The global mining technology provider, Maptek, which celebrates its 40th birthday in 2021, has transformed the industry since founder Dr Bob Johnson realised there was an opportunity to apply computers in mining.
Today Maptek is experimenting with machine learning and artificial intelligence to support the mining operations of the future.
In the mid 1970s, geologist Bob Johnson opened a small bureau service above a row of shops in suburban Sydney, NSW, to computerise coal seam drafting. That venture was the precursor to Maptek, which today develops, sells and supports innovative mining solutions to more than 20,000 users worldwide.
In 1981, Johnson then formed a company to allow customers to do their own computer work. That became Maptek, which today employs 350 staff in 18 offices to support a customer base including the world’s biggest mines across more than 90 countries.
‘The transformation from startup to global technology developer did not happen overnight,’ Maptek founder Johnson acknowledges, as he reflects on what defines Maptek today.
‘Innovation results from many small increments – it rarely happens from an epiphany’, Johnson says.
‘We started off by computerising the plotting of boreholes and mapping of coal deposits, which until then was a very tedious manual process. People were asking if it worked for all commodities, not just coal, and I realised we needed to put the software in the hands of the users. This was how Maptek came about.’
Johnson states that Maptek sets a high standard.
‘Early computing in the 1980s was the breeding ground for automating manual tasks and it was a challenge to convince some people to replace existing practices. Tradition dies hard!
‘Maptek integrated multiple steps in the computerisation of mining applications. In this way we were able to own the workflow and it’s probably key to why our first customer, BHP Coal, remains a customer today.
‘Do something different and stay in front is a guiding principle that remains a key business value for Maptek’, says Johnson.
Fast forward to 2021 where CEO Eduardo Coloma is enthusiastically embracing the vision, with a long-term technology development roadmap to deliver state-of-the-art solutions and exceptional customer experience.
‘Maptek intends to stay ahead by continuing to be a disruptive influence and effect change for the betterment of the mining industry.
The new Mining 4.0 paradigm has five characteristics, according to Coloma.
‘Vast amounts of data; delivering that data to the right people at the right time; efficient data storage and universal access to it; using technology for computationally intensive tasks; and data-driven decision making…. all need to be balanced. Add to that the challenges that the pandemic unleashed!’ comments Coloma.
‘With challenge comes opportunity. Miners are continually on the lookout for smarter processes.
‘Maptek has conceived 40 years ago at the start of the digital revolution. Customers today have an ever-growing appetite for technologies to enable digitalisation and automation. They are not afraid of new technology and look to us to lead them.
‘It’s not just technology that is fast-evolving, the people and organisations who consume it must also be open to adopting new ways of working. Digitalisation has provided the conduit for data to be universally accessible and dynamically updatable.
‘We want to make sure our customers get the most of their data, sharing it across the organisation in such a way that everyone benefits. Data is being democratised!’
‘A data-driven culture embraces systems which are robust, repeatable and user-independent. Crucially these systems meet the needs of a mobile, shift-based and geographically dispersed workforce.’
‘We build technology solutions that allow our customers to turn their data into knowledge and use that knowledge to support business improvement. We provide an automated decision support ecosystem… they provide their individual experience and intuition to make that knowledge relevant to their business.
Already we are exploiting machine learning and digital twinning to connect the planning cycle to production performance data for comparing performance against plans.
With fewer barriers to extending technology within mines, companies are looking at the entire value chain to make improvements. Maptek can help connect processes, functions and data to enable more accurate, predictable and profitable operation of mines.
In closing, Coloma explains why Maptek is best placed to help mining companies use their data as a bridge to continuous improvement.
‘Our unique culture, instilled by our founder Bob Johnson, gives staff a great amount of freedom to be innovative. It fosters imagination everywhere and is the key to continued success.’
We give our customers the freedom to dream and ask for solutions to their real world problems.
‘Our enduring relationships with customers are hugely important in our ability to solve these challenges. Bob mentioned our first customer, who remains a customer today. But accepting that change is inevitable is a reminder to us not to rest on tradition.’
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