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Feature Interview – Innovation Manager for the Northern Division of Codelco




This week we interviewed Felipe Lagno, Chemical Civil Engineer from the University of Chile and PhD in Extractive Metallurgy from McGill University, and currently the Innovation Manager for the Northern Division of Codelco. Felipe outlines the current digital transformation and new trends in the Chilean mining industry.





Ax Legal: What is your current role with Codelco?

Felipe Lagno: I am responsibly for the overall direction of R&D portfolio of initiatives at Codelco’s Northern Operations, as well as the search for new technologies for the development of mineral extraction.

Ax Legal: Are there specific types of technologies that interest you personally?

Felipe Lagno: Mainly related to the extraction of minerals since the daily movement of materials today is quite critical. In some of our divisions, approximately one million tons a day is moved to achieve the operating plan. For this, one of the elements that is important is autonomy in heavy machinery and robotization, which we are working on to implement in all areas of the mine.

Another factor that is quite challenging is water resources, since at this time 0.3 to 0.6 cubic meters per mineral ton are used in the extraction process. One of the ways it is currently solved is with the use of desalination plants. The objective is to reduce the use of water, which is still under development and is considered extremely important if there are technologies that focus on this issue.

Ax Legal: What kind of technology for processing plants do you think is important for the future?

Felipe Lagno: We are quite interested in sulfide leaching, which consists of recovering the mineral, due to the natural depletion of the oxidized minerals. Currently, we are trying to transform our oxide leaching plants into sulfide leaching plants, for example at Radomiro Tomic and Gabriela Mistral, we are hoping to achieve a technological breakthrough but there is a lot of work to be done in this particular area but with great potential.

Another issue today that effects the whole organization is the remote control and monitoring of our operations and control centers. Work has been carried out since March of last year to remotely manage all the required operations without having the need to be in the field with the goal of reducing risks to people in the field. This issue has tremendous potential.

Lastly, another technology that is transversal is the one that reduces water consumption in the different processes and maximizes its recovery in thickening and tailings dams. There is lots of development in terms of rheology modifiers and flocculants that needs to be scaled up and validated in our large-scale operations.

Ax Legal: Are there any problem areas within different mining operations where new technologies could make a difference?

Felipe Lagno: Process automation without a doubt. There is a way to have a completely autonomous operation, as for example, in Gabriela Mistral, where today the entire fleet of heavy machinery and high tonnage trucks are autonomous. I would say that technology today has a level of maturity and knowledge that is probably going to be transferred to the rest of the operations in the not-too-distant future. The same with the current telework format, there is enough technology available which we should be able to take advantage of.

Ax Legal: What are the typical problems with providers when introducing their technology?

Felipe Lagno: It has been difficult for us to create alliances of mutual benefit with suppliers. In various instances, the expectations of suppliers are quite high, which limits our ability to reach commercial agreements. Other areas are high costs of technology or low level of innovation versus what other competitors offer. There is a lack of communication between the real need of the company, and the supplier’s proposals which are a bit far from reality since they predict quick returns on investments in an industry where everything moves at a slower pace.


It is clear that the future points to the automation of processes, reduction of risks to mine personal, and the maximization of resource.

Felipe advises suppliers to understand the timeframes and processes to implement solutions and their traceability since large companies like Codelco will have extensive evaluations at each stage.

Another tip is to propose innovative ideas on automation, robotization, virtual and augmented reality, which allows for a much more efficient management of the day-to-day operations. Currently, there is considerable interest on the part of mining companies to invest in these new processes.

Mining has been characterized as a very traditional sector, but today the Chilean mining market has taken a big step forward and is open to new innovation and digital transformation projects.

Ax Legal is a legal and business advisory firm that works with foreign companies in Latin America. Our team of legal and commercial advisors have a distinguished track record of helping foreign technology and services companies with their operations in Latin America.

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