Innovation and technology adoption are imperative for a successful and sustainable mining sector, but our approaches to date to deliver development of both have lagged behind that of other industries. So what can we learn from those sectors? One common tool that has yielded results is the creation of a technology roadmap.

A technology roadmap is a plan that matches short- and long-term goals with specific technology gaps that need to be bridged. Roadmaps can be developed for a specific product, portfolio of products, company or an entire industry. For example, NASA released 21 technology roadmaps in 2015 covering a variety of systems relevant to long-term technological needs for space.

The development of a roadmap helps reach a consensus about long-term goals in a 10- to 20-year time frame, a set of needs and the technologies required to satisfy those needs. Roadmaps provide a framework to help plan and coordinate technology developments across a business ecosystem and can provide a glimpse into the future of technology development. In the case of NASA, one such roadmap identifies current applied research and development activities that could help meet the goal of cutting spacecraft launch costs in half by 2035. At an industry level, technology roadmaps accelerate solution development and deployment as they help to focus efforts across the ecosystem from academia to start-ups to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), both inside and outside of mining.

To the best of our knowledge there has never been a consistent effort to create industry-wide technology roadmaps for mining, until now.

The mining industry has relied heavily on step-change innovation to address challenges and drive innovation in individual companies. Unfortunately, many of these initiatives have failed for two reasons. First, step-change innovation by its nature attempts to solve a large challenge in a single “step” versus actually plotting out the incremental pathway. Second, most of these initiatives have been implemented by individual companies without real collaboration with others attempting to solve similar challenges.


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That is why we at the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) have rallied over 125 individuals across the mining sector to generate technology roadmaps in exploration, underground mining, processing and environment. We have also created an additional roadmap that consolidates each of these themes into a unifying and holistic roadmap for an industry-wide innovation strategy we have dubbed Towards Zero Waste Mining.

Development of a technology roadmap is an intensive process much of which occurs through workshops comprising 20-35 thought leaders. These workshops employ methodology designed to move from “anything goes” ideas to a focused consensus on long-term goals, specific themes, technology gaps, performance targets and specific projects.

The CMIC technology roadmap for exploration, for example, has identified six key areas split into two themes that need to be addressed to solve the many challenges related to exploration. In the theme of “Deep Mature Camps,” the three areas are multi-parameter footprints and 3D vectoring, techniques to unravel deep 3D geology and real-time down-hole data collection. The second theme of “Remote and Covered Areas” comprises characteristics of fertile terranes and districts, techniques to map sub-surface geology and secondary dispersion.

Having this roadmap allows others, including those outside of mining, to understand the industry’s research and technology needs in order to more effectively focus their own efforts to service those needs. To publicize these needs and recruit participants, CMIC has conducted conference presentations and workshops, as well as led discussions with organizations and teams at universities, research and innovation organizations and government labs. And these efforts are paying off. The area of multi-parameter footprints and 3D vectoring is being tackled directly through the CMIC Exploration Innovation Consortium, while the area of characteristics of fertile terranes and districts is being taken on by the team that created Metal Earth, a $110-million government-funded research initiative led by Laurentian University. The team at Laurentian used this roadmap as a guide to create Metal Earth. Participants in the CMIC exploration group are actively involved in Metal Earth to ensure sharing of information and progress towards the greater needs of the community at large. 

The technology roadmap for underground mining was completed in 2016 and CMIC has progressed to a number of projects related to continuous mining, mechanical cutting and battery electric vehicles. One project completed in collaboration with the Global Mining Standards and Guidelines Group (GMSG), involving more than 100 people from across the globe, was the creation of guidelines for battery electric vehicles published in March 2017. These guidelines, available online, are already being used by a number of organizations.

In just the last two years, technology roadmaps have led to tremendous progress toward plotting a transformation for the mining industry and an incredible buy-in to the technology roadmap as a tool to drive innovation across the industry.

 


Carl-Weatherell-headshot

Carl Weatherell is the executive director and CEO of CMIC.