Alejandro Espejel
Country Manager
View from the Top

Filling Technology Gaps for Achieving Sustainability

By Alejandro Ehrenberg | Mon, 06/08/2020 - 16:07

Q: Why is mining essential for Mexico’s economy and what can be done to communicate its importance to the government and society?

A: Mining in Mexico does not receive the recognition it deserves, especially given its contribution to national GDP, which is very close to what the tourism industry contributes, for instance. Moreover, given that mining is an export industry that operates in US dollars, it supports the Mexican peso against other currencies. CAMIMEX reports there are 2.3 million people working directly or indirectly in the sector. It also estimates that mining contributed MX$60 billion in taxes in 2019. It is befuddling that mining was not considered an essential activity during the COVID-19 crisis. The industry reaches remote rural areas. If it is not present in those areas, a void will arise that could be filled by illegal activities.

Most local and state governments in mining regions and cities understand this. The challenge is to deliver the message to the federal authorities and to the public at large. It is important to speak of hard numbers. Unexamined notions about mining can be cleared up with data-based communication campaigns. For example, we should spread the message that mining pays salaries that are well above the national average and that the industry has a relatively low accident rate.

Q: How has FLSmidth reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak?

A: FLSmidth is a global company. We have manufacturing centers in China and as such, we have been following the chain of events from the very beginning of the outbreak. We have mapped out our whole supply chain and identified impacts on our different production and service centers. Our priority is to deliver our customers’ orders in a timely manner. Thanks to the mapping we undertook, we were able to identify potential supply chain disruptions and redirect certain tasks to other locations. It is important to point out that most of the equipment that we provide can be connected remotely to our specialists, meaning that we can continue servicing our products remotely.

Q: What is your view on the present and future of automation in Mexico’s mining industry?

A: The implementation level is still low. Nonetheless, miners understand that there is a great deal of untapped value in automation and digitalization. A first step that a company can take in this direction is to install sensors on its equipment. FLSmidth has a piece of technology called Field Agent that is installed on a machine, gathers data and safely exports it to the cloud. Analysts can then work with the information and optimize processes and examine trends. Also, last year, we acquired a company that develops automation solutions for the laboratories that all mines have for quality control and system optimization. We can now provide automation systems that help with simple tasks like moving samples from one place to another, grinding or sample preparation. As a result, people can focus on analyzing results and fine-tuning systems to boost efficiency.

Automation and digitalization will replace certain tasks that workers currently undertake. That does not necessarily mean that jobs will be lost. The point is to assign tasks to a robot that are risky and add little value. The worker who was encumbered with these tasks will apply uniquely human qualities to other, more appropriate tasks.

An obstacle we run into when proposing automation to mining companies in Mexico is the country’s low salaries in comparison with other OECD members. Thus, ROI for system automation in Mexico is not as immediate as in Australia, for example, and may take longer to become evident. Nevertheless, investment in these types of technology eventually pays for itself.

Q: How is FLSmidth contributing to a more sustainable future?

A: Mining is a notoriously water-intensive activity. Around 30 percent of the world’s population lives in water-stressed areas. This situation will become more acute in the coming years. FLSmidth decided to map out current weak spots in water management, then compared the map with existing technology and finally set down milestones to accomplish. As a result, we have made a Water Zero commitment for 2030. An example of work we are undertaking within this initiative is water filters in mining. Today, common filters have a water efficiency of up to 30 percent. That means that almost a third of the water is disposed of along with waste. FLSmidth has developed filters that can halve the amount of water wasted. Our goal is to reduce it to 10 percent by 2025 and to zero by 2030. That implies intervening not only in the filtering stage but also in previous stages like grinding. Grinding requires water: we are developing dry grinding systems to make water unnecessary.

FLSmidth is a Danish engineering company based in Copenhagen, Denmark. With almost 11,700 employees worldwide, it provides global cement and mineral industries with factories, machinery and services.

Alejandro Ehrenberg Alejandro Ehrenberg Journalist and Industry Analyst