ELKO — Striving to outpace a historical rate of change headlined talks at a Barrick Gold Corp. event about reinventing mining for the 21st century at the company’s CodeMINE digital transportation hub off Main Street Sept. 26.
“Here, rock-breaking miners and digital developers are working to create a new Barrick,” said Michael Brown, president of Barrick U.S.A.”
The event started with a discussion between John Thornton, Barrick executive board chairman; and John Chambers, executive board chairman of Cisco Systems, moderated by Michelle Ash, Barrick’s chief innovation officer, and continued with a tour of the mining company’s digital center of operations. The two global companies partnered about a year ago to apply innovation, especially digital technology, to transform mining.
That process of change might be disrupting, Brown warned, but without it there would be no progress. The leaders “seek to disrupt,” he said, “because from that disruption will come new value, value for our shareholders, value for our employees and value for our host government in the communities where we operate.”
Chambers described how Cisco was willing to change and did so by evolving with demands to become a worldwide leader in information technology and networking.
“If we don’t change, we will get left behind,” he said.
Barrick leaders want to apply digital innovations “to make mining better, safer and faster,” according to event promotional materials, and Thornton explained how the idea to digitize mining evolved.
“Sitting here right now, looking at this CodeMINE, is the beginning of a fantasy,” he said, describing his first meeting with Chambers. “We agreed Barrick is going to become a digital company.”
During the discussion, Barrick employees participated in the meeting via Cisco technology. Mine staff from sites including Cortez and Goldstrike could be seen on large computer screens.
Special guests in attendance included Elko County Commissioner Cliff Eklund, Nevada-based Barrick board director Brian L. Greenspun, Barrick U.S.A. Executive Director Nigel Bain, City Councilman Reece Keener and representatives from Great Basin College.
Over the past year, Barrick has been developing CodeMINE near its shared business center in Elko to contain teams of digitally focused employees. On a tour of CodeMINE after the forum, Barrick project management office lead Theresa Sapara showed guests the units that comprise CodeMINE, including digital work maintenance, short-interval control, predictive maintenance, underground automation and development operations.
The open-concept work area is designed to allow collaboration among system developers and mine operators to discover solutions to mining challenges, and teams of employees gathered around long tables surrounded by computer screens, digital and printed topographical maps and white boards.
Gordon Fellows, a Barrick mine engineer, described how nearly real-time monitoring via underground short-interval control helps his team ensure compliance to a detailed schedule of tasks and eliminate downtime.
“At the same time we are getting more with less effort,” he said.
In the development operations corner, Barrick tech lead Jed Schneider explained how his group, which sported a red lava lamp on their table in the “dev op” corner, helps keep communications networks up and running to avoid outages that would mean lost production. As Sapara explained, they “make it as objective and seamless as possible.”
The aim of these members, and the so-called “Digital Transformation team” and the others in CodeMINE and the business center, according to Barrick Beyond Borders, is to help the mining company “use data and analytics to generate more value more sustainably and more transparently for our own people, our communities and our shareholders.”
From here, a mining community in rural Nevada — a place that Thornton acknowledged could seem “formidable” — the digital innovations might inspire applications to other industries and begin to change the world.
“We are only limited by our imaginations,” he said.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct misspelled names.