Mining Automation Attracts Computer Expert
Q: How did a computer company become a fixture in the mining industry?
A: When Lasec was founded, we were initially focused on identifying computer problems. After a few years, we started to look at the local mining industry and we realized that the majority of communication service providers were foreign enterprises. We saw a gap in the market for a Mexican designer so we decided to start working on a leaky feeder system to be installed in underground mines in Mexico to help workers communicate via radio. We are now one of the leading providers of leaky feeder, Wi-Fi and fiber-optic system radios, not only in Mexico but on a global scale. The mining industry represents at least 95 percent of our business.
Q: What led to the acquisition of the company by Becker Mining Systems in 2014?
A: We had been working with Becker Mining Systems for many years on a number of products and this strong relationship inspired the German company’s decision to buy out a part of Lasec. From our side, we were delighted to welcome Becker into the business because it is a name recognized around the world and it had technology in its portfolio that perfectly complemented our product line. We were looking for opportunities to diversify and Becker, with its decades of global experience and wide range of solutions, was the perfect partner. Around 80 percent of Becker’s business was dedicated to soft rock, mainly coal mines, while Lasec has always been a specialist in precious metal, hard-rock mines. The deal provided Becker with an opportunity to penetrate the hard-rock market by creating a formal partnership with Lasec.
Q: How has this partnership changed Lasec’s business model?
A: In Coahuila there is a sizeable collection of coal mines, which are not present in the rest of the country, and a direct offshoot of the cooperation between Lasec and Becker has been our ability to enter this market. Becker has a variety of automated solutions for underground soft-rock mines, including conveyor-belt controllers, monitors and energy distributors. We are now distributing these products to mines in Coahuila. We have also started to produce these products locally in Zacatecas, which saves time and money on shipping.
Q: What is the primary objective of the company’s R&D efforts?
A: Safety continues to be the main challenge for underground mines. In 2016, we completed work on a product that could become a leader in protecting the safety of underground mine workers in Mexico. The product, called Smart Flow, allows mine managers to keep track of each worker in real time and is a great tool for helping companies comply with the Norm 023 regulation, which dictates that mine operators must know exactly where all the workers are at all times. The Smart Flow technology allows users to carry out a full evacuation in the case of emergency much faster than competitive solutions. The basic technology has been used in places like Australia and Canada for many years but it is entirely new in Mexico. We installed this product at Industrias Peñoles’ Tizapa project in the State of Mexico. This is the only mine in the country in which all workers are tracked on a constant basis throughout the entire operation.
The long-term objective is to design an intelligent, centralized solution that automates the entire operational flow within an underground mine. This means enabling the operator to have real-time knowledge of where each worker and vehicle is at any given moment, how each unit is performing and what might be needed to maximize mine performance. For the most part, we are helped and encouraged in our efforts by our customers. There are still some mine managers in Mexico that think exclusively about how to extract greater quantities of ore, and therefore do not take the time to analyze the benefits of communication technologies, but I would say that these people only represent around 30 percent of the community now in Mexico.