Technology that helps miners around the globe figure out when and where to dig has helped a Tucson company land national honors.
Mintec Inc., a maker of mining management software founded in Tucson more than 40 years ago, recently won a President's E-Award for Exports, the highest honor any U.S. company can get for "making a significant contribution to the expansion of exports." Mintec was the only Arizona company to win the award this year, among 57 awardees in 22 states.
Helped by a worldwide mining boom, Mintec (minesight.com) has been on a steep growth curve in recent years, Mintec President John Davies said.
The privately held company doesn't share revenue figures, but Davies said Mintec has increased revenues from sales and service of its MineSight software about 30 percent annually for the past seven years.
And though the company has seven offices outside the U.S., including one opened in Hermosillo, Sonora, last year, the company's heart is in the Old Pueblo.
"We author all of the software based out of Tucson, so the entire product base, the design, all the intellectual property is housed in Tucson," said Davies, who's been with Mintec since 1986.
The company, with corporate headquarters at 3544 E. Fort Lowell Road, expanded into an adjacent building in 2011. It has increased its local staff to about 125, roughly double the staff of five years ago, Davies said, noting that Mintec workers now own about 30 percent of the company under an employee stock ownership plan.
With major mining customers around the world, including Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Canada's Teck Coal, Rio Tinto, Codelco and Tucson-based Asarco, Mintec counts about 80 percent of its sales outside the U.S., Davies said.
"Just about every mining house in the world uses our product, to a greater or lesser extent," he said.
The company, co-founded by Mintec Chairman Fred Banfield in his Tucson home in 1970, provides a comprehensive suite of modeling and mine-planning software under the flagship MineSight brand.
The modular software includes programs that help geologists, engineers and miners manage exploration tasks, create efficient mine designs, plan short-term and long-term operations and monitor production.
A key feature of MineSight software is its 3-D modeling capabilities, which allow mine managers to calculate and visualize what's underground and figure out the best way to get it out of the ground.
"There's a lot of science and mathematics behind predicting the grade and the tonnages underground - you don't see it until you mine it," Davies said.
Though Mintec's software is proprietary, it's made to work with systems sold by more than a dozen other companies, Davies said.
"We sit in the middle - we own a lot of awfully important data that everybody else needs, but we do need feeds from other companies as well," he said.
Mintec is just one of a small but strong cadre of homegrown mining technology companies based in Tucson.
Others include Modular Mining, a major maker of fleet-management systems; Leica Geosystems, a fleet-management provider founded in Tucson as Jigsaw Technologies; Guardvant Inc., a maker of mining safety software such as driver fatigue detection systems; and Zonge International, which makes geophysical scanning systems.
About a year ago, Davies noted, Mintec and Modular Mining signed a technology-sharing agreement allowing each company's software to communicate automatically with the other's.
Other Arizona companies that have won the E-Award include Modular Mining and Flagstaff-based wind-turbine maker Southwest Windpower.
Eric Nielsen, the Tucson-based director of the U.S. Commercial Service in Arizona, said the award shows the strength of the area's mining technology firms.
Though most are private companies that don't share revenue figures, Nielsen agreed that the industry likely brings tens of millions of dollars annually into the local economy.
Nielsen said Mintec's aggressive global business expansion is "an outstanding example of a local company taking 21st-century technology and applying it to one of Arizona's traditional 5 C's (copper)."
"I think part of what makes their story compelling is, these are good, high-tech jobs they are adding," he said.
Though the mining industry is very cyclical and there are signs the boom is flattening with metal prices, Davies said Mintec is well-positioned to weather all but the deepest of industry downturns.
The export award was a nice recognition of the hard work Mintec's staff has done in recent years, but the company's growing reach is perhaps equally satisfying, Davies said.
"You can go to a mine in the mountaintops of Peru and run into our software, and our people - it's gratifying to see that."
"We author all of the software based out of Tucson, so the entire product base, the design, all the intellectual property is housed in Tucson."
John Davies, president, Mintec
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