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Discover: Data science means better info and better info means better mining

Sudbury’s Symboticware is in the job of ‘liberating data’
Kirk Petroski is the president and CEO of Symboticware. (File)

“My grandfather worked in Hollinger gold mine in Timmins, so you could say mining is in my blood,” laughs Kirk Petroski. Degrees in political science and law, plus an MBA, and you might think Petroski would be CEO and president of some company doing anything but mining related business. “I actually was a bush-rat through and through, and loved being out on the land using compasses, doing line surveys, and claim-staking. Exploration services was my first company.” 

Fast forward to 2008. Petroski recalls “that’s when Symboticware began. Our daughter was born on the day we launched so the company history is tied closely with my family’s progress. It has been an exciting journey. Wireless was in its early days. The introduction of smart applications from single or networked systems and screens changed everything.

“What it is today is not where it started. That is usually how the journey goes. Up to that point, moving data from a mobile asset had been hard. It was also siloed information. Mining is a harsh environment and needed the skills we had perfected in the Arctic. We also had to get around how to deal with intermittent contact – and so established patented methods for that. Even today if a mine site does not have pervasive Wi-Fi data packets are retained and sent once through a portal.”

What is Symboticware? Essentially Symboticware’s products and services unlock information essential for mine operators. “Data is a commodity,” said Petroski. “Having as many touch points is important. It can no longer be yesterday’s numbers that drive immediate and longer-term decision-making.”

Leap another decade. Symboticware is trusted by open-pit and underground mines, globally, to provide the most comprehensive data collection from mobile equipment to increase the productivity and minimize operating expenses.

Information is vital in every industry. Today’s mining industry recognizes this. It can no longer be paper-based data; outdated before it is analyzed. Instead, it must be real-time, suggesting trends and alerting operators of urgent and important issues. A simple example might be an ability to be predictive; promptly identifying maintenance issues before equipment fails.  A tire blow-out or transmission damage can be a serious setback. 

“Four tires at eight or nine grand each is an investment you want to get as much life out of. ROI is important,” Petroski said.

Mining is an industry of oversized and specialized machines. Trucks that get ore from the face to the skip or mill are big ticket items. Symboticware of Sudbury knows companies can maximize fleet profitability with robust data. This may include location, load volume, state of health of the engine and drivetrain, or compliance with safety devices. With on-the-fly forecasting, interruption of service is reduced for all mobile equipment. Locational awareness alone can improve cycles especially during shift changes or discontinuities of use.  Ending extended idling can lower ventilation costs; in this one measure, the potential for savings is significant. 

Cutting costs, eliminate unscheduled loss of use, and optimize spending on parts, fuel and labor consumption — “We are in the job of liberating data,” Petroski said. 

Today the footprint of Wi-Fi is more pervasive and everyone is readying for 5G. “Staff talent here is extensive. The amount of energy that goes into all aspects of the business requires the right mix of people. We have demonstrated year after year growth from successful projects.”

Successful collaboration with partners ensures appropriate sensors collect information contextually. A regional office in Tucson, Arizona, services U.S. and Mexican clients.  

Located on two floors at NORCAT in New Sudbury, Symboticware is an original and long-standing member of SAMSSA and the Northern Ontario mining ecosystem.

Hugh Kruzel is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury.