"MacLean bought a test mine in Sudbury with a 400-meter underground decline. It allows us to do a lot more product development and testing without bothering our customers. This is now the R&D lab for our Advanced Vehicle Technology team working on mining vehicle electrification, automation, and digitalization."
Can you provide an overview of MacLean Engineering and the areas in which the company specializes?
MVK: MacLean has three different product lines. One is utility vehicles such as fuel trucks, boom trucks and deck trucks. Another is ground support, which includes shotcrete and bolters. Thirdly, we offer drill and blast for explosives, hang up rigs and water cannons. In addition to that, MacLean has three verticals for our technology development. These are automation, data, and electrification. Those three verticals lap all three product lines.
How does MacLean’s product offering align with its belief about where the future of mining is headed?
MVK: We are already seeing heavy pressure on mining companies to be greener and improve on their ESG performance. As a result, many companies now have aggressive decarbonization targets. For example, Newmont is looking to achieve their targets by increasing the underground asset portion of their portfolio. Underground mining, combined with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that have almost zero emissions, can play a big part in limiting carbon emissions.
On top of that, MacLean is seeing growth in the number of requests for increased data coming in. Similarly, there has also been an increase in demand for self-diagnostics on machines to help out technicians, and to better control the process.
The third element of our operation, which is going to be very exciting in the next five years, is automation. We believe that it will not just be every OEM working in isolation, but rather, there will be a large degree of interoperability so multiple OEMs can work on the same platform. MacLean just commissioned a system at Newcrest’s Cadia mine in Australia, where our water cannon works with our own teleoperation system within the Epiroc Mobilaris traffic management and safety system. This means that the customer does not end up with a multitude of different systems. MacLean sees interoperability as a big driver of its future growth.
Can you elaborate on MacLean’s efforts to build out its interoperability capabilities?
MVK: Where interoperability kicks in is where machines of multiple OEMs “play in the same sandbox”. This requires systems to prevent collisions, and a way to make sure they are not getting in each other’s way. Most importantly there are safety systems that need to be in place to prevent people from being hit. Having a single safety system in the mine common to all OEMs provides for a safer and more efficient operation. All of this means that OEMs need to be able to work together, which MacLean and Epiroc have now demonstrated at Cadia.
How does MacLean go about testing and validating its technologies?
SL: In 2018, MacLean bought a test mine in Sudbury with a 400-meter underground decline. It allows us to do a lot more product development and testing without bothering our customers. This is now the R&D lab for our Advanced Vehicle Technology team working on mining vehicle electrification, automation, and digitalization.
How do you convince a skeptical customer that the benefits of BEV adoption outweigh the risks?
MVK: There are a lot of risks already present in the mining industry, so introducing additional risk with new technologies is not always the best case for a mining company. Despite this hesitance, electrical equipment is now starting to break through. MacLean currently has over 30 units in the field in Canada and we are on the cusp of breaking through internationally.
We have over 50,000 hours of operating experience now and that is starting to count for something. Because the battery electric vehicles are still more expensive up-front than their diesel counterparts, it’s important to look at the value over the full lifecycle of the unit. This is why a lot of interest is coming primarily from new projects where we help consultants and customers see what an all-electric fleet would look like versus a diesel fleet. That is where you can start saving on ventilation infrastructure, ventilation costs, and fuel infrastructure that you do not have to invest in. Particularly in deep mines, where it is hot, you might be able to avoid some investments in refrigeration infrastructure. When you add everything up it can have big implications on the overall capital for the project. In addition, it can be an important strategy in achieving carbon reduction targets. Most importantly, electric equipment provides a healthier and safer environment for the operator in absence of diesel exhaust fumes.