Q&A : Simon Johnston – Maptek’s National Technical Services Manager

5 Mins read

This post is the first in a series of question-and-answer sessions with influential people in the mining technology industry. It will act as a vessel to break down the barriers between the several different sectors from within the underground mining industry. Encouraging conversation and sharing of new ideas along the way!

Today I chat with Simon Johnston, who I first met whilst attending the AIMS (Australian Institute of Mine Surveyors) Kalgoolrie Conference in 2019. Simon brings a wealth of mine surveying knowledge and blends it with innovative thinking around product development and best of breed mining solutions.

Simon and the Maptek team have worked on bringing unique products to market, several of which are outlined below. They have recently collaborated with Emesent on streamlined integration between the HoverMap and their PointStudio software package. Read on to find out more…

Who are you?

I’m Simon Johnston and I’m the APAC Sales and Technical Services Manager for Maptek.

What is your story?

I’m a mine surveyor and I joined Maptek in 2014. I’ve worked in Technical Sales, as Technical Services Manager and now as the APAC Sales and Technical Services Manager. I really enjoy the relationship with my colleagues at Maptek. I love the travel my role involves and regard our technology and solutions as best of breed.

It’s really satisfying when you work with customers who are engaged and open to finding solutions to their challenges – that’s just gold and makes Maptek shine too.

Jordan Herrmann (left) and Simon Johnston (Maptek
 Technical Sales Manager) trialing underground boom mounting capabilities of the Maptek
 SR3 scanner

Before joining Maptek I worked in various surveying roles for nearly 20 years, most recently for 8 years at BHP Billiton Leinster Nickel Operations. I studied surveying at Wembley TAFE in Perth and was drawn to it because it combined working in the office and getting out in the field. My uncle was a surveyor too which opened my eyes to the profession.

What products and ideas have Maptek delivered to the underground market in recent years? (SR3, Sentry, Hovermap, Vulcan UG)

One of the key products we’ve delivered recently is the SR3 laser scanner. This is the dedicated underground scanner in our third generation of laser scanners. These are researched, designed and built here in Australia with each iteration becoming lighter, smaller and faster!

Customers who use the SR3 report that it significantly reduces the time and manual effort for geological mapping underground. It allows them to quickly and safely capture data which can be used for multiple applications including geotechnical work. We’ve also developed a custom-built underground light to ensure our users get the best scan results and data suitable for all of their applications.

The SR3 laser scanner in operation at an underground project

The SR3 can be used with Maptek Sentry FMS (Flexible Monitoring System) as a monitoring solution underground. This latest model from the Sentry stable was released last year and combines the SR3 scanner with purpose-built software to accurately monitor, analyse and report on rapid and gradual movements.

Users can look at deformation, convergence and subsidence and set alarms for surface movements or instability, as well as monitor infrastructure either periodically or continuously.  Hence the use of the word ‘Flexible’ in the name!

Maptek continuously develops our software and workflow solutions. Underground Digital Mapping is a new feature available through our flagship Vulcan 3D geological modelling, mine design and production planning package. It allows geologists to get rid of paper by mapping directly into Vulcan in the field using a tough tablet. It’s faster, more efficient and more accurate. The digital approach improves the geological data workflow at corporate level to boot – the mapping data can be uploaded direct into the corporate geological database for access by all staff for grade calculations and 3D modelling. This focus on the customer workflow and ensuring up and downstream processes are accounted for defines the Maptek approach and differentiates us in the mining market.

An example of underground geological face mapping showcasing Maptek Vulcan’s full workflows

Vulcan contains a raft of underground tools which undergo continual enhancement and development. A good example is Underground Conformance which helps operations track conformance to design. Alongside these specific examples, we’re constantly improving and expanding our PointStudio point cloud processing functionality and Evolution scheduling software to benefit underground mines.

Does Maptek have any collaborations or new releases incoming in 2021 for the underground mining market?

During 2020 we entered into an alliance with Emesent and I anticipate this gaining a lot of traction in 2021. Emesent’s Hovermap mobile scanning unit can be mounted to a drone and uses advanced algorithms to provide accurate localisation and navigation without needing GPS, so it’s ideal for remote and underground areas which are tricky to access. Combining the detailed Hovermap point cloud with PointStudio gives mining engineers access to valuable data that was previously unattainable. This is a great example of the power of PointStudio to help people get full value from their lidar data, no matter the method of capture.

Emesent HoverMap data being viewed in Maptek’s PointStudio software

We’ve set aside 2021 for in depth industry analysis and strategic planning around projects for the underground market. An integrated mine planning and scheduling solution is anticipated for release in 2022.

Our longer term focus in the underground mine planning space will encompass stope optimisation, automated underground network creation and scenario management.

What developments would you like to see in the underground mining environment in the next decade? Will your product line up help achieve this? (Safety-Fewer people/Greater efficiency/automation/AI)

Safety is the number one priority working underground and I see technology continuing to play a huge role in making operations safer and more efficient. Technologies such as survey-grade smart scanners, automation, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things are soon going to be able to deliver a live dynamic terrain model of mines. Knowing the current location, alongside the quality and quantity of the ore you’re extracting is going to be hugely beneficial in terms of safety and economics.

This is not too far away when you think about it. A system such as Sentry continuously scans to capture the terrain and sensors on machinery can help track material movement using real-time business improvement systems like MaptekMRT. These networked sensors and systems connect via the Internet of Things to feed information into the model. The challenge is handling such vast amounts of data and transforming it into knowledge. AI and Workflows will play an important role in bringing it all together and making sense of it.

Crucially this process enables operations to move to data-driven decision making and helps eliminate bottlenecks in production cycles! It also frees up their people to spend more time in applying their professional expertise and intuition rather than in the collection, processing and outputting of data, which can be a source of frustration for many mining professionals.

Maptek is active in all of these spaces as we move towards real-time mine models which have obvious financial and business benefits, alongside the critical imperative of making sure fewer people are potentially in harm’s way thanks to remote operation.

If you were stuck in a refuge chamber for 7 days what item would you most like for your own comfort and sanity?

A laptop and wifi to watch Netflix – failing that a good book.


This Q&A session has widened my thinking around the integration of data capture and software, an area that really adds value to any project. It is interesting to see Maptek offering both the hardware and software solutions in one place – for full technology delivery to underground mining customers.

It is also to hear of collaboration between mining vendors, something that I aim to encourage in the coming months and years. Sharing an idea and broadening knowledge and deliverables has to be the best outcome for all involved – including (possibly most importantly) the end user of the technology.

Thank you to Simon and Jane at Maptek for the investment of their time in organising this Q&A Session.

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