The Orexplore Story
Two minds and one bold idea
In the middle of the 1990s the founders of Orexplore met for the first time, geotechnical engineer Anders Ullberg, and professor of radiology, Ragnar Kullenberg. Ullberg, had already in the 1980s seen the need to develop new, more efficient and more sustainable methods for scanning minerals in rock. Kullenberg was researching the use of X-ray fluorescence to measure bone minerals in the human body. In late summer 1994, they met for a brainstorming session - the first step on a passionate route on applying XRF and X-rays to minerology.
From idea to business plan
During the 2000s, the duo commercialised, several ideas. But scanning rock with X-rays remained at the planning stage. Ullberg wanted to measure XRF signals from chemical elements from inside the rock, especially gold.
In 2010, the idea was patented. Fully occupied with another startup they engaged Kevin Rebenius, with extensive experience from tech industry, as a managing director. Rebenius belivied in their idea and was taken by their vision of Orexplore changing the mining industry.
With the visions of Orexplore cristallized in a strong business plan the commercial uses of the patent was made obvious. And with a clear market target a membership in Swedish tech hub Sting was offered.
Mikael Bergqvist, Ph.D. specialising in medical imaging and detector physics joined Rebenius as CTO and added tomography to Kullenberg and Ullbergs ideas, with the task to lead development and continued innovation.
In order to develop a first prototype, Orexplore needed funding and worked hard to find the right long term investor. Eventually they secured investment through the government-owned fund Inlandsinnovation. "Many were surprised that Orexplore was chosen. On paper, we probably didn’t meet all the criteria, but it was yet more proof that we were on to something big. The investment also meant that we could start developing a first prototype immediately," says Rebenius.
Now backed by Sting and Inlandsinnovation, and with a revolutionary technology, Orexplore quickly became known as one of Stockholm's most sought-after workplaces in the field. Added to this was the distinct and strong corporate culture that Rebenius and Bergqvist had built, using driving forces such as passion, curiosity and entrepreneurship. Now they could start their dream team, and attracted major talents within the disciplines required to launch the first prototype.
Go global was the advice from Sting, opening doors to a new international network and financiers for Orexplore's ideas.
A while later, senior geologist Stefan Sädbom, joined. With his mining experience, he brought a geologist's perspective to the team, first as an advisor, later on as chairman of the board.
Do it yourself
To change the industry method of measuring minerals, completely new hardware was required and completely new software had to be developed. On of the first ideas behind Orexplore was to detect gold inside a rock. But a spectrometer of that calibre was not available. And in order to reach the needed sensitivity you would need not only one, but hundred spectrometers. Therefore, the gold idea was put aside, for now. The focus now was put on a product adressing the needs of the base metal industry and faster brought to to the market - what would become the GeoCore X10.
A longer term project was initiated to create a powerful enough spectrometer.
"It was a useful lesson that subsequently has defined how we approach problems, and how we solve them. We were also reminded that what we were doing with Orexplore was totally unique. Since that day, we have wanted, and been forced, to develop our own technology and software," Bergqvist explains.
Australian mining king changes everything
Orexplore was in 2012, invited by Business Sweden in Australia to a mining tech convention in Perth. Being invited to Australia, one of the largest markets for mineral extraction, was a huge opportunity.
But the Australian adventure could have had a better start. During the first meeting with the mining tech companies Orexplore's idea was instantly thrown aside. The audience did not think there was anything new about measuring drill cores with X-rays; that technology had long been on the market. There was no opportunity to tell that the whole core could be X-rayed with this new technology, not just part of the surface, something already achieved. Nor was there a chance to tell that geologists would be able to reveal the relationship between the minerals, and also the structure of the rock. But looking back, the failure turned out to be a success.
The next day at the convention, there was a new chance in front of a less conservative audience, to explain what was unique. Here Kent Swick, who had developed one of the world's largest drilling companies saw the possibilities for Orexplore. "I realised that the Orexplore technology would increase the value of the drill cores, as it becomes harder and harder to find minerals, every drill meter is expensive and the minerals are further down in the rock. With the technology, you would get maximum information about the mineral using a brand new, efficient and sustainable method,” says Swick.
New master plan launched
A year later, at the end of 2013, Swick Mining had bought Inlandsinnovation’s shares of Orexplore and put an ambitious investment plan in place. With new courage, money, network and knowledge, Orexplore raised the bar once more. Together with Kurt Rapp from Electrolux, one of Sweden's most experienced people in setting up efficient production, Orexplore constructed a production line based on the same principles that Toyota was using. Such high standard production was really only used by global industrial companies. Precision and top quality was neccesary at every stage. Orexplore had decided to develop an X-ray machine that would work on site, and scan a metre of drill core in just 15 minutes, which was accomplishment that far exceeded the first prototypes.
Award-winning Swedish industrial design
In order to cash in on Sweden’s industrial heritage and to further consolidate its top position in an industry where technology was often hidden away in welded boxes, Orexplore invited industrial designer Tue Beijer to design the new GeoCore X10 measuring tool. Ovations for the design were quick to follow, and in 2017, Orexplore received the Red Dot Design Award. In 2018, the first GeoCore X10 was delivered to the company’s first Australian office, in Perth.
Revolution in a centuries-old industry
With the GeoCore X10 and the simultaneously developed software Orexplore Insight in place, Orexplore could finally blossom. It was now possible to scan drill cores at high speed, and geologists could be fed 3D models of the X-rayed drill cores via computer screens, no matter where they were in the world. The time was also right to launch several test projects on site, and this was done with, amongst others, Boliden, Lovisagruvan and Swick Mining. To facilitate a wider usage of the new method, mining companies could send cores for X-raying to the Orexplore offices in Stockholm and Perth, for the results to be presented via Orexplore Insight.
"There´s still some way to go before Orexplore's technology is completely accepted by the mining industry, it's only a matter of time. In Lovisagruvan, where I work as a geologist, Orexplore Insight gives access to a huge amount of information about the mine, and I get it within 15 minutes. Compare this to the traditional disructive method, with which a small part of the drill core is sent for analysis to a certified lab. Several weeks can go by before you get the results," says Sädbom, chairman of the board of Orexplore and geologist at Lovisagruvan mine.
Sustainable needs for a conventional industry
The years it took Orexplore to develop its technology have resulted in an increased urgency to implement the methods. One example is the Paris Agreement, which places heavy demands on increased sustainability within the mining industry. There is a need to generate less residual waste, less blasted rock. Personal safety in mining must also be enhanced, something that gets neglected around the world, where there isn’t adequate information about where in the rock it is safe to mine. Along revolutionise how to find minerals in rock Orexplore also strive to create a sustainable mining industry for the future. In addition, producers of technology and new battery types are desperate for new types of minerals. With effective measurement methods, the technique make it possible to return to archived drill cores to see if desired minerals are hiding in previous sites, in abandoned mines or in waste rock. Then one would not have to project as many new mines, and instead reuse old ones.
At last a way to the holy grail
In 2019, Orexplore is ready for a new milestone. Seven years after the plans to build a gold-finding tool were laid aside, Orexplore has launched its first tests to scan for gold. And like so many times before, it’s about doing what no one has done before, and achieving things that no one else has. And about timing. It was the possibility of finding gold that got Orexplore started in 2010.