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B.C.’s mining industry modernizes

Mining increasingly relies on high tech for profitability and sustainability

For one of the most powerful cogs in British Columbia's economic engine, that was then, this is now.

Yes, the times are indeed changing in the B.C. mining industry as modern technology has never been more prevalent in the business of resource extraction.

"We've always been innovating," says Bryan Cox, President & CEO of the Mining Association of BC, who describes his industry's approach to modernization as "laser focused."

Cox also notes that with costs and efficiency front and centre to any business success, the province's mining companies have no choice but to keep up or lead:

"We take our pricing from the world market, so cost and efficiency is absolutely key."

But while the mining sector is paramount to B.C.’s prosperity, few British Columbians have actually ever visited a mine, despite the fact that more and more operations offer tours and open houses as part of a public education strategy.

"You're always looking get more efficient, you're always looking to find better processes," says Cox.

Brian Cox

There’s probably never been a better time for that tour – because as Cox suggests, recent technological advances may be the industry’s most exciting ever.

The Teck Resources Highland Valley Copper Mine on the outskirts of Logan Lake is one operation where new technology is on full display. While investigating the possibility of extending the mine's production life to 2040, Teck officials have recently launched a pilot project to investigate potential cost savings from autonomous or driverless haul trucks.

Imagine putting your faith in technology to navigate a $5 million monster truck through the rugged spiral of an open pit copper mine visible from space. And for those who have never seen a mine haul truck, these vehicles give a whole new meaning to "big rig" at 8.3 metres (27 feet) wide, 13.7 metres (45 feet) long, and 6.5 metres (21 feet) high!

While the effectiveness of autonomous haul trucks has yet to be fully determined, Teck is adamant that their use will have no impact on employment.

"Implementing new technologies like autonomous haul has the potential to support an extension of the mine's life, which will maintain jobs and economic activity in the region," says Aaron Wylie, Highland Valley Copper Superintendent of Transformational Technology

The arrival of autonomous haul trucks is also just one of many recent technological advances in B.C. mining.  Cox is also quick to boast "made in B.C." inventions which are turning heads around the world.

For example, Cox points to the creation of the "Smart Shovel." Designed by Vancouver based MineSense Technologies, Cox describes it as a "game changer,” that allows miners to determine the ore content of a shovel load – instantly.

"The moment they scoop that load, producers are now able to prioritize that rock through sensor-based sorting,” says Cox, “that saves both time and money."

On Wharf Street in Victoria, yet another B.C. invention is receiving accolades from the international mining industry.

Originally behind 3D software for the gaming industry, LlamaZOO has quickly become a driving force for mining companies planning new or expanded projects.

As LlamaZOO's website states, "Images speak louder than break down communication barriers between all stakeholders."

Highland Valley Copper Mine (courtesy Teck Resources)

In a business where seeing is often believing, LlamaZOO's technology has the power to show investors, regulators, and communities exactly what a proposed mining project will look like – in never seen before detail.

In the words of Bob Dylan, " Come gather 'round people, wherever you roam. And admit that the waters, around you have grown. The times they are a changin'.

Especially in B.C.'s mining industry.

As always, I welcome your feedback on twitter: @kammornanchor 

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.