Canada-based Procon has been implementing tried and tested technology for its employees and end customers for decades, resulting in improved operational safety and productivity outcomes.
It is now looking to make the leap and adopt new solutions from the mining technology sector, according to CEO John McVey, with the contract miner already into “phase three” of an “Industrial Supervisor training program”, focused on Procon’s front-line supervision and incorporating change management associated with this adoption.
Speaking to IM on the side lines of the HxGN LIVE Global 2023 event, in Las Vegas, and ahead of his panel appearance on Wednesday (in a panel titled ‘Down Under: Standing Up to the Challenges of Underground Mining’), McVey said the established contract mining model needed to change to accelerate the uptake of new technology in the market.
“Inherently when we bid for work it has to be competitively tendered in order to try and win a new contract,” he said. “You aren’t typically able to add many bells and whistles on if you want to win the work.
“This likely has to change at some point, with mining companies understanding the benefits that come with rolling out and applying these new technology ‘bells and whistles’.”
Procon has seen glimpses of an evolution – McVey references the introduction of battery-electric trucks at the Brucejack mine in British Columbia, Canada, where Procon is working, plus the use of autonomous load and haul equipment at the Kittilä operation in Finland (where Procon previously carried out shaft work) – but he said that today these were the exception, not the rule.
“Where we may also see more mining technology being adopted in the future is with these junior developers striving for higher ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals,” McVey said. “These clean, green metal developers – due to these ESG aims – are often backed by different types of investors that are less risk averse, or less tainted by the project capital and schedule blowouts experienced in previous commodity cycles.”
McVey’s appearance at HxGN LIVE Global 2023 this week is centred around finding out how the mining technology provider can help Procon’s workers and its clients underground, with safety- and productivity-led solutions coming high up the contract miner’s agenda.
“There is very rarely opposition to bringing in any initiatives that will enhance safety underground,” McVey said. “As a result, it is obvious to start here.”
When it comes to productivity, the company is interested in finding out how it could potentially deploy the Production Optimiser™ solution at certain sites. This advanced mining technology, developed by Minnovare, which Hexagon’s Mining division acquired last year, improves drill and blast efficiency and productivity in underground hard-rock mines by reducing collar deviation and, as a result, delivering superior setup accuracy at the collar. This increases the number of holes drilled to within tolerance at the toe, achieving optimum blasts and reducing dilution, according to Minnovare.
Production Optimiser has been deployed across the mining world, including at sites operated by contract miners Pit N Portal (owned by Emeco Group) and Barminco (part of Perenti).
In addition to productivity and safety, McVey is conscious the graduates coming through the pipeline that may enter the mining sector want to interact with the ‘new technology’ they have become accustomed to.
“They are used to playing computer games, interacting with apps and using technology on a daily basis,” he said. “If we are to encourage them to join the mining sector, we need to adopt some of this to increase our appeal.”
Here McVey mentioned the in-house development of an app, PSAFE, to log all incidents underground. This allows Procon employees to upload photos and reports in close to real time, to enhance reporting and analysis of these incidents.
“While a worker may be somewhat reluctant to write up a report after a long shift underground,” McVey said. “The app – which we are in the process of rolling out across all our sites – is enabling them to capture important information almost immediately, particularly ‘near-miss’ reporting which is critical in avoiding potential hazards and incidents.”
Again, this comes back to the change management piece that is so important to any new technology being adopted and used successfully.
McVey is hoping to learn from other mining companies and contractors at HxGN LIVE Global 2023 about how they are achieving ‘buy in’ from their employees for this new technology, to enhance Procon’s own change management processes and reduce the risk associated with applying new solutions at their sites.