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"Collaboration is key to successful innovation."

Meet our colleague Katarina Öquist, Global R&D Technology and Innovation Manager for the Underground division. In this interview, Katarina – who manages a team of seven people – talks about the exciting and growing area of autonomous mining operations, and the importance of collaboration to foster innovation. She also talks about why pottery is so fascinating, about her unusual golf experience, and more.

Katarin Öquist, Global R&D Technology and Innovation Manager, Sweden

Hello Katarina!  Thanks for doing the interview. First of all, what does your job involve? 

Hello!  I'm involved in early development work for the Underground division, meaning new functions, products and services. We work with technical road maps, as we call it. These are ideas and projects that we have to start with now but will be realized as functions or products in perhaps three or 10 or even 15 years. The big three areas are electrification, automation and digitalization. We imagine what the potential is for the future. For example, on electrification we are now way beyond our machines going electric; now we are into the details of the battery technology such as optimizing the performance and the battery charging, and we are working on how digitalization can support that development.  What is interesting, and challenging, is that electrification, automation and digitalization are increasingly connected. There are a lot of systems within systems. 


What are some projects you are involved with now? 

One is NEXGEN SIMS, which is a European Union-funded collaboration project with external partners such as mining companies and universities. Epiroc is coordinating this program, which aims to develop autonomous and carbon-neutral mining processes. It's a follow-up to an earlier similar program, and it really shows the power of collaboration among companies. Another external collaboration project is one with mining company Boliden and automation specialist ABB where we will develop an electric trolley truck system for underground mining. It involves our Minetruck MT42 Battery that will use an electric trolley to climb steep ramps. We believe it will be one important part of mining companies' future effort to go totally green. We also have several on-going internal R&D projects. It's all very exciting.


How do you get people to collaborate successfully, especially if they come from different companies, cultures or functions?

There is not one easy answer to that, but it is key that everyone understands the common goal and that you use everyone's different strengths.  You must get different perspectives into the mix and then collaborate in a structured way.  People should feel they have ownership and responsibility, and that they are truly contributing. When you work internally it is taken for granted that everyone has common values and similar goals and work methods, while externally it is more work to bring everyone together. 


What do you enjoy about your job?
To work with passionate people! I really enjoy finding ways to get people to collaborate, and to constantly discover new resources that we can tap into. Epiroc is a big company, for example we have Regional Application Centers and Customer Centers that sit on an enormous amount of experience and knowledge. It is exciting to try to see the whole picture and to coordinate how the different pieces of the puzzle can support each other in the best way. And it's so much fun to work with the R&D engineers, to together figure out how we can develop things in a smart and fast way.  


What does your typical work day look like?

I manage a team of seven people. We of course have team meetings where we share and coordinate our daily effort. For me personally it usually means work on several projects and supportive activities in parallel. We started to build this global team in May 2020 when I started my position at Epiroc and we are now up to speed and was approved the EU Horizon 2020 application NEXGEN SIMS with project start in May 2021, in collaboration with 12 partners across EU and Australia. We are now beginning to be able to meet each other in person again, which is helpful. I don't think it will be exactly as before the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe we will be smarter now about which meetings will be digital and which ones will be physical.  But you need to build relationships, and it is difficult to do that only virtually. Both aspects – virtual and physical - are needed to create an ideal environment for successfully exchanging ideas. 

Do you have a future dream project?

I'm very curious and excited about the possibilities autonomous operations will bring to the table. The mines are getting deeper every year, and because of the safety concerns that come with that the mining industry must increasingly remove people from the rock face. This means that autonomous solutions will continue to become more important. We are of course well on our way already with our intelligent machines, but there are still many opportunities and challenges there to work on. 


Do you have any hobbies?  

Yes, for example I love to make pottery. On the weekends I will often be in my garage at the pottery wheel; I love to feel a big bowl grow under my hands. I have been selling my pottery since 1996 and was a professional potter while bringing up my family -- my poor kids didn't eat on any other tableware than mine. 


Sounds fun!  What is it about pottery that you enjoy?

The clay is a fascinating friend. It has its own life and temperament, and it needs love and patience. Different types of clay have different characteristics. It is a bit meditative to work with because for it to turn out well you need to pay close attention and feel how the clay is reacting. Also, I'm experimenting with glazes, how it changes color or shine depending on the mineral content, for example depending on how much manganese, iron or cobalt that it contains. 


Thank you for your time Katarina, and good luck with all your projects!

Thank you!