SME President's Page

William Edgerton

In my October president’s column, I talked about why innovation is in SME’s Strategic Plan, especially within the context of clean energy. It just so happens that the last several months have been full of discussion about innovation.

In September, at the SME Midyear Meeting, the SME board of directors discussed the impact that clean energy may have on the mining and underground construction industry. We focused particularly on how the demand for products and services that SME divisions, sections and other corporate entities provide its members may be increased or decreased by changes resulting from the ‘green economy.&rsdquo;” It was noted that there is a shortage of certain minerals expected to be in high demand, and the extended time to develop the supply sources may force us to look to foreign suppliers of such minerals. This would result in a reliance on the adequacy and security of the existing fragile supply chain. One benefit of this increased demand for minerals is that the green economy may give impetus to SME’s program to improve the public perception of mining and underground construction. This could also improve the appeal of our industry and thus attract additional people to the workforce and academic programs that feed into these industries.

Since the SME Midyear Meeting, I have discussed these points at various section meetings, including the Southern Minnesota section meeting (Oct. 5), the St. Louis section meeting (Nov. 11) and the Latin American Virtual Congress on Mining Technology and Innovation (Nov. 15). At all of these venues, the audience was actively engaged in discussion and enthusiastic about how innovation is a major driver for our industry.

The UCA held the annual Cutting Edge Conference, entitled “Where Innovation Meets Practical Experience” from Nov. 14-16 in Dallas, TX. It was a cornucopia of innovative ideas, including a report on “Changing Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) Excavation Diameter Mid-Tunnel in Dallas,” a presentation on noncircular TBMs, grouting in frozen ground, and what the future of TBM technology is expected to be in 2025. A number of other innovations were presented, including the use of post-tensioned precast segment linings and precast segments designed to cross faults in Los Angeles. Mike Rispin, the current UCA chair, moderated a technical panel session entitled “R&D: From Idea to Implementation,” which explored obstacles to innovation in the tunnel industry and how they might be overcome. There was also an entire programming session on digitalization and automation in the tunneling industry. But the most talked-about session of the conference was the UCA Young Members’ session, looking at future trends.

There is no absence of out-of-the-box ideas in the mining and underground construction industry when it comes to thinking up new technology. Our challenge is to move these new ideas into implementation, and get that message out to the public, as well as to our future workforce. Let’s collaborate on how best to accomplish that.