"Being able to have demonstrable technology in an operating environment does indeed expedite potential procurement, adoption and deployment of these technologies."
Can you provide an overview of NORCAT’s business model?
At NORCAT, we aspire to be the global leader in skilled labour training and development, providing services and resources to make the mining, construction and forestry industries safer and more productive. Concurrent to that goal, through our innovation services and assets at the NORCAT Underground Centre, we act as the global one-stop-shop for all that is the future of mining technology and innovation. Over the past five years, we have validated that blended learning models and integrated learning technologies provide benefits for both new and current workers and their employers, and have continued to invest in incorporating VR, AR and simulation-based training technologies into our proprietary programs. For example, an entry level skilled labor worker looking for a career in the mining industry can come to NORCAT for classroom-based training or online training that incorporates virtual reality learning opportunities for a number of skills, including scaling, hoisting and rigging and equipment pre-op checks. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to utilize the NORCAT Simulation Training Centre, where they can operate machinery with the same specs and operational requirements as the equipment found in a mine.
What was the idea behind Mining Transformed?
The goal of Mining Transformed was to bring together the buyers of innovation – mining companies - with the builders of innovation – mining tech companies - to connect and conduct business in an operating mine environment. Our hypothesis was that mining executives considering procuring, adopting and deploying emerging technologies will be more apt to act if they are able to interact with the technology in an actual operating environment. We had >50 tech companies of different sizes from all over the world with installations at the NORCAT Underground Centre, and we had 250 executives from the mining industry attend as well. Feedback from our participants has strongly indicated we delivered on our promise and validated our hypothesis - being able to have demonstrable technology in an operating environment does indeed expedite potential procurement, adoption and deployment of these technologies.
How will access to 5G enable new mining technologies and accelerate technology adoption.?
As an example, mining companies are looking to procure, adopt and deploy tele-remote / autonomous vehicle systems with the goal to improve productivity, efficiency and safety. If a company is going to create a job where a worker can operate a piece of mobile equipment outside the mine site – whether that be on surface, in the office or remotely from their living room - it is entirely dependent on the communications infrastructure and resiliency of that network. If there is not a resilient high-speed communication network in a rural, isolated community – where most active mine sites are located - companies are limited in the ability to deploy technology. This is an issue the mining industry is currently facing.
What are the biggest challenges startups face in trying to gain traction in the mining industry?
Mining company executives focused on production, safety and operations have to qualify emerging technologies well before considering to procure, adopt and deploy the solution in their operations. They need to know the technology works in an operating mine environment – not simply the laboratory or trade show floor demonstration booth. In addition, mining executives need the confidence that the company they’re buying technology from has enough liquidity and strong financial health to last at least as long as the maintenance period of the deployed technology within the mine. Given these challenges, the role of the NORCAT UG Centre is to provide that all important first reference customer to provide a platform on which that company can build a track record and narrative to expedite getting their second - and more important - production-scale customer. Simply stated, we have validated that, if you cannot solve the first customer problem, especially for tech selling into legacy industries, many of these start-ups will run out of cash before they can get to market.
The supply service tech ecosystem is vibrant now. You are going to see a lot more emerging technologies being adopted by the global mining industry going forward.