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Discover: The Sudbury tech firm using data to keep miners safe in Industry 4.0

‘People have never been more disconnected in most workplaces while possessing all the tools to be connected in real-time,’ says Gus Minor of Sofvie
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Gus Minor is the chief innovation officer for Sofvie. (Supplied)

When the second industrial revolution arrived in the late nineteenth century, it brought sweeping changes. The advent of mass production and electrification was a game-changer for industrial processes. 

In the mining industry, this wave introduced larger equipment, which facilitated greater mine development. Changes to other aspects of work, such as drilling technologies, dramatically increased productivity. Mines could go deeper and excavate at quicker rates. By the early 1960s, it has been estimated that drilling rates had increased nine-fold from the early 20th century. That’s a lot of moving rock.

As the mining industry continued to evolve, a third industrial revolution struck in the early 1970s. This phase ushered in new technologies such as electronics and computers, which led to early digitization and automation. 

Mechanization and the adoption of new mining techniques in this period significantly changed the mining industry. The technological developments during this period ultimately laid the groundwork for the transformational shifts we are seeing in the industry today with the rise of remote operations and autonomous equipment. 

While the mining industry is still building off of these developments, a fourth industrial revolution is already underway. This time around, the changes may be less physically pronounced, but it has the power to disrupt industries unlike any industrial revolution we have seen in the past. 

Often referred to as Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution is focused on data and how we use it. From the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to artificial intelligence and cloud computing to machine learning, the fourth industrial revolution is poised to have a big impact on the mining industry. 

Although data-informed decisions can help mines operate more effectively and, thereby be more productive, there is also an opportunity to use that information to create a safer workplace. One Sudbury tech company is already looking to be a leader in that space. 

Sofvie, a technology platform, which goes live in late spring 2020, was established to leverage big data trends to benefit front-line workers. Gus Minor, the company’s Chief Innovation Officer, wants to create a safer workplace for everyone. 

“Beyond improving life for equipment, we need to consider improving life for our fellow labourers who work tirelessly to extract and construct the materials and resources we need,” he explained.

As Sofvie ramps up in preparation for its launch, it has teamed up with faculty and students researchers from Cambrian College in order to create ways to collect, analyze, and redirect information back to workers. 

“Information is great at a management level for overall business activities, however, the people in charge of the day-to-day, hour-to-hour need more,” Minor stated. “They need a way to understand the hazards around them and how to deal with them. They need to understand how they are personally impacted by the activities around them.”

Minor believes that frontline workers need to be an integral part of the data cycle and digital feedback loop. 

“Information is only good if you do something with it,” Minor noted. “It is important to take that information and turn it into wisdom.”

To turn that data into knowledge that empowers workers to make smarter decisions, Sofvie and Cambrian will take a holistic approach towards making sense of data that can be used to help avoid potential workplace injuries. The collaboration, which includes three researchers from the college — Sidney Shapiro, Jenna Guse and John Moon — and more than 20 students will help Minor put his ideas into practice. 

Working with Cambrian is a perfect fit for Minor and his team. 

“Together with the college, we can see our ideas come to life while creating a fantastic bond between aspiring students and the technology marketplace right here in Sudbury,” he recently said in a press release. 

For students in Cambrian’s Data Analytics program, the project provides a unique opportunity to hone their skills outside of the classroom by diving into complex data sets. According to Sidney Shapiro, co-ordinator of the College’s Business and Crime Analytics programs, the students have already begun making lots of progress to narrow down high-quality data sources the company will be able to utilize in the future.

“We are using many different sources of data to give the Sofvie systems background or baseline data to work with,” Shapiro explained. “By providing their systems with different types of data, they are able to make correlations and gain insights into the data they gather over time. The goal is to improve the analytics capability of their software, find meaningful insights, and overall, make the system smarter.”

While Minor is careful to safeguard Sofvie’s proprietary technology until the product officially hits the market, he believes that the innovations the company is making, in collaboration with Cambrian, will help create a unique bond between human and machine by quickly analyzing information and offering feedback to the user. 

“There is still a need to assist humans in their decision making and create a fast track to access information,” Minor said. 

Despite many of the advanced technologies we have today, particularly in the workplace, Minor believes we are still missing critical pieces.

“People have never been more disconnected in most workplaces while possessing all the tools to be connected in real-time,” he added. 

Sofive hopes to close that gap and help companies mine more intelligently and ensure every worker gets home safely. Stay tuned for developments on how Sofvie seeks to capitalize on Industry 4.0 and change industrial workplaces for the better in the 21st century.  

Mike Commito is the Director of Applied Research & Innovation at Cambrian College. 




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