learning system. Exiro’s analysts can then parse through this data and (hopefully) uncover exciting new deposits which had been overlooked or missed in decades past.
Exiro also offers a service in which it will digitise other company’s historical records in exchange for a copy themselves, allowing this ambitious start-up to build up a formidable database.
When a bunch of Mathematics and IT experts realised they could use their knowledge of applied mathematics, machine learning and computer graphics to transform the mining industry, the result was the start-up Koan Analytics.
First established in 2017, Koan Analytics entered a hackathon in 2018 which was sponsored by Barrick Gold. They went on to win it. Spotting a massive opportunity Barrick offered Koan a commercial partnership to develop ‘a purpose-built ensemble of machine learning tools designed exclusively for the exploration and mining sector which will deliver the highest value return to the industry.’
Koan’s first product is RAAV (Resource Aggregation, Analytics, & Visualisation) which is focused on aggregating and curating mining related data; applying semantic ‘predictive’ analytics to support expert-decision making; providing intuitive graphics tools for the visualisation of geo-spatially integrated data; and the integration of this information and insights into existing GIS platforms, workflows and processes.
Koan Analytics reckon this approach could unlock a new exploration paradigm. We agree!
With digitalisation comes digital jobs
As these new start-ups gain in prominence and scale it’s clear the mining industry will need to ramp up recruitment of a new generation of digital talent. Mining corporations need to start thinking now, how they will attract the data scientists, statisticians, machine learning specialists and others, that will operate the digital mines of the future.
Individuals with these skills are already highly sought-after by major companies in other industries, so it will be essentially for mining companies to craft a compelling employee value proposition that appeals to the very best millennial and generation z digital talent.
Build the workforce of the future with NES Fircroft
As the start-ups above demonstrate the global mining industry is undergoing rapid change, and you need to ensure the composition of your workforce changes with it.
NES Fircroft can help you manage and execute this change, putting in place the talent acquisition strategies, employee value propositions and talent pipelines you need to secure the workforce of the future.
Explore NES Fircroft’s range of award-winning recruitment and workforce solutions now and if you have any questions or would simply like further information, please request a free no obligation consultation today.