The Power of One  goes deeper undergroundThe Power of One  

Ahead of directing their Power of One platform and philosophy underground, North American Mining spoke to Hexagon’s Mateus Quintela for this exclusive interview about the company’s solutions and vision for underground mining. 

By Jonathan Rowland

The Power of One will move further underground this year, integrating Hexagon’s existing underground solutions with the company’s new underground collision avoidance system. Photo: Hexagon

Hexagon launched the Power of One for surface mining at MINExpo in September 2021. Designed as a holistic, life-of-mine solution, it provides a single digital ecosystem that connects previously-disconnected solutions, from multiple vendors, including drill and blast, collision avoidance, operator alertness, fleet management, operator assist and machine control. The company is now set to launch Power of One for underground, as Mateus Quintela, head of product – Underground and interim vice president of Underground at Hexagon’s Mining division, explained to North American Mining from Hexagon’s office in Vancouver, Canada. 

Quintela has spent the last 12 years working in underground mining, initially with Devex. The Brazilian mining specialist moved to Hexagon when Devex was acquired back in 2013. Between 2018 and 2022, Quintela spent four years with another underground mining technology company before returning to Hexagon. Throughout his career, he has visited hundreds of underground mines around the world, of all types and sizes.

This might surprise some, as Hexagon is more often associated with open-pit mining operations, but as Quintela’s career path demonstrates, the company has had underground solutions and experience for some time. HxGN MineOperate UG Pro, for example, provides underground task and fleet management, and has been running in mines for a number of years now. “We also have an underground mine engineering tool and an activity scheduler as part of HxGN MinePlan,” noted Quintela.

Power of One for underground was given extra impetus last year, however, with the acquisition of Minnovare, an Australian-based technology company that specializes in underground drill optimization across the mine lifecycle. This took Hexagon’s exposure to underground mining up a level, not only extending the workflow to drill and blast operations, but also bringing a customer base of more than a hundred underground mines into the Hexagon fold.

Empowering a single digital ecosystem 
Onto these existing solutions, the Power of One will dive further underground to integrate safety with the development of an integrated underground collision avoidance system (CAS). And here, the company is building on its expertise in surface CAS. “We’re the leading supplier of surface CAS with more than 65,000 units installed worldwide,” explained Quintela. “We leveraged that knowledge to develop our underground CAS solution. We are currently running field trials at a customer mine with the expectation that this will launch this year.” 

Fitting the vision of single digital ecosystem, the underground CAS solution will not only integrate seamlessly into the Power of One environment underground, but will also integrate with surface operations. “It’s the same hardware, user interface and experience,” said Quintela. “It makes the transition between underground and surface operations seamless.”

And this points to the primary benefit of the Power of One platform, according to Quintela. Integration. “I was speaking with one of our underground customers and they mentioned they had 16 different pieces of software running in their control room from different vendors. This makes managing processes and workflows difficult – to put it mildly. You are continuously exporting and importing data across systems; it just consumes time that your employees could otherwise be spending on profitable work.” 

This is the gap that Power of One moving underground seeks to fill as “one platform that connects everything,” continued Quintela. “We want to give people back the time they currently spend on moving data, so they can work more profitably, more safely. We also want to make life easier for the operators, so rather than trying to cram multiple screens into what can be the very small cab of an LHD, with the Power of One going underground, you only have one screen that tells you everything you need to know.”

The Power of One is thus not just about Hexagon solutions: it is designed to be platform agnostic so that third-party systems can also be connected into it. “There are two key messages here,” said Quintela. “The first is that Hexagon has solutions for every point in the life of the mine – that’s the Power of One for Hexagon. But that doesn’t mean a mine has to use Hexagon solutions at every point in their mine to enjoy the benefits of the Power of One. That’s the point of being platform agnostic – and of being a software company first and foremost. We can integrate what you already have into this one digital ecosystem.” 

Or as Quintela went on to put it:
“With the Power of One, you only have one number to call in the event something goes wrong. There’s no blame games or finger pointing between different system providers. Instead of having all of those different systems, from all different vendors, the Power of One integrates these. You have one system to rely on: one point of truth about your mining operation.” 

The connectivity challenge
This raises a major question, however: if interconnectivity is core to what the Power of One offers, how does that work in an underground mining environment that is (to put it mildly) challenging for communication systems?

“There’s no doubt that connectivity is a challenge underground. It’s a challenge on the surface!” said Quintela. “But it’s even harder underground. And not just from the perspective of infrastructure: the underground operating environment is also tougher. For example, cables are at constant risk of being cut or damaged in what can be tight and crowded spaces.”

To get around this, Hexagon’s underground solutions are infrastructure independent. “Our solutions operate whether or not they are connected to a network,” explained Quintela. Instead, the system features a collect-and-forward function. “You have one device in the cab of a supervising truck that links to and collects data from other machines as it drives around the mine. That device will then relay all of the data to the server when it is able to connect to the network.”

Although this isn’t a real-time system, it can be “near to real time,” said Qunitela, “and it means that data is made visible in the control room to enhance decision-making, without needing to install complex or costly communications infrastructure. That is what’s most important.” 

Of course, if the mine does have a network, it’s “a dream,” concluded Quintela, recalling a trip to Kiruna underground iron ore mine in Sweden – his favorite mine.

“When I visited Kiruna, it was the first time I had seen mobile phones used for underground mine communications,” he recalled. “Most other mines I visit are still reliant on leaky feeder systems, so it was a shock. And it left a big impression on me, motivating me to bring innovation to other mines. But we also understand that innovation is a challenge for many mining customers around the world, which is why we have adopted the collect-and-forward approach to move the Power of One underground.” 

Safety in the lead
Work on the transition of the Power of One to underground has focused initially on safety, with the development of Hexagon’s underground CAS solution. This not only allowed the company to draw on its experience with surface CAS, but it fits a broader remit within the mining industry to improve underground safety. In South Africa, for example, it has recently become mandatory for underground diesel-powered vehicles to be fitted with proximity detection systems. These systems must not only detect the presence of objects and alert the operator, they must be able to slow and safely stop the vehicle as the risk increases.

“Safety is what the mining industry and its stakeholders – from its employees to its investors and the general public – are asking for,” said Quintela. “In the short term, safety is the critical pathway for the Power of One to go underground, and we are focused on bringing a world-class CAS solution to market.” But this will also extend into the future with the development of autonomous mining, the Hexagon executive continued. 

“Hexagon understands that the future is autonomous. And not just in mining. All of our divisions are working towards that: our mission is to empower an autonomous, sustainable future. In mining, that means reducing the number of people underground. That’s our direction. We are making operations safer now and working towards autonomy.”

There will also be further development of the company’s HxGN MinePlan software for underground to expand upon the functionalities available. “We have some solutions available already, including task management, mining engineering, and stope optimization, but we don’t have everything yet,” said Quintela. “However, we are working on it and planning more.”

The Power of One will move underground globally this year: “soon,” said Quintela, without giving exact dates. It will also focus on hard rock mines. But with much more in the pipeline, it seems this will be the first step of a longer journey, as Hexagon brings its Power of One philosophy to the underground space.

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