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THE DRIFT 2019: SymBot gleans data for improved mining operations

Sudbury company on leading edge of data-mining software
Symboticware’s SymBot, a small, rugged computer, collects data, sending it to a server, where it can be extracted and used by mining companies to improve their operations. (Supplied photo)

When the world talks about the Sudbury mining supply and service cluster, it’s impossible not to think of Symboticware.

Specializing in the collection, storage and transmission of standardized data, the company is one of the pioneers that helped transform the city into the respected global centre of expertise it is today.

It’s led by its co-founder and president, Timmins-raised Kirk Petroski, who spent the first part of his career prospecting and conducting geotechnical work before transitioning into the digital side of the business, building websites and database portals for mining companies.

“What it gave me was a really good perspective on the lifecycle of mining and different products and services,” Petroski said.

“But I really wanted to build a product company…and in 2008 the idea was to create this platform, which we’ve developed now in the last 10 years, and the platform was to create real-time data from mobile equipment to make mines safer and more productive.”

The company’s flagship product is the SymBot, a rugged, grapefruit-sized computer that, when attached to underground equipment, collects data from sensors, stores timestamped data into an internal database, and transmits it over a mine’s existing communications infrastructure to SymView, the product’s corresponding server and data aggregator.

Data gleaned through the system can then be used by companies to better predict things like when a piece of equipment will fail, improving safety and productivity.

In the company’s fledgling years, mining operations were primarily focused on adding equipment and people to its ranks. Petroski spent most of his time just educating the industry on the benefits of telemetry, real-time data and interoperability, all the while fine-tuning the SymBot’s system.

But then, as mining companies watched an extended industry downturn take a major bite out of their profits, they started paying attention. With the digital age now in full force, Symboticware no longer has to work as hard to convince potential clients of the benefits of applying data to tighten up their operations.

“Now the adoption is starting to occur because the mining industry needs to take these new technologies in order to make their operations safer and more efficient,” Petroski said.

Today, Symboticware operates out of a 2,500-square-feet space at NORCAT, where like-minded companies are innovating leading-edge products and services for the industry.

The company has found success on the global stage as well, and with help from the Export Development Assistance Program, has sourced new clients in the U.S., South America, Australia, and Bulgaria.

This past November, the company extended its footprint into Tucson, Ariz. to serve an as-yet-unnamed company with a large, two-site open-pit operation.

Over the summer, Symboticware was invited to complete an eight-week pilot project for the company, and then was subsequently awarded the contract for the larger-scale project, Petroski said. But part of the deal was opening an office in Tucson to better serve the client.

“Tucson is kind of like Sudbury in a lot of ways, but for open-pit – a lot of technology companies, a lot of mining companies are located in Tucson,” Petroski said. “So we’re trying to replicate the same model as we’ve done in Sudbury for underground and make that our open-pit centre.”

The new office opened in January with a manager, data scientist and installers.

“The idea is to grow the U.S. presence with similar capabilities to what we have (in Sudbury), and enable us to do more work within the United States and Mexico from there,” Petroski said.

Symboticware now has a stable of just under 20 employees, but with aggressive growth into additional international markets planned over the next three to four years, Petroski said he anticipates doubling that number.

What won’t change is the company’s home address. Being located so close to its end users provides Symboticware with operational and development benefits that can’t be matched elsewhere.

“We have such an opportunity to rapid develop and rapid test because of what we have around us, and to do that in other markets would not be as beneficial,” Petroski said.

“So, the future intellectual property and all that comes out of the company will always be Canadian-made.”

The Drift magazine, a new publication from Northern Ontario Business, features profiles on the people and companies making important contributions to the Northern Ontario mining service and supply industry.