PEORIA — A global slump in the mining industry has put Caterpillar Inc. in an unprecedented position: cutting thousands of jobs as part of a painful reorganization, discontinuing some underground mining products.
And, now, the company is seeking fresh perspective on how to extend the life of machines for customers caught in the same economic turmoil.
Just ahead of MINExpo in Las Vegas at the end of the month — the once-every-four-years largest mining trade show in the world — Caterpillar will sponsor a gathering of coders and data scientists hosted by Australia-based Unearthed, an open innovation program and incubator for the global resources sector.
Over the course of 54 hours from Sept. 23 to 25 in San Francisco, teams of developers will compete using data sets from Caterpillar mining truck sensors to create systems by which heavy equipment operators can be alerted in real time of potential machinery problems.
"The data we are providing is a specific model of a machine, but we have (the same data) for any other machine," said Roberto Ortega, innovation and digital manager at Caterpillar. "We can apply this solution to any of our industry groups."
Using data such as engine speed, oil temperature, hydraulic pressure and gear selection, teams at the Unearthed competition will set out to develop algorithms that trigger operator notifications for safety hazards, use of equipment that could result in short- or long-term damage and best practices for efficiency.
The event ultimately aims to pair industry experts with Silicon Valley developers and just see what happens. Cash prizes will be awarded, but the resulting programs also have the potential to be acquired by Caterpillar and other industry leaders to become real-world applications.
"It's about being able to provide operators real-time feedback before machine failure," Ortega said. "If that's what our customers want, then we would help bring that to market."
The winners from Unearthed San Francisco — one of nine similar competitions hosted by the group around the world this year — will be briefly featured at Caterpillar's sprawling MINExpo exhibit a few days later.
The Las Vegas announcement will fit a theme that departs from product-heavy introductions of trade shows past.
"This one is quite different four years later — it's about machine life," said Tony Johnson, marketing manager for the mining sales and support division at Caterpillar.
Learning how to harness the rich data sets produced by Caterpillar machines will be integral to the mission of extending equipment life, and the "beginners eyes" of industry outsiders could produce innovative ways to leverage that information, Ortega said.
Added Johnson: "There is more data coming off those machines than we know what to do with."
Matt Buedel is the Journal Star business reporter. He can be reached at 686-3154 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.