Interview: Horacio Undurraga

Horacio Undurraga, CEO and founder of TTM Chile, a company specializing in ore transportation technologies, tells the story of the company he founded more than 30 years ago. He refers to the market and explains why we sometimes come out of negative cycles stronger.
He tells us about his life and his passion for the sea.

LISTENING IS THE KEY

“When your survival is at stake, you get ideas,” says Horacio Undurraga to Mineria Total when asked how he got the idea of creating TTM Chile.

The CEO and founder of this Chilean company, specializing in ore transportation technologies, takes us on an entertaining journey through the history of his company, which he founded more 32 years ago. He also tells us of his market outlook, his life and the things he enjoys, and reveals the characteristics of one of the firm’s “Star” solutions.

But let’s go step by step.
Friendly, thoughtful and with a warm sense of humor, he welcomes us in his new office in Vitacura, which is closer to his home and the homes of several of his collaborators.

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY

- How did TTM come about?
- A group of friends and I were employed in the same company. But the 1982 crisis hit and people started losing their jobs. Our group of friends got together and one of them suggested the idea of entering into some kind of relationship with a German company that sold products that could be applied to the mining industry. None of us knew anything about mining. We were 5 to begin with, and then only three of us were left. I am the only one remaining of those three.

- Was it difficult to learn from scratch?
- We had to “mess things up” many times. Breaking into this sector is extremely difficult. It’s not easy to speak the jargon or have good relationships when people look down at you. But once they accept you, you become part of the mining family and the relationship becomes easy-going and friendly.

- Who were your first clients?
- We had our first experiences in Los Bronces, El Teniente and Andina.
They had the patience to put up with us while we were still in the learning process. They helped us along and we applied what each one of us knew about ore transportation and protection against wear and tear and abrasion in mining.
We grew step by step, always on the lookout for long-term partnerships with large, world class companies. We become a positive factor because we were familiar with the people in the mining industry, their issues, their concerns, their way of thinking.
- Was that the key to success?
- You have to be willing to listen patiently and understand the problems of miners, their day-to-day issues, how they live, what they intend to do in the future, and that way solutions pop up. The mining business is here (pointing to his ear). That’s why we have four parts of our brains dedicated only to listening and only one to talking. You have to be fully involved in processes. You have to teach people how to use your product and how to solve problems.
Today we focus on contributing to energy savings and increased production, in addition to providing good service.
You also have to understand that in mining you go through good and bad times, like what we’re going through today.

MARKET OUTLOOK

- Are you in favor of countercyclical measures in bad times?
- In negative cycles mining companies tend to buy according to price. In positive cycles, companies tend to buy at cost, in other words, things that help their crews produce more and better quality, without interruptions. We were previously in the equipment reliability cycle. Today we are in the price cycle, which I think is a mistake.
Sometimes you have your crews on standby for 6 months and you do everything you can to keep them. You like your people and you know that there are families behind them, but sometimes you have to make painful decisions.

- How has the downturn in the mining industry affected your company?
- We are keeping our heads above water in 2014. 2012 was very good, 2013 very bad. And now we’re trying to cut costs to the minimum. But I must say that sometimes one comes out of negative cycles much stronger. The opportunity lies, for example, in being able to attract people of a higher level, improve and optimize processes, and instead of concentrating on a significant sales force, have greater control over internal processes. It’s like when you’re going through a financial crisis at home and you start saving, for example, with the type of food you eat. Housewives are experts in reacting to downward trends…

- What is your outlook for 2015?
- I think the pulse of the market will start rising slowly.

- Does capitalizing Codelco constitute a stimulus?
- Putting Codelco’s finances in order and providing it with the resources to advance is a positive signal. Nelson Pizarro’s appointment as the CEO of Codelco was also good news. He’s a great guy and a very good professional, straight talking and easy to get along with.
What I consider problematic is how the private sector is viewing Chile.

- Do you think that the country’s image is deteriorating?
-The large private mining companies know exactly where to put their money. If a country introduces tax increases – however well intended – changes in the labor laws, application of DL 600, changes in royalties, or high energy prices, then things start looking different. And so investors go where there are greater opportunities for profit. The evaluation of projects is a very complex process and we have negative points. Of course, we also have positive aspects, such as mining experience and a strong supplier base that other neighboring countries don’t have.

ENERGY SAVING

TTM Chile is focusing on technologies that enable reducing initial resistance in conveyor belt systems. “It’s extremely important, because that way we are helping to save energy,” says Horacio Undurraga, CEO and founder of the company specializing in ore transportation technologies, adding that innovation has been introduced jointly with its supplier partners KĂĽpper and Phoenix.
How does the system work? Undurraga explains that “to move material, you have to overcome primary and secondary resistances. The former are caused by the bending of the belt and the weight of the material being moved up and down between the pulley stations, as well as the resistance of each roller, the anchoring, dirt, misalignment, and the indentation or asymmetrical deformation of the belt when coming into contact with each roller.
On the other hand, the loading or tail points, friction due to the acceleration of the load and scrapers or cheek plates are some of the factors that cause secondary resistance on the conveyor belt. On overland conveyors, for example, secondly resistance is less, so it is only considered for calculation purposes. So, with the help of our provider Küpper, we introduced low-resistance rollers that allow the load to pass using less energy to overcome this resistance. The saving can be described as follows: a consumption of 720 kW drops to 180 kW in a conveyor belt with 10,000 rollers (3,000 stations at 1.5 m intervals)” Undurraga assures us.
“On the other hand, in order to measure the indentation resistance, we carried out a joint study with Phoenix which shows that 62% of such resistance is caused by the elastic deformation of the belt when it passes over each roller with a load,” he explains.
Hence, he points out, Phoenix created the EOB belts which produce lesser indentation resistance. “This is what produces energy savings, since power consumption was reduced by 20% in horizontal belts. That way, the transported load can be carried with the same drive system,” adds Undurraga.

SAILOR AND ALMOST AN ASTRONAUT…

“I have done many other things,” says Horacio Undurraga, CEO and founder of TTM Chile, who reveals some episodes of his life to Mineria Total.
“I started off in the Navy when I was 14. I studied to become an electronic engineer. I went to sea, I was in the Navy. I was very proud to be part of that, and I left the Navy in 1968 (I was 30 at the time). Then I went to work at NASA. There were few electronics engineers, so the work offer was good. I was in charge of the Peldehue satellite tracking station, working with another 320 engineers. Then I did training courses in Peru, Ecuador and the operations center in the United States. After NASA I went to Brazil to work in engineering. I worked there, in Nigeria and Japan. I did a postgraduate degree in Finance in Brazil and returned to Chile to work in the financial sector, but that was short-lived”, he says.

- Why was it short-lived?
- There were different ways of thinking. I couldn’t adjust to the profile of the Financing industry, nor could Financing adjust to my profile. But I did have some success, such as having the satisfaction – for example – of granting loans and helping companies to get out of their difficulties.

- If when you studied electronic engineering there were few professionals, does that mean that you were a whizzkid…
- You can achieve results through raw intelligence or effort, and I think that I got my degree more through effort. There is no secret other than work hard. If I didn’t understand something, I’d ask for help. I loved engineering. And electronics was the only career that allowed me to become a ship’s captain. Today I carry on sailing in my yacht.

- What can you tell me about your family?
- I got married in my last year of engineering while I was a naval officer. I have three daughters, seven granddaughters, three grandsons and two great-grandsons. We talk every 5 minutes on whatsapp, because some of them live in the South… we are very close… we get together often. None of my grandchildren have followed my footsteps so far.

- What else do you like to do?
Besides sailing, I like to teach. That’s what I got involved in the APRIMIN Educational Corporation.

- What has given you the most satisfaction in your company?
- When the wife of one of our workers tells me “Thank you for helping to educate my husband, helping him to pursue a career; thanks to that we live.” That is by far the most satisfying. Other issues of a few pesos more or a few pesos less don’t matter as much as the feeling of having people who are happy with what they do.

Este contenido fue publicado en categorĂ­a News.