A Unique Collaboration May Result in the Next Generation of People and Technology for the Next Generation of Mining.
By Therese Dunphy
What happens when you channel the efforts of a work group comprised of representatives from Luck Stone, Vulcan Materials, Caterpillar, Carter Machinery and Virginia Tech? Quite possibly the creation of a new generation of mining engineers that is tailored to the aggregates industry.
Through an initiative called Built for the Mine, representatives from each company build collaboration between industry and academia to train future leaders within the aggregates industry and to develop and implement new technologies that improve safety, efficiency, and environmental responsibility.
“Knowing the history of the stream of students we’ve seen from Virginia Tech over the last 20 years inspires me to do more to help them be the best they can be … and the industry needs that stream of future talent,” said Bryan Smith, mine development and blasting engineer for Luck Stone. “All of us partners in this effort have the vision that we need to combine education, progressive companies, and people to deliver the future of mining. Built for the Mine embodies the best of that.”
Today’s mining engineering students are more tech savvy than previous generations, and it gives them a distinct advantage when they enter the workplace. “Operational efficiency improvement and technology integration are top concerns in the aggregates industry,” said Todd Tuntland, GCI customer solutions, Caterpillar Inc.
Digital-based production monitoring has long been available in mining but scaling it to the aggregates industry’s needs and price points is a newer development. A continuous improvement process can be created through VantagePoint, which requires an operation with site cellular coverage, a cellular telematic system, and a payload system.
“Everyone looks at a problem in a different way; equipment providers, students, and industry professionals. We stare at our mess for so long we don’t see a mess anymore, but someone from the outside with a different perspective or vantage point sees something completely different. That’s what makes having this melting pot of involvement so strategic to the end goal of how do we learn and sustain success?” explained Jason Threewitts, digital services, Carter Machinery, an independent Caterpillar dealer. “A balance of problem solving, application understanding, soft skills, and data analytics is what Built for the Mine is all about.”
Learning in the Field
Through the collaboration, Virginia Tech students are exposed to these challenges early in their education. Industry is brought into direct contact with undergraduate students to share the most current technologies in the classroom.
First-year engineering students are learning about automation and data analytics in the mining/quarrying industry, explained Dr. Erik Westman, professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering at the university, noting that he hopes to add an elective for upperclassmen in the future.
“Real-life exposure to operations and equipment technology is absolutely critical for our students,” he added. “We are fortunate to have a strong summer internship program, but the Built for the Mine partnership adds a whole new dimension to what the students are learning. In the classroom, they are introduced to the fundamental concepts of mining and engineering, however, the actual applications of the methods that they learn are reinforced when they are exposed to actual operations and equipment.”
Built for the Mine partners offer field trips, guest speakers, and summer internships for students. In the future, Westman adds that he also hopes to add a research component where engineering students could collaborate with industry partners to solve problems and return value to the industry.
Sharing Industry Opportunities
“Many traditional views of the mining industry do not include technology and software development, artificial intelligence, data analysis, logistics, manufacturing and digital sciences. However, there is a substantial and growing demand to apply those disciplines to mining. Future and current miners will need strong critical thinking abilities, teamwork, and communication skills, and a desire for innovation,” said Travis Tyndall, manager, operations support, Vulcan Materials Co. – Mideast Division. “We want to communicate our needs in the aggregates industry for those types of innovations so that Virginia Tech and Built for the Mine can attract, develop, and progress the next generation of miners.”
Therese Dunphy has covered the aggregates industry for nearly 30 years, while also serving multiple roles as a public official. As the owner of Stone Age Communications, she provides communications consulting services to help aggregate producers build stronger relationships within the communities they serve. She can be reached at [email protected].