LaPresse Interviews Newtrax CEO Alexandre Cervinka
Conquering the world from deep down underground mines
For the original article in French click here.
There are 719 underground mines in operation around the globe, and Newtrax, a Montreal-based technology company founded in 2008, has implemented its safety and productivity solutions in 98 of them.
The goal is to be present is 400 of these mines in the next 3 years. Newtrax ranked 166th among the 500 fastest-growing technology companies in North America last year, according to Deloitte’s Fast 500, and its CEO has no plans to slow down this growth.
Over the years, Quebec has acquired real expertise in the mining sector. Is that why you decided to develop technologies specific to this field of activity? Did you have any prior geology knowledge?
Not at all. In 2001, I was a graduate in Electrical Engineering from McGill University and, with a few colleagues, started a business that used wireless sensor networks to recover stolen merchandise. Then, we developed a technology for the transport of goods and another for border surveillance. We developed projects, but not products.
Eventually, a professor from the University of Quebec in Abitibi suggested we apply our technologies to the mining sector. In 2008, we developed solutions that made it possible to better monitor the work that was being done in the heart of the mine, where telecommunications are impossible.
Our first order from a mining company in Chile, and that’s how Newtrax was born.
What kind of innovation did you bring to this industry that had previously operated in a rather traditional and archaic way?
The managers did not know what was going on in the mine in real time. They would be given a report when the workers came out after their shift. That’s all. They had no idea what was happening with the machines, with the workers, or with the environment in which people operated. We brought them the light, nothing less.
Systems have been developed to evaluate ground stability, air quality and water levels in real time using sensors that are installed in the underground mine. We have also developed sensors that measure the health and parameters of machines, to know the distance drilled, the tonnage moved by the trucks.
Workers have been equipped with a chip that allows them to be located wherever they are in the mine and to be detected in blind spots by large mobile equipment.
Mine managers are given solutions that allow them to better plan the maintenance of their equipment, increase the productivity of their operations while ensuring worker safety.
Your solutions have been well received by the major mining companies, as evidenced by the sharp increase in your revenues over the past year. Where are you in your development?
In 2008, we were eight employees, including the two founders, Vincent Kassis and myself. We got our first big contract with Mexican producer Fresnillo, the biggest money producer in the world, and since then, business has never stopped growing.
We have reached 140 employees, 75 of whom work at our Montreal head office to develop our existing and new technology solutions. Our systems are being assembled by three companies in the Montreal region, and onsite installation and training are being carried out in underground mines. We plan to hire 40 people this year, half of them in Montreal and the other half in our six offices in Santiago, London, Johannesburg, Moscow and Perth.
Our customers are the major producers of gold, silver, and nickel from around the world. These companies are concerned about their productivity and the safety of their operations. Our systems are installed in 98 underground mines and we expect to be present in 400 mines within three years, especially because we have just signed an agreement with Sandvik, the world’s largest manufacturer of underground mining equipment.
Sandvik is present in the 719 operating mines and we plan on becoming the nervous system of its machines. It opens up incredible opportunities. Our sales are expected to reach $ 100 million over the next three years.
How do you finance your growth? Have you opened your capital to financial groups?
We financed our growth from the sales that we made. We also received a good boost from investor Robert Brouillette, founder of the law firm BCF and recognized Angel Investor, who still accompanies us today.
A new shareholder was welcomed in 2014, when Australian mining fund Resource Capital Funds launched a mining technology fund that took a 30% stake in Newtrax.
What will be the next step in terms of growth at Newtrax?
We are already in it. Our technology solutions generate a lot of data and we will generate even more because of our association with Sandvik and its visualization platform. We have also partnered with the IVADO to develop machine learning solutions for our clients worldwide.
We have our foot in the door. We aren’t focused on generating revenue in the AI / Machine Learning sector but we are convinced that AI will further advance intelligent mining solutions for the future.