Mining innovation; a perspective from Mark Baker

William Gleason

March 2, 2021

In his virtual Jackling Lecture on March 2, Mark Baker, recipient of the 2020 Daniel C. Jackling Award told an audience of more than 280 people that “A successful implementation of technology requires a well-thought-out and executed change management program.”

Baker speaks from experience. The Daniel C. Jackling Awardis one of the most prestigious awards given by AIME and SME. It is presented annually for significant contributions to technical progress in mining, geology and geophysics. Baker is the 2020 recipient of the award and he presented the Jackling Lecture, “Mining innovation – a perspective,” virtually, as part of the MINEXCHANGE 2021 SME Annual Conference.

As a founding principal of Modular Mining Systems, Baker has been on the front lines of technical innovation in the mining industry for a number of years. He has played a role in the industry’s evolution from one that used little technology to an industry that has often led the way in the adoption of new technology, such as autonomous operations. After Modular Mining Systems was acquired by Komatsu, Baker was appointed to the board of Komatsu Mining Systems where he assumed responsibility for the development and commercialization of its Autonomous Haulage System. For those who attended MINExpo in 2016, the Komatsu Autonomous Haulage System is the truck that has no operator’s cab. It can drive from shovel to pit without the need to turn around.

That system is an example of potential future of the mining industry, but the technology is only one part of that future. In his presentation, Baker speaks about the journey thus far, and what might lie ahead.

He noted that the mining industry has a long of tradition of “wanting to be the first to go second” and a desire to “be on the leading edge, but not the bleeding edge,” when it comes to new technology or processes.

Despite this risk-adverse attitude, Baker noted the mining industry was the first major industry to adopt a number of technologies, including the first to use voice radios to optimize operations, to use command centers at its operations, to introduce mobile computers and to incorporate interrupt driven radio network and GPS tracking for fleet control, among others.

Much of Baker’s work has been with the automation of mining equipment. Automation is not new to the industry; Komatsu began field testing automation in the 1980s, but the proliferation of driverless haul trucks, dozers and drills has exploded in the past decade or so.

The advantages of autonomy are numerous and include increased health and safety, productivity, efficiency and overall cost to the operators. But these advantages will only be realized with a commitment to the change management and technology.

Looking ahead, Baker said the mining industry could benefit from the growth of artificial intelligence and big data.

The Jackling Lecture is part of the MINEXCHANGE 2021 SME Annual Conference. The conference includes 131 technical sessions, 71 scheduled presentations, all of which are recorded and available to attendees for 60 days. For more information, https://www.smeannualconference.com/

 

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