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Making Technology Stick in an Industry as Old as Civilization

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Making Technology Stick in an Industry as Old as Civilization

Dec. 6, 2013
Automated mining with real-time big data management earns UA expert a spot in mining hall of fame.

Sean Dessureault has spent nearly two decades advancing technology to increase efficiency and improve sustainability and safety in the mining industry. In recognition of his work, Dessureault will receive a 2013 American Mining Hall of Fame Medal of Merit from the Mining Foundation of the Southwest at its 31st annual awards banquet on December 7 in Tucson, Ariz.

“Great mining technology and many legends in the industry have come out of this University,” said Dessureault, an associate professor of mining and geological engineering who has been at the UA since 2002 and head of an Arizona consulting firm since 2004. “I am honored to be representing the UA College of Engineering.”

The world’s population and demand for minerals are both growing, and mining companies must deliver more and higher quality materials as global ore deposits diminish.

To help meet the demand, Dessureault has developed tools for big data management and information technology integration. Now, he says, the key is educating the mining workforce in how to use the data to automate mining processes.

“Information technology and training of the new mining workforce on how to use integrated data sets is the most critical investment for mining companies today,” said the Canadian transplant, who heads the University of Arizona’s Mine Intelligence Research Group, or MIRG, and the mine technology team in the Lowell Institute for Mining Resources.

Automating the mining industry is highly complex. Mine operators need to know where a specific piece of ore was extracted and how much it’s worth, while tracking vehicle maintenance and repair in real time, conducting rescue operations, managing safety conditions, and monitoring a host of other parameters that determine a mine’s safety and profitability.
“The ability to track virtually any information related to operations is key to meeting demand in socially and environmentally responsible ways,” said Dessureault. “So many mines are buried in data but starving for information. We help mining companies collect and use the information.”

Being able to combine his entrepreneurial drive and research expertise is what has made it all come together for Dessureault, who has conducted millions of dollars in research at the UA for global mining companies and government agencies and started two local companies.

“I have had the best of both worlds -- the freedom to pursue commercial enterprises while doing research,” he said.

As founder and director of MIRG, Dessureault develops and tests new technologies and processes in automation centered largely around data mining and database design, business process improvement, and mining engineering.

“Sensors and tracking tools are increasingly being used in mining, and data is being collected, but the data is of little value unless it is concentrated into usable information and delivered in a way mining companies can use the knowledge to correct deficiencies and exploit opportunities,” he said.

As he develops data solutions for mining companies, Dessureault collects information to further his research in the MIRG integrated control center.

“Almost all the research we do starts out as a business enterprise where a professionally integrated data solution is designed, built and supported. That opens new research opportunities using real-life, high-quality datasets that were previously unavailable,” he said. “Once the research is completed, we have the flexibility to loop it back around to be commercialized. Our work is based on industry need, and that quickly creates high-tech jobs here in Southern Arizona.”

Wearing the hat of founder and CEO for Mining Information Systems and Operations Management, or MISOM, Consulting Services Inc., Dessureault leads a team of information technology and mining engineers in providing mobile apps, technology strategy and implementation, mine automation project management, data warehousing solutions, and business process alignment. He has also spearheaded another company, Stakeholder Listening & Analysis, which provides social media data mining for sensitive natural resource development projects.

Dessureault received a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering from McGill University in Montreal and his master’s and PhD, which he earned while working at mines throughout Canada, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He joined the UA mining and geological engineering department in 2002. He has authored and co-authored more than 25 journal publications and received a number of awards for significant research and innovations, including a Canadian Information Productivity Award, Bly Faculty Award for Outstanding Mining Engineering, and a UA College of Engineering Faculty Fellow Award.

Sean Dessureault directs the University of Arizona’s Mine Intelligence Research Group, or MIRG, where he uses an integrated control center to test new technologies in mine automation.