"The future goal is to provide the complete automation package – the whole digital solution on every mine level. We are going down that path right now and there are a variety of products that will be soon launched to support this concept. We have around 15 people who are working on the engineering and development side of the business, developing innovative new products."
- David Ballantyne
Could you give us an overview of Maestro Digital Mine and the circumstances surrounding its creation?
MG: When Maestro first started, we were mainly focused on ventilation monitoring and controls for the underground mining sector. Recognizing the industry’s growing demand for data, and the challenges that many of our customers encountered with connecting our ventilation solutions to their own networks, we identified a gap in the market. Working with customers on understanding the challenges of traditional communication backbone solutions, we created a solution to extend communications to where it is needed the most, the last mile to the face. We subsequently rebranded the company as Maestro Digital Mine, which has helped us expand our reach, attributing to the fact that digitization is enabling mines and other industry sectors to be more productive. Since our beginning, we have provided Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions to the global mining industry. Today, Maestro Digital Mine provides a complete mine ventilation and automation network backbone and rugged IIoT devices designed specifically for underground mines that delivers energy savings and productivity improvements while meeting the highest health and safety standards.
The Plexus PowerNet™ uses copper coaxial cable to get data from the mining face, can you explain some of the benefits of using copper instead of fiber?
DB: Fiber optic cabling presents a number of challenges to the underground mining industry. It is fairly simple to bring the main fiber trunk to the motor load center or a substation since there is little risk of damage from mobile equipment or fall of ground. However, extending fragile, fiber optic cable to the active headings where the data is needed is problematic due to the nature of the drill and blast cycle. By virtue of the mining cycle, fibre optic cable does get damaged, often requiring repairs underground. The dusty, wet environment of a typical hardrock underground mine make splicing and repairing in the field, extremely difficult. In Sudbury alone, there are a number of fiber termination companies with trained professionals who specialize in this area, but many of our local mines still find it expensive and difficult to perform fiber splicing underground.
MG: During our research, many of the mining companies we interviewed, complained that the network infrastructure takes far too long to advance, so we designed a system based on flexible coaxial cable that simplifies the installation, extension and maintenance of the network, while enabling high band width, low latency data and power down the same copper cable. The termination process now becomes easy and cost effective, utilizing tools which have been in use since the late 50’s. A termination can be completed by any tradesperson in less than 2 minutes. Since its release, more than 15 mines across Canada, Africa, Mexico, Sweden, Spain and the USA have installed the Plexus PowerNet™ and Management Software. One of the Spanish customers has installed a complete mine wide system based on the positive results from their first test in the mine. Maestro Digital Mine is the inventor of the Plexus PowerNet™, the world’s first powered coaxial Gigabit network. Everything is done in house, from design and intellectual property to manufacturing and final assembly.
Apart from Plexus PowerNet™, which products are current driving growth for Maestro Digital Mine?
DB: Maestro Digital Mine’s first focus was in mine ventilation, and our Vigilante AQS™ has always been a huge seller. The Vigilante AQS™ is our third generation mine air quality monitoring solution with flexible integration options to any SCADA, PLC, DCS, PLS or HMI system. Our strategy is to provide the complete automation package – the entire digital solution on every mine level. We are well on our way, offering a variety of solutions that we will be launched to support this innovative concept. We have a dynamic, dedicated and energetic team of 15 people working in engineering and development who are bringing us new and innovative ideas solving challenges today, tomorrow and beyond.
Have you seen an uptake in the adoption of this technology in the last 12 months?
MG: The uptake has been gradual, but has accelerated significantly over the last 12 months. Five or six years ago, companies did not put gas sensors in the mines, whereas today it is commonplace. It has taken time to educate the mining community, but our efforts have accelerated through collaboration as we now have installations in more than 100 mines globally. We have just completed a new development project for a UK based company that sells internationally for the road tunneling business, and their first large scale project is in Turkey. This in turn will help expand Maestro’s technology on a global scale.
Moving forward, what are the objectives for the next 12-18 months for Maestro Digital Mine?
MG: Our key objectives are making sure we drive down component costs by optimizing our products and increasing production efficiency whilst maintaining the highest quality standards and safety that our clients have come to expect. We recently deployed an Enterprise Resource System (ERP) system to support our increased production requirements. In addition, we are in the development process of upgrading and redesigning the Vigilante AQS™ to support additional connectivity technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and LTE communication.
Over the last 18 months, the industry is embracing digital connectivity solutions, and this momentum will continue to gain traction with the growing need for mining companies to reduce costs and become more productive. The mining industry tried to increase production by increasing the size of machinery which then in-turn requires larger development drifts. In many cases, this did not increase productivity. The real increase in productivity levels will come with the help of digital solutions such as the innovations provided by Maestro Digital Mine and other innovative digital thinkers in this vertical.