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Bringing mining innovators together with technology leader IBM

Centre for Smart Mining encourages partnerships between small business and technology giants such as IBM

IBM, one of the world’s leading digital technology firms, told a group of mining supply and service companies in Sudbury on Tuesday that small companies should take advantage of advanced technology to become more competitive.

Members of IBM’s National Innovation Team were at Cambrian College to present the first of what is expected to be several intimate consultations between the mining industry and large multi-national digital service companies.

Steve Gravel, manager of the Cambrian’s Centre for Smart Mining, said the IBM Incubator Initiative is part of a joint initiative with the Government of Ontario and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE). He said this gives entrepreneurs and local companies a chance to showcase their ideas and put hard questions on the table with major industry innovators.

“What we were hoping to do by inviting large technology platforms, sometimes international companies like IBM, is to really get some intimate time with SMEs (subject matter experts) in the mining supply and service cluster wouldn’t otherwise have by picking up the phone and trying to talk to these large entities,” said Gravel.

He said he is hoping it will become a regular feature at Cambrian’s smart mining centre.

“So what we’re trying to do over the course of the next five years is to bring in new technology platform providers each quarter to try to book these one-on-one meetings to get that intimacy and to see if business relationships can resolve from that,” he explained.

IBM representative Dave Robitaille of the National Innovation Team praised the OCE plan to go out into smaller communities of Ontario to find local innovators.

“In the coming weeks we will be in places like Hamilton, Niagara, London, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Peterborough. These are places where true innovation is born and the true wealth of Canada comes from,” said Robitaille.

He said the idea is to find innovators and match them up with the newest technologies and to accelerate new ideas and processes and bring them all to the marketplace.

IBM representative Andrew Safranko outlined how IBM can partner with start-up businesses, tap in to resources across Canada and explore global markets that might have an interest in Ontario based products and services.

“The idea around it is really providing our technology and skill sets as well as the network we can bring to the table, through the partnership we have either with the province or through IBM itself,” said Safranko.

By asking for a show of hands, Safranko said it was clear many businesses just don’t take advantage of the technical solutions that are already out there in the marketplace.

“That’s usually the case and this is also part of why we’re here,” he said. “We have great technology, and the saying is usually ‘you don’t get fired for hiring IMB’ but we do a horrible job in marketing ourselves.”

Safranko mentioned such technologies as the IBM Cloud, the artificial intelligence applications, and the increasingly well-known IBM Watson, generally regarded as a super computer.

Some of the technology was showcased by innovation team “evangelist” Sarmad Ibrahim who held up a small device in his hand, about half the size of a deck of cards. It is called the IBM Q or Quantum computer.

“This is the new world, the new smaller processor,” he said as he described it as the world’s newest, fastest and most powerful computer. He said the device is made of 24 karat gold and runs at a temperature of minus 260 centigrade.

Ibrahim also mentioned the IBM Watson is also being used on newer automobiles to help people become better and safer drivers. He also demonstrated how AI is used to recognize facial features on people to help categorize their age and gender. It was also outlined how IBM Watson is helping a Northern Ontario gold mining company search for new ore zones.

It was also revealed that IBM has provided sensors to CN Rail to help determine the integrity of the couplings between rail cars and to determine whether the couplings need maintenance.

After the 90 minute presentation, Gravel said he liked what he saw. He said mining companies would be well suited to adapt some of the IBM solutions, especially with AI and visual recognition.

“If you can do it on a rail car, you can do it on a scoop tram bucket, you can do it on any kind of condition monitoring that is visual underground and I think that makes firms more competitive.”

Gravel said the whole idea of matching up mining businesses with technology leaders is a worthwhile exercise because it brings innovators together with technology leaders, something that would not happen otherwise.

“What IBM is looking to do is to get more people using their services and have their technology become more pervasive,” said Gravel.

“So if you sprinkle a little bit of seed funding in, along with those relationships and connections, then we are hoping it results in more competitive and high-tech companies.”