International Minerals Innovation Institute

The Saskatchewan Minerals Industry is Full of Innovative Problem Solvers

Photo of SafeBox™ in action

Like any industry, the minerals industry is facing growth and adapting to challenges all the time. However, the minerals industry is unique in its embrace of these challenges and calls for growth, seeking to: 

  • Reduce operating costs and the costs of developing new assets.
  • Reduce risks and improve safety.
  • Improve asset productivity.
  • Improve sustainability performance and reduce environmental footprints.

Individuals, teams, and forward-thinking organizations across our province are addressing each of the above goals. 


What Makes the Saskatchewan Minerals Industry Unique? 

The minerals industry in Saskatchewan is very niche compared to others around the world. 

For starters, Saskatchewan is the largest producer of potash in the world. In addition, we are the second largest producer of uranium, a key element for the clean energy transition.

These two main minerals, in combination with the many others we produce here in Saskatchewan, make us a key player in the global minerals industry. Because of this, it is paramount for us to be innovating, problem-solving, and ever-improving. 


Innovation in the Saskatchewan Minerals Industry

It’s a challenge to narrow down the foremost innovation trends in our Saskatchewan mineral ecosystem because we are seeing problem-solvers addressing everything from sustainability to safety to productivity in complex and creative ways. That said, here are some of the main areas in which our province’s minerals industry is shining: 

  • The Digital Transformation. Saskatchewan mining organizations are adopting new technologies all the time that create safer, more productive processes. This comes in a variety of forms, including analytics AI for exploration, AR, VR and autonomous equipment for mining and processing, and robotics and smart sensors for processing, waste management, and extraction/refining.  

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) for improved productivity and safety. In particular, Saskatchewan’s potash operations are adopting tele-remote mining to replace humans at the rockface. This is one of the most challenging environments in a mine, so putting workers behind the scenes at a safe distance or in IROCs (integrated remote operation centers) is vastly improving safety and efficiency.
    • In addition, AI is being utilized to perform predictive maintenance on equipment, lessening the risk of mechanical failure and improving both safety and productivity. 

  • The prioritization of sustainability, environmental footprint and carbon emission reductions. Many major Saskatchewan mining companies are making great strides in this area: 
    • Mosaic is prioritizing a reduction in GHG emissions and freshwater use. In addition, they are addressing energy use reductions through renewable alternatives, increased efficiency, and behavioural shifts. 
    • Cameco is notably reducing its landfill waste by 30% through repurposing, recycling, incinerating, or reprocessing. 
    • Nutrien has put environmental protection and energy efficiency at the forefront, utilizing waste heat to produce steam for mining operations. 
    • BHP has a goal of reducing operational GHG emissions by 30% from 2020 to 2030. Specifically, they plan to adopt renewable electricity generation and other low or zero GHG emissions power sources wherever possible in their projects.


SafeBox Systems Improving Safety & Efficiency in the Minerals Industry

One exciting example of problem-solving in the minerals industry is exemplified by the 2020 Innovation Award winner: Ionic Mechatronic’s SafeBox System. SafeBox™ is a lockout automation system that utilizes cutting-edge technology to isolate and verify machine safety during maintenance tasks. SafeBox™ makes this process more convenient than legacy lock-out procedures, reducing the lock-out time from hours to just seconds, increasing productivity and production availability. 

SafeBox™’s large, work glove-compatible touch-screen displays more safety information than ever before, making it exceptionally user-friendly and efficient. It works by using large, industrial, physical push-buttons to initiate energization and isolation of the host machine. Using a lock bar, SafeBox™ allows workers to use familiar lock-out padlocks to ensure the isolation of a system during maintenance operations. SafeBox™’s key feature, however, has to be its single lockout operation. With this function, workers can isolate up to 50 electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic circuits with a single lockout operation in just seconds!

The IMII was proud to highlight this impressive innovation at the 2020 Innovation Awards. SafeBox™ demonstrates some of the best and brightest problem-solving in the minerals industry, and we were pleased to give the Ionic Mechatronic team a platform to demonstrate its automated safety solution. We invite you to learn more about the innovative SafeBox™ technology in this video

Interested in following innovation in the Saskatchewan minerals industry? We invite you to stay updated on our upcoming DEMOday event and subsequent Innovation Award winner announcement for 2024, coming on May 22nd.