INTERVIEW: Jason Smith, General Manager, Epiroc Canada
How has business been for Epiroc in Canada in the past 12 months, and has there been progression with regards to the transition towards battery electric vehicles (BEVs)?
In our industry, a lot can happen in one year. 2019 has been a good year for Epiroc, and we remain excited about the future. We still have very good activity levels and excellent engagement and collaboration with customers. Technologies, especially BEV development, are currently at the forefront of discussions, and I believe that this will continue to gather traction moving forward. In terms of BEV development, Epiroc is now on generation two and has more than 100,000 hours of operational experience just in Canada. Currently, we have implemented battery technologies in our 14-tonne Scooptram ST14, Minetruck MT42 and drill rigs, but this technology will be rolled out into Epiroc’s entire product portfolio.
Can you explain the benefits of Mobilaris technology?
Part of Epiroc’s digitalization offering is the Mobilaris product portfolio, which includes situational awareness, emergency support and ventilation on demand. The offering is an important part of optimizing our customers’ value chain through system integration and information management. The Mobilaris product allows real-time location, tracking and monitoring of vehicles, personnel and any equipment using a mixture of technologies from various vendors. It is the best fit for homogeneous and cost-efficient solutions to track assets in the mine. To integrate planning data, machine production and maintenance data or sensor data into one decision support system will help to increase the production efficiency and safety of a mine. We like to say that using our Mobilaris product is like having google available for underground operations: you can research and monitor everything that is happening in the mine. We already have various mines in Canada that have committed to rolling out Mobilaris technology.
What are some of the latest products added to Epiroc’s automation fleet?
We have added more products to our automation fleet and are very excited about Epiroc’s SmartROC D65 surface drill rig, which is making evolutionary strides and was deployed with Newmont Goldcorp at the Hollinger open pit mine in Timmins in 2019. This tried and trusted rig now has Epiroc’s innovative automation-ready platform as its foundation. It has the intelligence and power to consistently and efficiently drill high-quality blast holes with accuracy and precision and is loaded with smart features such as automated drilling and rod handling. The automation-ready platform also includes the new Auto Feed Fold feature, which enables the operator to fold the feed for tramming or position it for drilling.
Digitalization is picking up tremendous momentum here in Canada and globally within our industry. At Epiroc, we optimize our customers’ value chain through automation, system integration and information management. We call this 6th Sense, and it enables a smart, safe and seamless operation.
Epiroc also offers a unique opportunity to its customers with the Battery as a Service (BaaS) solution where the end-user does not need to invest in the battery pack and only pays for their usage. As well as the cost benefits, there is a positive environmental impact as the customer takes ownership of the “full circle of life” of the batteries, including second powering options right up to the recycling and reuse of some materials – a win for our customers, for us and the environment.
With regard to innovation, miners are often risk-averse. Have you noticed an uptick in the demand for new technologies?
It is a challenge that the mining industry is a little conservative and likes to play it safe – generally no one wants to be the first adopter of new technologies. However, I do believe that the industry mindset is changing, and mining houses are starting to look for technologies that can improve efficiency and productivity. For example, these days clients are coming to us asking for the latest technologies, rather than the other way round, as mining companies have seen tangible evidence of the competitive advantages innovation can bring. In collaboration with customers, we must scale new technologies in such a way so that exposure is limited during the ramp up or learning phase.
What are Epiroc Canada’s key focus areas moving forward?
Epiroc is focused on sustainability and innovation and always will be. The biggest single driver of change in the rock excavation business is, without a doubt, the advent of automation. Additionally, the amount and quality of resources Canada has gives us a positive outlook for the region. What differentiates Epiroc in the market is the technologies and solutions that we bring to the table, and we aim to be a partner to our customers so that the products Epiroc develops fit seamlessly into their mining operations. This customer-focus will continue as we constantly help them make their operations more sustainable, safe and efficient.
An example of Epiroc’s commitment to stay close to its customers is the establishment of a remanufacturing facility in Sudbury with a focus on underground equipment and operations. We hope to open the doors of the new facility by Q1 2020, which will initially service local consumption, but also the North American, South American and international markers if the demand is there.