How has IOS shifted its strategy in recent years?
IOS offers regular services such as sampling and drill supervision at regional scale, but we have developed proprietary powerful techniques which we now offer on a global scale. We have expanded our client base, from companies like Osisko Mining and Midland Exploration, which we still cherish, to major players in the industry such as Rio Tinto, De Beers, Anglo-American, Agnico-Eagle and Teck Resources with demands coming from all over the world.
Can you elaborate on the specialized products IOS offers?
IOS offers exclusive technology that gravitates around automated minerology, as the industry is moving from chemistry to minerology in terms of exploration techniques. Except gold, mines do not produce metal, they produce mineral cocnentrates. Switching from assays to mineral abundance requires access to complicated and expensive technologies, but we redeveloped these in our proprietary platform that are five times faster than MLA and QEMSCAN and that deliver hard chemical data on minerals, not only proxies. Such performance enabled the development of a variety of applications from automated petrography, alteration mapping, metallurgy and environment assessment. Our best success is in automating detrital mineral sorting (gold, pgm, kim’s, etc) for drift exploration purposes. Hence, this leads to cost/price reduction, better detection limits and more useful data. It requires a fusion between geological experience, artificial intelligence and basic machine engineering.
Can you describe how Artificial Intelligence is transforming the mining industry?
For IOS, AI is seen as a technological tool rather than a purpose; we use it to solve daily issues mainly for image analysis and pattern recognition, in a similar way to Google Images. For example, in one of the applications, we spread a mineral concentrate on a holder, put it under a motorized petrographic microscope and within minutes, we have a picture of every gold grain. This process used to be done manually and workers would spend the whole day searching for gold grains. Now, the machine takes a mosaic of pictures, detects automatically the gold-looking grains, applies AI algorithm, calculates the probability of it being a gold grain, and obtains the stage coordinate. Then, we transfer the sample to an SEM along with coordinates and the machine acquires a chemical analysis of the grains to confirm it is gold. This takes five minutes instead of an hour, free of errors.
How do you see the current state of drilling activity in Québec today?
There is currently not a single rig or helicopter available in Québec today. If someone wants a rig for a project, the drilling company must be warned 3-6 months in advanced and even then, it is not guaranteed, and there is no certainty about the efficiency of the team. Furthermore, there is a shortage of qualified staff. This generates massive inflation and a collapse in the quality of work. As a result, a bubble has been created and it will burst. The overall trend is that the amount of drilling required to define a deposit constantly increases and the industry has less and less people to do it with. There is no other option but to improve efficiency and to automate processes.
How do you see the industry moving forward in the next 2-3 years and what are the implications for IOS?
Looking at the global economy, my forecast is that there will be a bull run for metals in the next three years. This is because governments have reacted to the pandemic by injecting massive liquidity in the system. However, the production of goods and wealth did not increase, so this injected money is directed towards speculation. A bubble is being created, and people in finance are fully aware that it will sooner or later burst, so they are seeking refuge for their monetary assets. There will be a bull run for gold as this is one of the few safe harbors to protect assets. In addition, the economic recovery of the current financial crisis will come from developing countries and infrastructure construction, which will require metals.
Do you have a final message for our readership and your client base?
Our aim is not to get bigger, but to get better. IOS is a problem solving company. We have a proven track record of figuring out solutions to technical, scientific and operational problems. We deliberately choose to capitalize on this, and it was the right choice.