On Thursday, Jan. 30, Modular Mining cut the ribbon on their Customer Experience Center, an interactive space with simulations of multiple technologies at the forefront of the mining industry. The Customer Experience Center, located at Modular’s headquarters at 3289 E. Hemisphere Loop, includes five hands-on stations where users can operate virtual haul trucks, excavators and even a full mining command center.
While the Customer Experience Center will not be open to the public, Modular Mining says it represents a new trend in mining, with the ability to virtually train employees and work with autonomous vehicle systems. Modular Mining anticipates roughly 1,000 people will visit and use the center annually. These users include current customers, potential investors and Modular Mining employees.
“A lot of companies are building Customer Experience Centers with high-tech stuff and screens and so forth, and it’s tempting to just think it’s about cool technology, and this center is much more than that for us,” said Greg Lanz, vice president of business development at Modular Mining. “This center is really about experiencing how our applications are used, the value they generate, explaining to people what mining is, and how we can make a difference… There’s lots to play with, but it’s not just about the ‘toys’ so to speak.”
Beyond the five vehicle stations, the Customer Experience Center also includes a “Remote Operations Center” and two classrooms. The Remote Operations Center, or ROC, is modeled after centers currently in use which serve as the central hub for mining operations with large displays detailing productivity rates and distribution plans. Centers can be on-site at the mine, or, increasingly, nowhere near them.
Through virtual reality, computer animation and live footage, the Customer Experience Center shows Modular Mining’s “Intellimine” real-time management system. The programs also shows Komatsu’s (Modular Mining’s parent company) Autonomous Haulage System, which was deployed in 2007 to optimize mine efficiency and reduce worker harm.
This opening roughly coincided with Modular Mining’s 40th anniversary, which formed as a University of Arizona start-up of three people. Over the four decades, the company has grown to employ more than 800 at 10 locations across the globe.
According to Modular Mining President & CEO Jorge Mascena, the Customer Experience Center took roughly one year to construct. Modular Mining would not provide a cost estimate for the center.
“This is really to educate our customers and build relationships,” said Modular Mining Marketing Manager Patricia Browne. “We have a lot of employees who don’t actually go to the mines, so if they’re developing software for a mine system, we want them to better understand mines.”
Also at the unveiling were Sahuarita mayor Tom Murphy, Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez, Tucson City Council member Richard Fimbres, and several representatives from Sun Corridor, the Pima Association of Governments Regional Transportation Authority, Komatsu and UA.
This unveiling is the latest in a series of recent mining expansions around the Tucson area. In June 2019, Komatsu opened their Autonomous Haulage Center of Excellence in the same area, where personnel from both companies can collaborate to develop and sell autonomous hauling systems.
In 2014, Komatsu opened the Arizona "Proving Grounds" in Sahuarita, a 660-acre facility used for research and development of Komatsu mining equipment, as well as testing Modular Mining’s technologies.
“The result of our continued success and growth, in 2014, caused us to exhaust our physical capacity and we faced a decision: where should we expand our capacity, especially for research, development and support?” Mascena said. “And we decided to invest in Tucson, opening a second facility here next door and nearly doubling our capacity in Tucson. Back then, we had probably 200 employees. Now six years later, we’ve added almost another 150 jobs.”
According to Mascena, Modular Mining chose to expand their Tucson headquarters for a number of reasons: Tucson is home to a strong talent pool of engineers and developers out of the UA, Tucson is close to many of their customers and mining markets, and Komatsu was also expanding in Tucson.
“We believe in cementing Tucson as a leading mining technology hub,” Mascena said.