CEMI works with a variety of partners to introduce new technologies, practices, and knowledge to improve the production and safety of mines.
The Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) is celebrating an important milestone this year. Established a decade ago in Sudbury, the goal of the national not-for-profit organization is to address the mining industry's challenges by introducing new technologies, practices, and knowledge to improve the production and safety of mines. Looking back, President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Morrison credits a FedNor-supported project with helping illuminate CEMI's path going forward.
Recognizing that a significant portion – 40 to 60 percent – of rising energy costs in underground mines was related to ventilation, FedNor invested more than $4.2 million in 2009 to enable CEMI to install, test and assess new ventilation on demand (VOD) technology in Vale's Coleman and Glencore Nickel Rim South Mines. The goal was to determine whether re-directing air could help reduce energy consumption, as well as pave the way for company productivity gains and increased overall energy efficiency. According to Morrison, the results exceeded expectations.
The project helped establish a new company, Objectivity, whose analytical software could determine and identify where VOD could bring the maximum benefit to a mining operation, and help prioritize where capital should be invested. In addition, the project also assisted in the expansion of another start-up business, Symboticware, whose monitoring technology collects data from remote locations, such as underground mines to assist with better decision making. President and CEO Kirk Petroski says the project afforded Symboticware with an invaluable opportunity to explore ways in which its solution systems could be used in an active mine.
"We leveraged our work to expand our product offering to that customer that led to the full adoption of our monitoring platform on all production equipment. That, in turn, provided us with a showcase site where we could demonstrate our hardware and software. Subsequent demonstrations with visitors from the United States and Chile have resulted in further sales, increased profitability and job creation."
Symboticware, which started with six to eight employees in 2009, today boasts twice that number. Petroski says his company's growth was made possible in part through exposure gained during the VOD project.
In addition to opening the door to new opportunities for several Sudbury area small businesses, the FedNor-funded initiative proved to be a catalyst for change, shifting CEMI's focus from research and development initiatives to implementation (demonstration) and commercially viable projects to address the mining industry's challenges at depth.
Solutions Architect Jon Petrenas commissioning a SymBot on mobile equipment.
"With other organizations focused on safety improvements, we decided to focus on innovation. We can have safe mines but if they're not productive and profitable, we close them. That's why innovation is so important," explained Morrison. "However, everyone has a different opinion on how to achieve it. It can be difficult to get consensus but that's where the rewards lie. It is through collaboration with innovators and industry that innovation comes to life, spurring new ideas and partnerships. This project brought nearly a dozen area organizations and companies together who, 10 years later, are continuing to collaborate to advance the industry."
Following the ventilation-on-demand project, Morrison says CEMI has been concentrating on those innovation projects that have a clear commercialization plan from the onset, as well as a business willing to lead the charge and sell it. He says CEMI works with its industrial and commercial partners from the beginning to ensure the final product is proven technology and be used in the real world by the industry, and that's how it's making a difference.