HIDDEN RICHES

Spain 2020 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

Given the export potential of Spain's mining sector, Epiroc seeks to continue to promote a positive image of mining and increase support for the sector.

Jaime Huidobro
BIOGRAPHY

Jaime Huidobro is an engineer of mines and explosives from the Polytechnic of Madrid. He worked initially in the mining world and explosives for civil use in both South Africa and Spain. In 1995, he joined a subsidiary of Swedish group Atlas Copco, dedicated to industrial tools for assembly in production chains. After seven years, he returned to the world of mining and public works to lead the group's technical-commercial division in Spain, which subsequently became an independent entity within the new company called Epiroc.

What are the advantages for Epiroc being an independent spin off?
Epiroc understands this segment better than the traditional industrial segments. The mining and construction industry is fairly unique. With mining, the planning process lasts between five and 15 years before any substantial development takes place. A mining project requires a long-term perspective and investment, whereas construction is the exact opposite. Before every election, politicians need pictures of tunnels, roads, and highways, meaning construction cycles are between three and five years. For a company like Epiroc to live and make a living in such an unstable environment is not a problem, but it can be different for the industrial segment, so it made sense to have a spin off.

How is energy efficiency and automation at the center of your innovation strategy?
Our timing for the new Spanish mining industry was perfect, as we had already moved from the old technologies to the new ones with the Spanish construction boom. In Spain, we went into a rush to do tunneling faster than ever, so the jump in technology was truly unique. When the country became interested in mining and decided to open the Magdalena and Matsa mines, choosing the method was critical as they wanted to do nearly everything underground. This requires companies to venture into new technology. They were able to start from scratch with new equipment, and notably, to date, the Magdalena mine is one of the main examples in Europe of mines with fully automated machines operating from the surface.

What is the future of the public work sector in Spain?
Spain has a fully developed infrastructure now, and in my opinion we have far too big a network for our needs. There are airports and highways in the middle of nowhere, and moving forward maintenance will be the key issue as opposed to the construction of new projects. Spain still needs to finish the connection to the Basque country, which is critical, though high-speed connection to every big city in Spain is needed. The need of the hour is to improve the existing network in an economical way.

What is the commitment of Epiroc to the advancement of engineering and mining infrastructure?
For many years, we have tried to promote the image of mining, as we firmly believe in an environmentally friendly business model, even for this industry, which also allows the development and growth of our society. This is one of our main challenges. We have been trying to work in the different sectors in terms of promoting the mining industry. Sweden helps us in that case because it is seen as a leading country in terms of environmental issues, and yet it has a strong mining industry. We work extensively with the Swedish Embassy and Swedish companies to develop the interest of students in the mining industry because that is vital for the future of mining. At present, we train engineers but we need to take the next step and start training operators because there is a shortage of skilled operators.

What are Epiroc Spain's objectives for the coming year?
Our primary objective is to keep moving into the automation and future concept of mining, including the use of battery-powered equipment by our current customers. We have customers that are really committed to it, and that requires an increase of base knowledge. The other sectors regaining prominence in Spain are the quarry and cement industries, and we need to develop those channels. Around 80% of Spain has the potential for mining or resource extraction, so the aim is to continue promoting a positive image of mining and gain support from the public and the politicians. The export potential of Spain's mining sector is huge and on top of that, not many countries in Europe have a quality infrastructure like Spain.