Canada’s Teck adopts new resource extraction technology

Llamazoo founders Charles Lavigne (left) and Kevin Oke demonstrate the company’s technology at the B.C. Tech Summit. Llamazoo is one of multiple B.C. tech firms being sought out by major miners such as Teck Resources | Chung Chow

Galore Creek, one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits, sits in a remote corner of northwestern B.C.

But thanks to virtual reality, investors, newsletter writers, government officials and First Nations who want to know more about the project don’t have to fly 150 kilometres past Smithers to get a first-hand look at the proposed mine site.

They can now take a 3D virtual reality tour developed by Llamazoo for Vancouver’s Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.B), which owns 50% of the Galore Creek project.

The mining industry has been slow to innovate, but major players like Teck are now playing catch-up in a big way by embracing a range of high-tech innovations.

From intelligent mine shovels to machine learning, Teck has begun adopting high-tech methods for mining – some of them developed locally by companies like MineSense and Llamazoo – to reduce energy use and optimize mine site operations.

Teck is also one of the founding members of B.C.’s Digital Technology Supercluster initiative.

“What’s happening with computing power, the increasing Internet of Things, the amount of data that’s available for us today is vastly different than it was just five years ago,” said Greg Brouwer, Teck’s general manager of technology and innovation. “And as a company, we recognized that the implications of this on industry broadly, but also the mining industry and Teck, are going to be profound. And we really want to make sure that we’re working hard to deliver the value that can come from this evolution that’s happening around us.”

Teck displayed some of its high-tech approaches to mining at the recent B.C. Tech Summit.

Teck is running a pilot project that uses telematics – the long-distance transmission of digital information – and Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) machine learning to predict and avoid mechanical failures in its haul trucks at mine sites.

“Our trucks are equipped with a host of sensors that monitor everything from oil pressure to fuel level, and the machine-learning algorithm and technology scans all these millions of data points from the trucks to identify issues that no human would have the capacity to see,” Brouwer said. “This cloud-based technology can have some real potential savings of about $1.2 million annually at just one site.”

“This cloud-based technology can have some real potential savings of about $1.2 million annually at just one site.”

It’s also expected that smart shovel technology developed by MineSense could save the company money.

MineSense developed sensors that mount on mining shovels and conveyor belts to essentially pre-sort ore. The sensors scan the ore with X-rays, and software applies an algorithm to that data to infer what types of elements might be in it.

It can tell the operator if the rocks he or she just scooped up contain enough valuable ore to be worth processing and whether a truckload of ore should be sent for processing or disposed of as waste.

“I think it was about three months ago we made our first decision to reroute a truck that was going to go to a waste pile, but it had valuable ore in it and we took that to the mill,” said Adam Miller, Teck’s technology and innovation lead. “It gives you one last chance to say, ‘Is this ore or is this waste?’

“We went through the pilot process, but from there to date we’ve taken it to the first industrial prototype – so actually on a full-scale shovel in the field.”

As for its new MineLife VR virtual reality project, Teck partnered with Llamazoo to develop an immersive 3D virtual reality tour of its Galore Creek project. It can be used for things like open houses and investor presentations.

For example, an investor or mining newsletter writer interested in the project’s drilling results can toggle through historical drilling data and see how many holes have been drilled and where they intersect with ore bodies.

They can even go down into an open pit that has yet to be dug, or fly over the area where a tailings pond or processing mill would be located.

It brings a lot of otherwise boring data to life and gives people a clear picture of what the mine will look like when developed.

“For one of our stakeholders, we can give this on a USB stick, and they can launch it and navigate through it on their own machine,” said Dave Donaldson, Teck’s manager of geospatial solutions.

Teck isn’t just a high-tech adopter; it’s a developer of sorts. It has its own in-house labs such as CESL Ltd., which develops the company’s hydrometallurgical technology.

Teck is B.C.’s largest and most diversified mining company. In B.C., it owns and operates five metallurgical coal mines, the Highland Valley Copper mine and a zinc smelter in Trail.

Teck also owns or co-owns mines in the U.S., Chile and Peru and has a 20% stake in the new Fort Hills oilsands operation.

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