Innovation Profile: Jeremy Butler, Maptek
For innovation to exist, it’s essential to have innovation champions; people who truly believe in and embody innovation in their day to day work life.
Last month, Austmine reached out for people in the industry to nominate their peers, colleagues or associates who they felt were innovation champions.
In their first profile, Austmine puts the spotlight on Jeremy Butler, Technology Analyst at Maptek. Jeremy was nominated for "being at the forefront of advancing systems in spatial data capturing and reporting, whilst being helpful and down to earth."
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where do you currently work and how has the progression of your career brought you to this point?
After finishing school I started my career as an Electrical Drafter for low voltage to 33kV infrastructure. At this time I developed a compulsion to find better, faster and more efficient ways of doing things. I developed object recognition and automated drafting algorithms that could more than offset the time spent on development, generating faster results, especially when distributed across an office. The result was a competitive edge for the company.
In 2009 I took on a surveying cadetship with Anglo American. This allowed me to study towards formal qualifications and be paid while doing it. At Anglo I created incremental productivity improvements for my peers, automating monotonous tasks and changing the way people worked. I was also introduced to Maptek hardware and software survey systems.
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In 2011, an opportunity arose at Maptek and I spent several years working with Maptek I-Site laser scanners. I started collaborating with various mining professionals and a new multi-skilled team to develop my idea based on my field experience. Two years later this work resulted in the commercialization of PerfectDig. The lessons and experiences gained in evolving an idea though to a commercial product led to my new role of Technology Analyst. Now I spend my time replicating this type of thinking across other new ideas for Maptek.
In April 2015 you won the SSSI Qld Spatial Science Technology Prize. What did it mean to you to win this prize? What did it take to win it?
The SSSI award, along with the 2013 IEMSQ Associate Degree Prize and 2013 Laser & Survey Solutions Prize, were granted in recognition of maintaining a very high GPA for the duration of my Bachelor of Spatial Science Technology. For me it represents external recognition for the many hours of work put into my studies. The motivation in maintaining these results derived from working full time and being paid to study, so I considered it as much part of my job as anything else. Actively working and studying in the same field also gave me access to resources, data, technology, software and real life scenarios that made the theory relevant.
What would your advice be to people just starting out in the mining or mining services and technology sector, who want to make a difference in the way the industry thinks or works? What are some of those first important steps they must take?
Improving processes and projects is a good way to get noticed! Starting a project and tackling the early work is best done alone or with a small group. Once improvement can be proven or shown, then share it with others. If the idea has not worked as planned then move on. This approach provides instant gratification for people who see it working successfully and means they don’t need to worry as much about resourcing or risk for an idea not fully understood or implemented. You need to be flexible in your approach and balance work and personal requirements.
Patience, persistence and networking are very important for people who want to make a difference in mining which is a relatively conservative industry. Developing new products and services requires support and resources, political allies, a strong personality, vision and drive. Coming up with an idea is like planting a seed; many other factors, skills and people are required to make it grow.
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The pathway I took was to firstly create a voice– conceptualize and expose ideas and ensure they are heard by the right people in some form. Recognize what resources may be required to evolve the idea and where you might find them (investors, businesses, personal); this is an important part on larger projects where finance, people and business risk all become involved.
To innovate, you need to believe in your own ideas and be able to influence others to believe in them too. Growing this ability is a key part of being able to market to and influence wider audiences. Ideas should be backed up with proof of concepts and supporting evidence. Once one person can appreciate the improvement and a commitment to resourcing is made, then market research and prototyping work begins (if not done before gaining resource commitments). In some cases it will be difficult to get started on real development until customer research and communication, risk mitigation, prototyping, value propositions, project management plans, design plans and preliminary business plans are investigated. During development, sales, marketing, branding and business plans are also formed in detail around the product.
Big ideas can carry big risk, and with great excitement and enthusiasm there will also be much harsh criticism and scepticism. You need to be able to take on feedback and use it to improve or adapt the idea, including knowing when to abandon it. Criticism can be brutal and belittling. However, it can be effective at helping to establish where to focus on the value, or improve your ideas. Without that feedback you won’t know where your insight into your own ideas is lacking.
You also need to consider factors that are important to the industry. A unique, fun, cool and exciting idea may be fine for consumer level products, but may not have tangible advantages to a business. Working in a particular field and using that experience to thoroughly ascertain the advantages that your idea will create is much more effective.
Depending on the scope of the project, this early development phase can take anywhere from days to years.
Intellectual property can be difficult to understand. If you have big plans and you want to use investors or create your own business or resources to back it--make sure your employer(s) state they have no interest in it and will not provide support, resources or development for the idea or project. You also need to have a solid understanding if investment is involved.
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A web project I started in 2010 is a good example of creating your own voice. Mine surveyor (www.minesurveyor.net) was set up to provide information to students interested in mine surveying as a career. I receive many enquiries through the website from existing and potential students for advice on getting into the industry (not just surveying or in Australia) and how they could start a career in mining. I also receive inquiries from businesses through the web platform which allows networking.
What does innovation mean to you personally?
Innovation involves the process of taking a vision or an existing product with significant room for improvement, understanding and quantifying the value, and evolving it into tangible deliverables.
A unique idea is a start, but innovation also includes the sometimes overwhelming endeavours to turn that idea into something valuable.
Did you have a mentor who helped you along the way?
I’ve worked closely with Peter Johnson (Managing Director/CEO at Maptek) and Simon Ratcliffe (Product Development Director at Maptek) for the last four years. They have mentored me in developing skills in project management, risk mitigation, commercialization and strategizing, appreciation for culture, paradigms and globalization, visionary thinking, value propositioning and team based product design and development.
Can you give us an example of where you feel you saw real innovation at work in a company or project you were involved in?
At Maptek, I introduced an idea which took 2 years from gaining support, conceptual design, proof of concept and client approval through team building, prototyping and improvements, to commercialization. The product PerfectDig recently won the South Australian Industrial & Resources, 2015 Australian Information Industry Association iAward.
PerfectDig development was undertaken by a small group of software engineers using an agile development approach. Frequent consultation with internal and external clients for testing and guidance helped the team ensure our product met real world needs.
PerfectDig provides a different way of communicating mine design conformance to existing options of 3D surfaces, machine guidance and survey pegs. It uses a photograph (which people were taking and roughly annotating frequently throughout production stages) and augments it with real, accurate 3D information to clearly communicate design conformance. The photo is a realistic representation of an as-built surface compared to a design surface that anyone can interpret and relate to.
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Appreciating that people can have difficulty relating 3D surfaces and 2D plans to the real world was my ‘lightbulb’ moment. Visualising how a completed design may look and understanding that machine guidance and survey pegs focus on only one point at any point in time were major insights. PerfectDig now enables a photograph to be used as the communication medium between 3D data and the real world. It uses millions of points over a large area in that single photo. A snapshot taken with PerfectDig and a laser scanner with an integrated camera, allows people to see within minutes where design conformance is achieved or missed in an open pit mine, including entire walls, from a single perspective.
Value in PerfectDig was identified around regulatory conformance, cost of production and time required to generate similar results using other methods. Savings resulting from a single instance of non-conformance, which could lead to a wall failure, commodity losses, re-scheduling, or fleet management costs, can be offset against a single license. PerfectDig software pays for itself by providing timely results that can be used for improved decision making.
An online platform was introduced to allow the results to be disseminated to various stakeholders who could remotely (including via a mobile platform) interact with the data and conduct queries such as cross-sections. The unique way PerfectDig interrogates data allows cross-section and conformance information to be analysed in true 3D as opposed to a 2.5D topography surface, which is ideal for exposing undulating wall features.
Frequent client interaction identified processes and procedures widely applied in current design conformance methodology and which meant mine staff spent many hours or days creating design conformance reports. By analysing the requirements through various businesses we devised a method of automating the reporting process, reducing the time taken from many hours to minutes. The same technology has now been applied to other Maptek products.
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The initial vision and innovation has been realized in PerfectDig. The system continues to be improved through client feedback and requests for enhancements. I make a special thanks to Anthony Gibbs, Matt Harris, Peter Iannella and Simon Ratcliffe for their work and support through the development and enabling an idea to become a reality.
Innovation can often become a fluffy term. How can people avoid this and ensure tangible processes, goals and measurements are applied to innovation practices?
An idea that never evolves beyond an idea is not innovation; it’s just an idea. A development (or process) that is not significantly discernible from similar developments (or processes) is not an innovation. Innovation requires a level of differentiation.
To ensure an idea is heard and to evolve it into something that can be considered innovative requires innovators to consider how things can be done differently, better or more productively, and instead of simply adopting or improving current technology or processes, to consider what could be done to supersede it in future.
Innovation therefore should involve risk (for example time, resources, failure or cost). In the current economic environment, being able to define, assess and reflect on quantitative value of a development is also a very important part of this process.
The process should include scoping, prototyping, business assessment, value propositions and compelling mechanisms, risk mitigation, internal and external customer involvement, planning and reflection to ensure tangible results. Product development should be unique, marketable, forward thinking and have strong applicability to its intended market.
Rio Tinto and Alcoa begin construction with ELYSIS tech
Eliminating all direct greenhouse gases from aluminium smelting has taken a major step forward with the start of construction on the first commercial-scale prototype cells of ELYSIS’ inert anode technology, at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec.
ELYSIS has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminium production
ELYSIS is a joint venture company led by Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is developing a new breakthrough technology, known as inert anode, that eliminates all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produces oxygen.
The technology has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint.
The inert anode prototype cells will operate on a commercial scale typical for large modern aluminium smelters, using an electrical current of 450 kiloamperes (kA).
The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry joined representatives from ELYSIS, Rio Tinto and Alcoa to mark the start of construction and announce a further CAD $20mn financial contribution from the Government of Canada to support the project.
The federal government's financial support will enable the creation of a unique commercial size inert anode technology showroom for future customers and will help develop the supply chain by involving local and regional equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the project.
ELYSIS is working to complete the technology demonstration by 2024 followed by the commercialization activities.
ELYSIS technology at a glance:
- The ELYSIS technology addresses the global trend towards producing low carbon footprint products, from mobile phones to cars, planes and building materials.
- The new process will reduce operating costs ofaluminiumsmelters while increasing production capacity. It could be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters.
- In Canada alone, the ELYSIS technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 7 million tons, the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
- ELYSIS will also sell next-generation anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.
Alcoa and Rio Tinto will continue to support the ELYSIS development program alongside the Governments of Canada and Quebec.
ELYSIS is working closely with Alcoa's Technical Center, where the zero-carbon smelting technology was invented, and the Rio Tinto technology design team in France.
Alcoa's Technical Center supports ELYSIS in the manufacture of proprietary materials for the new anodes and cathodes that are essential to the ELYSIS process. The Rio Tinto technology team in France is creating commercial scale designs for the ELYSIS technology.
Vincent Christ, CEO, ELYSIS commented: “This is a great day for ELYSIS. It means that we are becoming the first technology company in the world to build commercial-size inert anode cells. While we refine the technology in our R&D Centre, we start the construction of our prototype cells. This shows our confidence in our process and in the know-how of our team. The combination of ELYSIS' zero CO2 technology and Quebec's renewable energy will be great competitive advantage for the future. I would like to thank the government for its support and all the partners for their commitment.”
Samir Cairae, Rio Tinto Aluminium managing director Atlantic Operations and ELYSIS board member added: “Today marks a real step towards the future of the aluminium industry, by progressing this breakthrough technology to cut carbon emissions. Rio Tinto is committed to supporting its ongoing development here in Quebec where we already use clean hydropower to deliver some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminium. Combining this technology with renewable hydropower holds the promise of zero carbon aluminium smelting.”