What It’s Like Being a Conflict Minerals Specialist

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In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?” This story was shared with OZY via email. 

Andreina Rojas, conflict minerals specialist, Intel Corporation
Scottsdale, Arizona

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Andreina Rojas

Source Intel Photographer

When I went to Indonesia for my first smelter visits, I learned that the country is very rich in tin — you can actually grab a handful of sand in some regions that is already 70 percent tin — so it has many tin smelters.

As you can imagine, a common question I get from smelters in Indonesia is, “Why do I have to do this audit? Why would we import or smuggle tin from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when we have so much of it here?” The market price of tin has fallen dramatically, so it truly doesn’t make economic sense for an Indonesian smelter to import tin. Even though we know Indonesian smelters are very low-risk for this reason, we still have to get them audited — and this is where my job gets interesting.

Just to clarify, “conflict minerals” are tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold, which are abundant in the DRC and have been used by armed groups to fund a deadly, ongoing war. Intel is able to track conflict-free tin from the DRC through the bag-and-tag system, an in-region program in the DRC that tags and gives bar codes to minerals that come from certified conflict-free mines.  

While the Intel name gets me a meeting with smelters, we are not their direct customer, and it’s hard to convince someone to invest money and time in yearly audits without getting something in return. It takes establishing relationships with the smelters, speaking with them face-to-face and showing them that we are committed to this cause. Not only is this important in convincing smelters to join the first time around, but to make sure they stay in the program. It also allows us to keep connections on the ground, which are important to continue our work and understand the state of the different industries. Every smelter that joins the program is a big achievement. We have seen smelters go from being absolutely opposed to joining the program, to being some of our biggest advocates. Some smelters can take years to come around, so we know to never stop working on them. One of the most exciting experiences for me was recruiting the first smelter of a specific region to join. In many cases, smelters are motivated by the fact that their competitors are getting certified. When that pressure isn’t there, it takes a lot more work to convince them.


Andreina Rojas (left) with members of a pre-audit visit to a smelter in Indonesia.

I’ve only been at Intel for a year and a half, but it feels like much longer. During that time, I have visited smelters in the U.S., Japan, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates. I have learned so much in such a small amount of time about not only metals and industries, but about cultures and people in general. I’ve also learned to be persistent — if a smelter doesn’t answer your email, you better get creative in finding a way to get in touch with them.

“You can’t be offended — I’m there to do a job, and taking things like that personally will get in the way.” 

In my travels, I’ve also encountered many different obstacles. First of all, I’m usually the youngest person in the room, and I have also visited countries where it’s very unusual for a woman to be sitting across the table negotiating. At one of my very first meetings, someone asked me, “How is it that Intel sent a woman to do this?” You can’t be offended — I’m there to do a job, and taking things like that personally will get in the way. It is important to have an open mind and be prepared for the place you are visiting. I am there to influence and convince, so I have to make sure I’m prepared to adapt to different customs and situations.

It’s very interesting and exciting work, not to mention rewarding — the job isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier when you know the quality of other people’s lives might be better because of it. Another one of my favorite things about this job is that the electronics industry truly collaborates to make a difference. In my day-to-day work, I frequently collaborate with people at other companies to establish contact with smelters and set up visits. 

Being from Venezuela, I know that natural resources can be both a blessing and a curse. It is unbelievable that a country so rich in minerals can go through so much misery, yet you will meet incredible people who are proud of the DRC and will go to amazing lengths to empower their people and work to make their country better. On a personal level, I go to work every day motivated by these people — and everyone who is part of this movement.

At this year’s OZY Fest, we shared an important new documentary, Merci Congo, that examines the tragedy facing the Congo through the eyes of several impassioned activists who are struggling to bring peace to a nation that’s known only war.  For more information on how you can see the film, go to www.mercicongo.com.

How Twinning Tech Will Power Our Future

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OZY and Predix from GE — the cloud-based development platform built for industry — have partnered to bring you an inside look at the future of digital industries, where people, data and productivity meet.

In the face of global warming, some cities are blowing back a little … with nature’s great exhalation. Wind farms are shaking up the renewable-energy market and more efficiently powering our cities — like Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; and Aspen, Colorado, which now rely 100 percent on renewable energy. Meanwhile, some 30 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, five gigantic wind turbines are being installed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to create America’s first offshore wind farm, which will power about 17,000 homes. 

Global wind capacity will nearly double between 2016 and 2020 — to a whopping 792 gigawatts — enough to power 220 million average U.S. homes. Which means we’ll need our wind turbines to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

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Aspen, Colorado

Source Holger Leue

Enter digital twin technology. Think of it as a clone or replica of the real thing, connected to the cloud and collecting and analyzing real-time data — an advancement that’s expected to revolutionize the power of renewable energy. Here’s how a digital wind farm works: Outfitted with sensors and using software powered by Predix, physical parts of a wind farm feed data to its virtual twins. These computer models constantly monitor the data of the real-world turbines and provide invaluable data on operations. If a potential glitch is about to happen, the digital twin catches it before it transpires. Turbine blades that may be at risk of breakage can be fixed before they fail. And through actionable, real-time data, engineers can discover new, and perhaps previously overlooked, ways to boost productivity. “Every business — including our own at GE — and every industry is being transformed by smarter digital technologies, and the greatest opportunity lies in energy,” says Steve Bolze, president and CEO of GE Power & Water. 

Digital twin has recently been behind a 20 percent boost in wind-energy output in wind farms. 

But it’s not just about wind turbines. When it comes to health care, digital twin will someday collect and analyze a constant stream of data — like heartbeat, blood pressure and perspiration — to remotely monitor patients over time and alert them to potential health issues. In the skies, data from sensors on airplane engines can create a virtual representation that helps optimize routes, fuel intake and maintenance needs. The virtual twin concept is “all about getting to know it — the machine,” says Colin Parris, vice president of GE Software Research. The better we can understand machine parts (or human parts), the better we can improve productivity, increase uptime, optimize the system and reach peak performance, he explains.

Consider a jet engine, where the buildup of air pollutants can lead to engine failure. To prevent issues, the engine is serviced every, say, 200 flights. Which means downtime — whether the maintenance was necessary or not. With digital twin, data from the physical engine — like turbine coating, blade design, dust and temperature — continually flows into the digital model. Analysis of this data might show that service is needed every 800 flights instead. This results in more uptime for the customer and a better-informed service team; they’ll already know which parts and experts are required for the fix, reducing time and cost. 

The digital twin concept, first conceptualized by Michael Grieves at the University of Michigan in 2003, isn’t new. But Grieves, now executive director at the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design at the Florida Institute of Technology, sees a future where the digital twin model will become much more advanced than its predecessors. It all comes down to the “computing capabilities we have,” Grieves says. 

The future of twinning tech: Being able to create, test and build equipment in a virtual world, before the physical component is made. Only when the digital model performs to optimal expectations will time and money be invested to manufacture it. But before we reach that point, digital twins will continue to evolve as mirror images, complete with front-running superpowers and improved efficiency and productivity across all industries — from reducing flight delays and predicting disease to powering our cities.

Predix from GE is enabling the adoption of powerful, secure and scalable solutions built for the industrial app economy. It’s industrial-strength strength, powering the future of industry. Get Connected.