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Brazil-based mining company Vale has continued its partnership with NORCAT, with the two companies launching the NORCAT Open Innovation Challenge to seek out solutions to improve safety, efficiency and sustainability.

The challenge will “facilitate and enhance” Vale’s capabilities to bring new, state-of-the-art technologies into its mining operations, and both companies aim to accelerate the rate of technology adoption across the global mining industry.

Vale has identified three problem areas: smelter acid management, underground operator alertness, and excessive water and run of material in underground mines. The Open Innovation Challenge is looking to identify technology-enabled solutions to these problem areas.

While the challenge is brought forward by Vale and NORCAT, any solutions may be made available to the wider industry – particularly as global events this year have disrupted normal business operations.

“As the global ‘one-stop-shop’ for all that is the future of mining technology, our goal is to facilitate and encourage innovative and disruptive thinking within the mining technology ecosystem,” said NORCAT CEO Don Duval. “As the mining industry continues to transform, it requires new levels of openness, innovation and collaboration.

“Challenge-based initiatives have proven to be effective in uncovering new ideas and different points of view, and we are excited to partner with Vale to further the acceleration, adoption and deployment of emerging technologies that are poised to transform the global mining industry.”

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Vale and NORCAT’s challenge follows a similar crowdsourced innovation challenge earlier this year in South Australia, which called on innovative data solutions to map potential exploration targets in the Gawler region. The success of that competition saw the State Government allocate an additional A$5m ($3.64m) in funding to the Geological Survey of South Australia to flesh out the winning concepts.

The Open Innovation Challenge is open to innovative start-ups, entrepreneurs and “problem-solvers” anywhere in the world. Successful applications must be able to develop and deploy a proof-of-concept at one of Vale’s operations in Sudbury, Ontario by March next year. Winning entrants to the challenge will be provided with technical oversight and feedback from Vale to prepare for product development and testing.

Vale’s Base Metal Operations manager of digital and information technology Anthony Downs said: “Open innovation is a key enabler that allows us to rapidly identify and trial novel risk management solutions. When they prove effective, we move them to implementation within our operations at an accelerated pace. Vale is pleased to partner with NORCAT on this challenge and looks forward to reviewing the innovative solutions the challenge inspires.”

Successful ventures could face the potential of Vale issuing a purchasing order to deploy the solution more broadly across their applications.