Companies in the mining industry are risk averse, which is why they have a hard time adopting innovation, says Luis Canepari, vice-president of technology for Goldcorp Inc., a gold producing company that recently hosted its second #DisruptMining accelerator challenge.
It’s tough to blame them, he adds. In addition to plummeting oil prices, which dipped to, and remained at, nearly all-time lows in 2014 and 2015, impacting mining operations across the country, it can take nearly 10 years for a company to get the necessary permits and the final green light to start mining operations at a new site, says Canepari.
“By the time you start working [at the mine] you’re trying to incorporate ideas from a decade ago,” he says. “To have innovation you have to have a very forward-thinking leadership team.”
That’s why Goldcorp launched the #DisruptMining accelerator challenge two years ago, to shed light on new technology that has the potential to solve some of the industry’s biggest challenges.
And this year’s winner, Acoustic Zoom, turned a lot of heads at the #DisruptMining Innovation Expo in Toronto, says Canepari.
The Newfoundland-based seismic imaging company specializes in ultra-high frequency 3D borehole seismic imaging, producing high-resolution images of the ground beneath the feet of companies looking to start digging. According to the company, it’s much more precise than traditional seismic scanning technology and can reduce 3D survey costs by approximately 90 per cent.
They’ve come a long way since 2017, when they were #DisruptMining semi-finalists, says Canepari. Their technology was impressive, but it was too bulky and expensive to be able to use on a consistent basis.
“They’ve basically miniaturized their equipment,” he explains.
A full roll out of their initial seismic system in years prior – the company has been around since 2013 – would cost millions of dollars, something mining companies, who helped test the technology, said was too expensive to adopt commercially, says Gary Dinn, vice-president of marketing for Acoustic Zoom. Working closely with mining companies to perfect the latest iteration of their technology was the key to their success.
“Now we can recommend the drilling locations and reduce the overall amount of drilling required by 25-30 per cent,” says Dinn.
- Last year’s #DisruptMining winner was Kore Geosystems, a joint venture between DGI Geoscience, a Canadian based service company focused on mining and mineral exploration, and Procept, an award-winning technology development and commercialization firm based in Australia. Together, they specialize in data acquisition in the mining industry.
- According to a report by Deloitte, over the past 10-15 years, research and development departments in producer companies within the mining industry have seen significant cutbacks. “Most companies lack systemic processes, formal structures and internal incentives to foster and encourage innovation, making it incredibly difficult for majors in particular to change. To top it off, the complexity of the mining business coupled with the intensity of competition has led to an internal, functional focus, such that collaboration not only internally but also with other industry players remains sporadic at best,” the report says.
- According to mining.ca, mining contributed $56 billion to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015.
What sets them apart from the competition, aside from the mobility of their equipment – which has been reduced from a full-sized truck with vibrators and drills, to a 200 lbs. compact system that can be transported by hand – is their ability to install smaller receivers inside a drill hole and, and therefore, reduce the sound path of a signal.
“A shorter sound path allows us to use higher frequencies, and higher frequencies give you a better resolution,” explains Dinn. Acoustic Zoom also has the ability to steer the receiver to capture information.
It’s a game changer for companies who perform early exploration, especially in geographically challenging areas, such as offshore. It can even be used by companies with existing drill holes.
“You never know what you’ll find with a new pair of lens,” says Canepari.
Winning #DisruptMining doesn’t just give Acoustic Zoom bragging rights, but also the opportunity to negotiate up to a $1 million investment from Goldcorp.
“We’re still a small company,” says Dinn. “But we want to build out this service, build more clients … and help mining companies save money and be more successful.”
All four #DisruptMining’s finalists showed serious potential, says Canepari. Open Mineral AG, for example, which digitizes physical commodity trading, is something Goldcorp may use in the future.
“Even though they didn’t win, we’re thinking of using their platform … we saw an opportunity to reduce our costs,” he says.
All proceeds from the finale event March 4 will support innovation-focused scholarships, according to Goldcorp’s website.