Technology centres expose experiences and challenges in mining innovation

The online event was a space for the exchange of knowledge on the processes of technological validation, the main challenges to promote the incorporation of new technologies into mining and the need to promote international collaboration.

The National Piloting Center (CNP) and the Canadian centre NORCAT organized an online meeting, where experiences and lessons learned were shared, generating a discussion about the challenges and opportunities that have arisen during the realization of pilot tests of emerging and developing technologies for the mining industry.

Among other aspects, the implication it has for the intellectual property of new technologies, the generation of a network of contacts between suppliers, and access to the diverse financing that exists in mining environments to help accelerate technological development was addressed.

The workshop titled "Experiences and challenges of mining technological innovation" included a conversation panel moderated by Juan Cariamo, chairman of the CNP board, which revolved around the main task of the NORCAT technology centres in Canada and the National Pilot Center. Together with the experience of SK Godelius, a technology-based company with offices in Chile and Canada.

"The workshop was a very profitable technical conversation. Both NORCAT and the CNP agreed that mining is an industry with an aversion to risk. Innovating requires a well-organized, well-orchestrated work to accelerate the entry of new technologies," said Juan Cariamo. He added that in parallel, the world of entrepreneurs and technology generators requires a lot of guidance, "in terms of how their solutions are adapted to the reality of the mining world and how their projects are financed, not only in their initial phases but also when they need pilots and industrial validations."

The Canadian experience

Located in Sudbury, NORCAT is the only innovation centre in the world with an operating mine designed for startups, SMEs, and international companies to develop, test, and showcase innovative products and new technologies. NORCAT and the CNP have had a strategic alliance since 2019.

"The NORCAT Underground Centre aspires to be a global one-stop-shop for all that is the future of mining technology and innovation. We have developed many lessons learned throughout this journey, including balancing the healthy tension between supporting innovation, creativity and regulatory-policy compliance, managing intellectual property, and developing a business model. support and meet the needs of a diverse group of customers and key stakeholders," said Don Duval, CEO of NORCAT, during his presentation on "Innovation at NORCAT: Highlights and Lessons Learned."

The executive explained that NORCAT is a non-profit centre, which has government support and is a world leader in the development and provision of innovation services and qualified labour training, with more than 25 years of experience in the validation of technology prototypes for the mining industry.

"Using our 'active laboratory,’ we help connect and negotiate the relationships between mining technology companies, which are the 'builders' of innovation, and global mining companies, which are the 'buyers' of innovation, creating an active and ever-changing technological ecosystem that is poised to transform the global mining industry," said Duval.

Technological piloting in Chile

The second presentation corresponded to the technical manager of the National Piloting Center, Cristian Opazo, who spoke about the "CNP Pilots: execution, results and implications of the pilot tests in mining," explaining the experience that the Center has had since its creation in 2019.

He also referred to the strategic axes and the different alliances with key actors in the ecosystem to later delve into the learnings and the continuous improvement model implemented in the pilots, which includes defining the opportunities and correction measures in the test designs.

The CNP has three strategic axes: national and international alliances, strategic agreements with key players in the ecosystem, and test spaces.

"We have been developing various capacities, and today we have test sites at mining sites, with protocols and procedures for validation. We have built the recognition of the ecosystem, with relevant actors as Corfo, Sernageomin, the Ministry of Mining and Energy, Anglo American, and national partners, such as Csiro, Cetaqua, HubApta; and international, such as NORCAT. The ecosystem has allowed us to contribute to new technologies, accelerating their arrival in mining," he said.

The CNP's industrial piloting processes include planning, execution and closure phases. Once the test design is developed, it is relevant to choose the right expert for the experiment and calibrate the clients’ expectations. "There, it is essential to know in depth the manuals of the equipment and Data Sheets to be tested, in addition to making a better evaluation of the TRL's of the equipment, that is, at what level of technological development they are really found," explained Opazo.

To the management of expectations, flexibility and effectiveness in achieving solutions are added. "When you are validating, all the procedures must be in line with what the client wants to do. That is why flexibility is required to act quickly, solve problems, carry out the test and reach the closure, which is the traceability of hard data and the confidence that the report issued by the CNP is an analysis of an independent third party," summarized the CNP technical manager, Cristian Opazo.

Chilean company in Canada

The last presentation was given by Fernando Bracco, CEO of SK Godelius, who presented on the "SK Godelius-NORCAT Alliance: strategic perspectives in Canada," an occasion in which he focused on the company's decision to open offices in Toronto, at the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI); and in Sudbury, at the NORCAT Underground Centre, to start its globalization process in 2020.

SK Godelius is an engineering company with operations in Chile and Canada. It has been operating since late 2011 when advances in artificial intelligence, unstructured robotics, high-capacity, low-latency networks began to make completely new ways of operating viable.

"With the appearance of teleoperated or autonomous vehicles, machines, robots, a new operational paradigm is being consolidated in global mining. To make this possible, multiple technological innovations of the fourth industrial revolution converge: SK Godelius works at the heart of these changes. Relying on an underground mine like NORCAT is a remarkable contribution that will allow us to demonstrate on-site that these solutions are available, here and now," said Bracco.

Finally, the exhibitors answered queries, including the pandemic’s impact on the world of technological development.

Both centres agreed that despite having impacts, there has also been an intense demand for new technologies that can help face these conditions, such as teleoperation, automation, and other technological advances in mining.

This article was originally published in Spanish on Minería Chilena.