Andritz wins 2019 Goldcorp #DisruptMining contest

Artificial intelligence is learning plant automation for mineral processing

by Timothy Fowler
Goldcorp sets the stage for pioneers of mining innovation to the #DisruptMining event.

Goldcorp sets the stage for pioneers of mining innovation to the #DisruptMining event. — Photo courtesy Goldcorp

Andritz Automation Ltd. rose to the top of Goldcorp’s 2019 #DisruptMining competition, clearing the deck to take the million-dollar-investment prize and the honour and opportunity that comes with this important mining industry win.

Sohail Nazari, business development manager with Andritz Automation said, “We can disrupt the mining industry because we are truly able to train AI (artificial intelligence) and we found a way to bring AI into mineral processing.”

It is easy to be distracted by #DisruptMining’s one-million-dollar prize, but for Andritz Automation this win is so much more. It’s the chance to share ideas with the top-tier of worldwide mining operators and the opportunity to develop products and ideas in real-world situations.

“We are training artificial intelligence based on the digital replica of a mineral processing plant so the AI learns how to process the mineral,” Nazari said. “Then we use AI to reduce costs, improve safety and increase efficiency.”

President and CEO of Goldcorp David Garafolo and Arthur Gooch and Sohail Nazari of Andritz Automation with #DisruptMining host Rick Mercer.

President and CEO of Goldcorp David Garafolo and Arthur Gooch and Sohail Nazari of Andritz Automation with #DisruptMining host Rick Mercer. — Photo courtesy Goldcorp

Andritz currently is operating a plant automation prototype in a simulated mineral processing environment, and this win brings the golden opportunity to move to the next step in development––a test site in a mining operation.

“The Andritz reinforcement learning solution is a combination of modern artificial intelligence with an industrial process simulation, so that we can provide an autonomous control for an industrial plant in the same way a self-driving car can pilot itself,” said Arthur Gooch, director of innovation with Andritz Automation. “The advantage of autonomous control is more consistent and immediate response to plant conditions, bringing the plant more money through more productivity, better efficiency and better safety.”

Do your homework

Each of the three #DisruptMining’s finalists pitched their idea in a three-minute video, which was followed by a barrage of questions from industry experts in a shark tank-style competition that lasted seven minutes. Both Nazari and Gooch described this as a tremendously stressful experience.

“Standing up in front of a panel of judges and being asked questions is not really a skill that technical people get to do or practise in their daily life,” said Gooch, “and there is no substitute for practise.”

Gooch and Nazari have this advice for contestants: be clear on the application, do your homework, follow guidelines (not every applicant did), be honest and take the process seriously. #DisruptMining wasn’t the first time Gooch and Nazari made their pitch. They credit Andritz for the opportunity to pitch their idea to internal corporate leaders in Vienna, Austria, some time ago. That pitch landed successfully, which led to the Andritz board funding development of a prototype. The corporate investment in idea presentation as well as prototype development and testing meant Andritz did its homework to win this competition.

Goldcorp’s #DisruptMining event gives a platform to innovators to share their ideas to tackle mining’s most vexing problems. The Andritz team’s artificial intelligence plant automation is just the kind of thing that #DisruptMining was designed to encourage.

Congratulations to the Andritz Automation team for their win and to Goldcorp for pioneering the platform.  

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