"We are recreating the methodology of underground asset automation by greatly reducing expensive and complex hardware, software and engineered services using simple, mine hardened IIoT devices."
What is the big picture problem Maestro is trying to solve and how do you go about producing a suite of products that achieves these aims?
Maestro’s vision is to change the way that underground mines communicate and to strip out complexity in the automation sector by utilizing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices and solutions. We are recreating the methodology of underground asset automation by greatly reducing expensive and complex hardware, software, and engineered services, using simple, mine-hardened IIoT devices. The “plug and play” IIoT solutions drive out automation CAPEX and reduce integration times by a factor of 40-70% while providing additional real-time diagnostics that assure maximum uptimes and minimal OPEX.
Maestro Digital Mine started in the underground ventilation monitoring and control sector, primarily because it was globally fragmented, utilized legacy technologies, and would benefit with consolidation. The strategy was successful allowing our IIoT devices and solutions to be installed in 34 different countries and over 145 underground mines in less than 10 years. The next phase of Maestro’s product and software development was solving the “last mile” communication network with our Plexus PowerNet. Here, we had to figure out how to get high bandwidth data to and from the working face, where any person could advance the network underground instead of using conventional fiber optic solutions that require highly-skilled labour with specialized and fragile tools. That has opened the world of data and automation to a lot of companies that could not afford or support complex networks.
What are some of the key developments Maestro has experienced in 2020?
2019 was Maestro’s best year ever and 2020 is on target to surpass it, in spite of the current pandemic. Growth in Latin America, particularly in Chile and Peru, slowed in the first eight months, however, sales from Australia, Canada, USA and Europe more than made up for this dip. At the same time, profits are up greatly due to improvements in productivity and reduced travel and strategic adjustment of marketing tools to lower costs. Time saved from travel allows for targeted virtual sales meetings from the Maestro home office. It has been a good year and our plan is to increase sales by 40% in 2021.
Part of our success in 2020 can be attributed to sound decision making early on in the pandemic. We anticipated a supply chain problem due to the virus, so we purchased 100% of our yearly raw inventory requirements at the start of the year. That allowed Maestro to manufacture and ship products easily and quickly.
Maestro launched its Zephyr AQS air monitor in 2019. How has it been received by the market?
The Zephyr AQS was designed as a lower-cost IIoT device that fills 75% of our current applications. The perception was that we would cannibalize our business, but that did not happen. Our Zephyr AQS is now outselling our Vigilante AQS, with the Vigilante seeing no decrease in sales. Our current Vigilante AQS is going through a redesign currently and will be delivering our first project by the end of December 2020.
The new Vigilante AQS is being built upon a different hardware and firmware platform that will allow all the development to be adapted for new use cases, such as underground door controls, sump controls, inventory management and regulator controls.
What are some opportunities that jump out at you for future product development?
Anything IIoT that is used in a mine and is considered a fixed asset is on our radar. We have decided not to enter the mobile IIoT market. Pumps, ore passes, crushers, fans, doors, regulators, paste fill, hydraulic oil, fuel, compressed air, potable water systems - all need automation. All require expensive and complex PLC or DCS systems to integrate and control. Maestro will continue to combine embedded firmware/hardware IIoT edge-based devices that strip out this complex and expensive equipment.