The mining industry is notoriously slow to adopt new technologies.
Steve Gravel, the new manager of the Centre for Smart Mining (CSM) at Cambrian College in Sudbury, said that this happens for a number of reasons.
“There's a baked-in risk inherent in the commodities market,” he said. “The economics are not really in favor of trialing new technologies in a very nimble way because of the capital intensive nature of doing it.”
That's why Gravel hopes that the centre will help to demystify new technologies for mining companies and their employees.
As part of the college's applied research department, the CSM is tied into a larger national network of 30 Technology Access Centres (TAC) across Canada, which help companies access expertise, equipment, funding and provide the facilities to solve innovation challenges.
Cambrian's one of two TAC centres that specialize in mining research. The other one is in Trois-Rivières, Que.
The applied research projects coming out of the CSM are entirely industry-driven.
For example, technology firms might approach the TAC with the desire to do some proof-of-concept or proof-of-value projects in order to break into the mining sector.
The eventual goal is to commercialize new technologies or to perform specialized testing on already commercialized products.
“Through the acquisition of some really key pieces of technology, we are really looking to be a gateway for trialing new technologies that are not yet in mining,” said Gravel.
Some of the projects coming out of the CSM were showcased at Cambrian College's recent Applied Research day event.
A group of students is currently working on technology to monitor vehicle safety on mine sites.
In collaboration with Minetell Inc., a risk and performance data company, they have created a sensor that connects to vehicles which automatically generates data about anything from external temperature to vehicle stability.
The system is built to detect hazards and alert company personnel.
The benefits of this technology are two-fold: it can create a safer work environment for employees and avoid damage to company vehicles, which are often a huge investment.
Gravel, who was appointed manager of CSM in July, is no stranger to applied research at Cambrian, serving as a departmental business developer more than three years ago before becoming a business development manager at Ontario Centres of Excellence.
With an educational background in business history, he wrote his master's thesis on logging in Algonquin Park.
After graduation, he was introduced to the mining supply and service sector at a think-tank called INORD, the Institute for Northern Ontario Research and Development. That's when his career path became clear.
His vision for the centre is to move from reactive to foundational.
“I don't want the college to necessarily be five years behind. I want to be leading the way when it comes to providing access to new technologies.”
The centre has continued to do cutting-edge R & D but his plan is to take it to the next level.
They've started a speaker series, with IBM representatives being invited to speak to local tech firms last month.
Gravel also plans to engage companies outside of Sudbury, hinting at potential project partnerships in British Columbia and possibly research exchanges internationally. He specifically mentioned recently visiting some companies in Brazil with inroads in Canada.
Gravel's ultimate goal for CSM is to create a world-leading knowledge warehouse and catalyst for innovation in the North.
“It's really exciting and its kind of like drinking from a fire hose for me right now.”