It started with rocks. Growing up, Mohammad Babaei was fascinated with geology. His favorite toy was a hammer, which he used to test the hardness of rocks. Mohammad’s hobby turned into a passion that led him to hold a PhD degree in mining engineering today from the University of British Columbia.
“I didn’t want to become a conventional mining engineer,” said Mohammad. “I wanted to invent, to explore the mechanical and analytical side of mining, to create something new.”
During his studies at UBC, Mohammad worked in a biomedical and control lab and then in the field on shovel technology, which led him to Teck, where today he is the Digital Mining Innovation Lead at our Vancouver office.
Since he joined Teck, Mohammad has pioneered a diggability model and heads up display to enhance shovel operator performance and improve productivity at our operations. Thanks to his groundbreaking work, Mohammad recently won the CIM-Bedford Canadian Young Mining Leaders Award. We sat down with Mohammad to ask about what inspires him today and in the future about innovation and technology at Teck.
What inspired you to get into this work?
When I was working at Teck’s Elkview Operations during my PhD, I spent a lot of time in the shovels. There was a member of the digital operations team, Kevin Urbanski, who was modifying the code used in the shovel computers to optimize performance. It was totally new way of thinking about the system and it made me realize that working for a big company like Teck could be fertile ground for innovation.
Which project are you most excited about?
I am currently collaborating with tech company Finger Food Studios to create a heads up display for shovel operators. The display will vastly improve communications with operators, which will not only help improve productivity and save millions of dollars in operating expenses, but also make the experience of using a shovel more interesting and engaging for the operators.
When you imagine the future of mining, what do you see?
Mining has become like science fiction. Take the heads up display we’re working on. Five or six years ago, people would have laughed at it and said it was impossible. Now it’s real and we’re just getting started. Five to ten years from now, autonomous equipment and machine learning will be supporting people across our operations. Things are changing and I’m excited to be part of it.
What are people surprised to learn about you?
I’m an avid reader – right now, I’m reading “Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation”. I inherited my love of reading from my father, who is a professor of English Literature. In fact, he was the one who inspired me to get a PhD. Between my father, my brothers and I, there are four PhDs in our family. We love to learn. In my spare time, I write papers for journals. I was most recently published in International Journal of Mining Science and Technology on “Rock fracture density characterization using measurement while drilling (MWD) techniques”.
Who are the mentors or heroes you look up to?
Outside of Teck, it would be Jonathan Peck, President and CEO of Peck Tech Consulting Ltd. and an adjunct professor at Queen’s University. He has so many connections in the industry and long history of developing cool technologies. Inside of Teck, there are many people who encourage grassroots innovation, including: Peter Cunningham, Director, Digital Operations and Kalev Ruberg, Vice President, Teck Digital Systems and Chief Information Officer. Plus I’ve always wanted to collaborate with MIT, so working with Kal who is an MIT alumnus is very inspiring and exciting.