"The industry is relatively conservative. Although there have been some excellent improvements in productivity, I would say that a global lack of qualified labor has driven the shift from mechanical to automated drills."
Can you describe the growth of MBI Global in South America?
MBI Global was founded 1992 as a distributor in the exploration consumables field. Over the years, it expanded into the manufacturing sector. In 2011, we developed a global orientation regarding our manufacturing of drilling consumables, starting with our first international office in Santiago. We have also opened up an office in Lima and taken on new distributors in Brazil and Colombia. Now, in 2023, we are pleased to say that MBI Global not only services and manufactures drilling consumables for core drilling exploration but that we have also merged with a company called Versadrill, which specializes in the manufacturing of surface and underground core drills and geotechnical drills.
We also manufacture in Santiago, with a partner who manufactures our drill rods for the South American market. 95% of our sales are to drilling services companies. 70% of our sales are consumables, and 30% are capital equipment.
How is MBI Global responding to the move toward automation?
The industry is relatively conservative. Although there have been some excellent improvements in productivity, I would say that a global lack of qualified labor has driven the shift from mechanical to automated drills. We saw a perfect opportunity to implement the automation of drilling, which addresses three specific needs. The first priority is safety, a critical topic in South America. Second, automated drilling allows us to attract women to work in mining. Third, automated drilling provides excellent cost savings. MBI Global has observed that with our automated package, drilling companies can benefit from substantial savings in the cost of consumables that reduce downtime and improve the quality of the core.
What differentiates MBI Global?
The first differentiating factor is that we have our own in-house programmers. Depending on what the mining houses require and the data offered, we are now inviting rock mechanics and geotechnical engineers and the mining engineers underground, simply because the information that we gather when we hit an ore zone gives a better understanding of the rock formation and the rock characteristics, which in the end helps for mine planning. The second benefit of our automated build packages is that you can use only one operator.
How is automation changing labor in the drilling industry?
We are in for at least a generation of a lack of qualified labor, and then we hope the situation to get back on track. At the same time, we must be fully in line and in sync with automation, developing it as far as possible, particularly for exploration drilling.
More automation will also attract more women to the field, filling that current labor void. Learning to become a driller is quicker with an automated than a traditional drill. We have a customer in Quebec who has been using our automated drill package for the last two years. Training on the automated drill is normally between six to twelve weeks, depending on the person’s ability to take control. Whereas on the hydraulic machine, you start as a helper or an offsider, do that for at least a year or two, and then the master driller will once in a while allow the offsider to train. We have two women working underground in Quebec for one of our customers, and they run drills on their own and are equally successful.
What is your strategy for the near future?
We are incorporating a systematic approach to the South American market by using a strategy addressing the neighboring countries where we are situated. We are currently in Chile and have an excellent relationship with Argentina, so that will be one of our focus areas. We have several countries in and around the area where we are working to expand. South America has a high impact on the global innovation showcase. MBI Global wants to show our presence and commitment with regards to those countries and the territory. Lastly, we intend to showcase our autonomous drill packages, which will be very successful for both underground and surface drilling for the markets.