Exclusive interview with Nick Venter, a mining engineer and general manager overseeing the African region at Maptek - a silver sponsor at the upcoming Kenya Mining Forum in Nairobi in November.
“Looking to the future, we know the most viable and successful mines will be those that can harness the power of data and technology”
Can we start with some background on and history of Maptek, and particularly in Kenya?
The Maptek story began over 35 years ago in Australia when we developed Vulcan, a pioneering 3D resource estimation software, that allowed mining companies to gain a better understanding of their resources. Today, Vulcan remains one of our core products and we are very proud that many of the world’s top mining companies entrust it at their operations.
Our product line has expanded significantly over the years and that’s because we are passionate about developing technology to confront the major challenges facing our industry. Put simply, mining is in our DNA and we are committed to helping mining companies identify, model, plan and extract mineral resources in ways that are more profitable, flexible and efficient.
Of course, reducing risk and maximising safety are also vitally important to our customers and therefore to Maptek. Over the past 20 years we have become well-known for our 3D laser scanners and point cloud software, which enable our clients to identify and monitor geotechnical risks that could pose a threat to personnel, equipment and the environment.
At this stage, Maptek Africa is working towards getting a footprint in Kenya.
What projects in the mining industry that you are involved in are you particularly excited about at the moment?
The Workbench is a platform that we have only recently released to the market and which is already delivering some really significant advantages to our customers, but really it’s just getting started.
The platform allows our clients to link geological and ore body knowledge with planning and engineering tools and operational detail. This is important as it enables, for example, blasting, grade control, geotechnical risk and production equipment scheduling to be managed within the one integrated and connected environment.
Looking to the future, we know the most viable and successful mines will be those that can harness the power of data and technology. They will have the advantages of being able to continuously refine their operations, to react rapidly to changes on-site or in the market, to reallocate resources at speed and to implement repeatable and transparent processes.
To that end, we’re investing heavily in automation, AI, virtual reality, machine learning and Internet of Things and that really excites me.
What do you see as the main challenges in the industry?
A challenge we’re probably best placed to discuss is that of data. We see data as a huge opportunity, but there’s no doubt that it presents a real challenge too. Specifically with regards to performance measurment, regulatory compliance and reporting.
Most mine sites today generate a huge amount of data, from many sources. It is common practice for data to be processed, managed and shared among multiple different systems, teams and departments.
Here are the challenges:
Importing/exporting data to many different programs and places presents a real risk to data integrity. That’s hugely important as mining companies rely on data to make crucial decisions on how to run their mines.
Not only that, mining companies are obliged by governments, shareholders, environmental bodies and others to accurately and transparently report on many of their activities. For that you need good quality data, and transparent methods for collecting and processing it.
As you can imagine, we’ve been working on these challenges for many years and ultimately it led us to create the Workbench, among other things.
What role can/should the government play in the sector in your view?
The stimulus of the investment sector should help governments get greenfield projects started, which is always a difficult task. The use of certain technologies in mining would also go a long way towards efficiently mining ore bodies.
What is your vision for the industry?
Miners are historically one of the slower adopters of disruptive technologies, and for valid reasons – we operate in a very complex, risky environment. However with risk comes opportunity. I believe the mining industry is going through a technological revolution. More and more it’s looking to embrace the opportunities offered by digital technology.
In recent years we have seen numerous examples of miners collaborating with external bodies such as universities or tech companies to gain a significant competitive advantage. Some have completely changed their business models, or even set up their own internal departments focusing on nurturing innovation. I’m convinced that we will see a lot more companies take a chance on new business models, alliances and technologies in order to get ahead of their competitors.
Why did Maptek decide to join Kenya Mining Forum as a sponsor? What are you hoping for at the event?
Maptek Africa would like to get a better perspective on how we can assist our clients in Kenya and specifically what they need from us. We would also like to begin some enduring relationships with mining operations across the country.
What will be your message at the event?
Maptek has the solutions and experience you need to run a safer, more efficient and more productive mine of the future.