Technology moves Murray Engineering forward
Technology enabling the autonomous operation of heavy machinery from half a world away is the type of cutting-edge development one would expect to have emerged from a tech hub such as California’s Silicon Valley.
It’s somewhat surprising, therefore, to learn that a mining services business from Pinjarra, south of Perth, has just launched the product it believes is a world first.
Murray Engineering has officially released the new technology in conjunction with Canada-based mining automation business Hard-Line.
It has been tested and used to operate machinery at a mine site in Canada from Murray’s headquarters, about 18,000 kilometres away.
The new technology allows autonomous operation from 18,000 kilometres away.
The company is currently using the technology at a number of mining projects in Western Australia, including Ramelius Resources’ Water Tank Hill gold mine.
And chief executive Craig Lindsay-Rae is confident it is capable of being rolled out for underground mines or open-pit operations that require ‘geofencing’ and collision avoidance.
“We think the impact on the mining industry will be massive, as this technology is location, brand and machine type-agnostic,” Mr Lindsay-Rae told Business News.
“One of the advantages is therefore an open selection as to from where you would like to operate and whom you would choose to operate, as its built-in artificial intelligence generates a permission algorithm to detect the operator’s skills.”
Mr Lindsay-Rae said another benefit was the ability to train machinery operators from overseas.
“This is not to replace people; it’s to make the utilisation of human capital more efficient,” he said.
“It’s not to replace local employment; in fact what it is doing is transferring skills.”
The mining services business also has plans to integrate virtual reality into its new offering.
“The next step may be to control machines through virtual reality – we plan to demonstrate that at the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne,” Mr Lindsay-Rae said.
“Right now, there are excellent systems that are utilised in various areas of mining; you have telemetric systems, proximity detections systems, collision avoidance systems, control systems and communication systems.
“But they’re not integrated.
“It would be incredible to be able to have all of that remotely located in an operations centre, but it’s the integration of all of those different codes that is the real challenge for industry.
“And Murray Engineering, down here in sleepy Pinjarra, is determined to crack that.”
The business is forecasting revenue of about $110 million for 2018, more than double its performance in 2015.
Murray’s headquarters are in Pinjarra, about 90 kilometres south of Perth.
Mr Lindsay-Rae said this wide offering had served the business extremely well during the recent slowdown in the mining sector.
“It is unique in the resources industry to be able to procure all those services from a single organisation,” he said.
“Our desire is to be that single point of supply to the resources industry at large.”
He said the diversification also aided the company’s technology focus.
“I suppose we have a bit of a unique advantage in that we are operating machines,” Mr Lindsay-Rae said.
“We own and operate, and we are providing those services to a whole host of clients worldwide.
“In order to have an advantage in terms of technology, it’s always useful to be able to own and operate and you can really speak from a point of strength.”
Murray Engineering has also expanded its network of branches across the country, with facilities in Queensland, South Australia and NSW, along with Kalgoorlie.
And it runs a mining services branch in Mongolia, with operations throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.
“When you look at an acquisition and you look at integration, people traditionally have a look at the financial figures and the marketing implications,” he said.
“But the difficulty is how it will culturally be able to be integrated, and that’s always difficult to measure.
“We did have to make some changes to the culture of SRO to suit our group.”
He said there were also some financial challenges associated with the acquisition, but SRO was now providing a profit to the group, with $25 million in revenue expected in 2018.
“Because we are conservative, we expense goods that would ordinarily be capitalised by other groups,” Mr Lindsay-Rae said.
“It’s hard on cash and it’s hard on profits, initially, but down the line, and that’s why is it’s good to be privately owned, we don’t need to make short-term decisions.
“We know what the cycles are like and we can make decisions according to that.”