Technology, automation and innovation
This is one of the enablers of the strategic axes of growth and operational excellence, making our operations safer, minimizing waste and optimizing production. We invested US$ 4 million in research and development throughout 2020, with US$ 8.9 million expected for 2021, with the Mining Lab platform being our main tool for open innovation.
Nexa’s effort in the search for innovation has been recognized every year by the Valor Inovação Brasil yearbook. In its sixth edition, we ranked second in the Mining, Smelter and Steel category.
Following the path of innovation, we continue actively participating in the Mining Hub, an initiative that brings together mining companies, traditional suppliers in the sector, start-ups and the Brazilian Mining Institute (IBRAM) team, with the purpose of being a direct channel for open innovation, gathering the trends of the sector and fostering the relationship between the affiliates. The 2020 meetings were fully held online, with great support from members.
We also participated in the M-Start4 of the Mining Hub, with the Digital Locking solution, a security program that speeds up and guarantees the locking of all types of energy for equipment maintenance. For this project, we obtained an investment of R$ 700 thousand through Finep’s Technologies 4.0 Bid Notice. The system will be implemented in Vazante, Três Marias and, in the future, in all Nexa in Brazil.
We were one of the three mining companies responsible for the creation of the Hub de Innovación Minera del Perú, a pioneering initiative within the country.
Hub Peru’s first start-up challenge brought a solution to reduce the cost of electricity to Nexa: the use of batteries. The project consists of installing a set of batteries, which will be charged in the period with the cheapest energy and used when the energy is more expensive. This project is already in the bidding phase, with the Nexa Supplies area and the contract will be signed in 2021.
In 2021, Nexa will be one of the leaders of PERUMIN HUB, an Open Innovation program of one of the largest mining events in the world, which will involve the full Peruvian innovation ecosystem (universities, research centers, institutions and private companies, government, etc.).
Mining Lab Platform
Since 2016, we have been looking for innovative solutions in the areas of mining and smelting through our Mining Lab Program. Although we always have at least one edition with specific challenges, the platform is open for registration throughout the year, as a continuous innovation challenge. This means that anyone can submit an innovative idea for the sector, without necessarily being linked to the schedule of any call.
Our international partnerships have been expanding every year, allowing this 5th edition to receive registrations from 14 countries, such as Brazil, Peru, Canada, Chile, United States, Germany, Israel, United Kingdom. This was the largest number of countries registered in an edition of the Mining Lab, a positive reflection of the program’s maturity.
A striking initiative in 2020 was the holding of the Mining Lab University in partnership with Universidad Nacional Daniel Alcides Carrión (Undac) in Peru, with challenges aimed at undergraduate students. The goal was to encourage students to develop skills in the professional world by solving a Nexa challenge. The winners participated in summer internships at our Pasco mining unit, where they are developing their projects in practice.
Mining Lab Challenge 2020
The main novelty of this edition was the theme “Building Positive Legacies”, with a view that we must go beyond our operations to create the legacy that we want to leave for the communities. We select companies that foster actions that go beyond our business and connect us with the society around our activities. The challenge included three other themes, and for one of the categories – Producing zinc and copper – there were no selected companies, since none presented a truly innovative solution.
Throughout the process, which was fully held virtually, we received 178 solution proposals, 50 were selected for participation in the Bootcamp, 13 were chosen for immersion and 6 reached the proof-of-concept phase.
The selected projects go through a Research and Development (R&D) phase in order to validate the business model and the technology in specific scenarios. Those with positive results move ahead to the industrial implementation phase.
Compared to the previous edition, we implemented the Cedrotech chatbot called “Nina”, a virtual assistant who started serving the legal department and expanded operations to the Human Resources department. We also continued the development of our magnetic nanoparticle collector (now in partnership with Ecolab), and developed filters on social networks with augmented reality in order to disseminate our brand. Some of the projects from last year’s edition were suspended due to the pandemic and are expected to resume in 2021.
Transforming waste from the Vazante unit into a usable product – A technological route was developed, in partnership with the University of São Paulo (USP) and promoted by Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa e Inovação Industrial (Embrapii), for separating the hematite contained in fresh tailings from the Vazante plant (current generation) for use in other industries, such as steel making. The project has tremendous potential for processing the tailings stored in dams as well.
Confirm8 – Expansion throughout Nexa, with the digitization of vehicle checklists, preliminary risk analyses, dam inspections, and environmental incidents, among other items at our units. Vis-à-vis the quarantine situation, the tool also began being used to check the health of Nexa employees, helping to control contagion within our operations.
Meantrix – A machine-learning project used in mineral exploration. In 2020, we populated the system with data and we are currently confirming the efficiency in identifying new potential areas for drilling in the surrounding areas of all our operations (Cerro Lindo, Vazante, Morro Agudo, and Pasco). Areas identified by the system are being defined and will be surveyed in 2021.
Technology that consists of dry separation according to ore and sterile content, improving efficiency and reducing the cost of recovering metals. In 2020, Nexa consolidated the ore sorting technology in Vazante with equipment running on a full-time basis and other larger equipment in the basic engineering phase, scheduled to start in 2022. The current equipment, installed in 2018, was responsible for processing approximately 150 kt/year of ROM at 7%, raising its content to 10.8% and removing 40 kt/year of sterile material, contributing toward a 2,500 t/year increase in zinc production.
Automation in Vazante
We completed the implementation and modernization of the operational control system at the Vazante underground mine, which includes automation of the main ventilation systems – Phase I. We also completed the implementation of the MES (Manufacturing Execution System), which provides for the automation of regent dosing in the plant and control over the access of people at the mines, among other improvements. For the coming period, we plan to install the anti-collision system (an evolution of the fleet management system) and automate the crusher closing system.
Fleet management and mine operation at Cerro Lindo and Aripuanã
We consolidated the fleet management and mine operations system (known as the dispatch system) in Vazante, and we plan to make it available at Cerro Lindo in 2021. The system is also part of the Aripuanã implementation plan. The system helps us manage the activities that take place on the equipment and the status of the underground operations work fronts, as well as the performance of crews and operators. The main information is centralized in the mine control room, which is located on the surface. The system also integrates all production and quality information, with automatic and real-time generation of mine planning/control reports, offering higher productivity, greater control, and lower costs.