by Gail Jansen-Kesslar
Symboticware started manufacturing its core product, the SymBot, in 2008. The SymBot was created and deployed to carry out environmental assessments in the rugged and harsh conditions found on Baffin Island, but the company soon realized there were even more opportunities for its use in another equally harsh and rugged environment—underground mining.
“Because of the lower grade (of ore) found in many of these open-pit operations, there’s been more of a general movement to go underground where grades are generally higher,” said Kirk Petroski, president and CEO of Symboticware. “But obviously, underground (mining) has difficulties in trying to get the same production levels as you would in an open-pit environment, due to challenges with energy, emissions, communications and so on.”
That, said Petroski, is where the SymBot is uniquely suited to answer the challenges. Offering a small industrial computer in a rugged casing that provides a real-time monitoring system for data collection and transmission, the device fits with the growing trend in mining to look to technology for solutions.
“The drivers towards change in mining are about increasing mining intensity, using automation to drive better productivity and utilizing information-communication technology to make more data available in order to improve decision-making,” said Petroski. “The real-time hardware-software platform the SymBot provides can meet the needs of the underground mining sector for the purpose of gathering real-time data, analyzing that data and transmitting that data into a mine-management system.”
These days, people rely heavily on having up-to-the-minute data available at their fingertips, said Petroski, through their smartphones or other such devices.
“People’s need for data for decision-making is increasing exponentially with people’s familiarity with smartphones,” he said. “The SymBot allows a mine to have that data in a number of different applications.”
Customize the bot
From improving fleet productivity and maintenance to improving workers’ health and safety, the SymBot can be integrated into the online systems—including some proprietary systems—of fleet vehicles, thanks to the relationships with equipment manufacturers that Symboticware has been working hard to build.
Because of its modular-based system, the SymBot allows end users to swap in a number of site-specific customized software systems as required; it even has an operator component that comes complete with the touch-screen system many users are familiar with. Replacing antiquated paper-based reporting systems with the real-time data solutions provided by the SymBot has allowed companies to speed up their workflow processes.
Taking the technology underground
How the SymBot is uniquely positioned to meet the challenge of real-time data gathering, however, is through Symboticware’s development of a Wi-Fi-capable system that operates independently of other satellite and GPS technologies. Having an open-based system, an ability to adhere to standards of automation and an ability to recognize data standards are all requirements set forth by the product’s co-developers—which include Vale, Xstrata and the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation. With all these features combined, the SymBot is now ready to be marketed right across the industry. Working with sales channel partnerships that include Mining Technologies International (MTI)—which has incorporated the SymBot as standard issue on its equipment—as well as with Continental Mine & Industrial Supply (CMI) out of Saskatoon and through direct contact with many mining companies, Symboticware continues to grow and develop, constantly improving on its products and services. The company also has partnerships in Chile and the U.S.
“We’re really focusing on data solutions and providing the supporting infrastructure,” said Petroski. “We’re also focused on providing the necessary software to represent, visualize and report that data on a unique underground-mining platform that is expandable, flexible and modular.”