When he retired at the age of 40, Simon Ashton had reached the peak in more ways than one.

At the end of a 22-year stint with the same company, having gone straight to work in the offshore North Sea sector at the age of 18, Mr Ashton had worked his way up to Expro Group Region Director for Europe by age 30 followed by Region Director Asia Pacific five years later.

For his 40th birthday, Mr Ashton climbed Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu with his management team, quite literally announcing his impending retirement whilst stood at the peak.

“I resigned at the top – it’s the only place to resign, really,” Mr Ashton said.

He came down the other side of the mountain unsure of what he wanted to do next, but knowing he needed a change of scenery. Mr Ashton set about crossing a string of items off his bucket list.

“I was quite happy to hike across New Zealand, Indonesia, the Kokoda Track and I climbed Kilimanjaro,” Mr Ashton said.

“I also did some enormous cycling adventures all over China, Sri Lanka and Myanmar in an attempt to educate myself outside of the narrow work experience in energy.

“Once I embarked on the journey it was liberating, and I started to get fascinated by entrepreneurship and how technology could change the way we did things.”

Mr Ashton spent the next 15 years building several technology start-ups in offshore and onshore oil and gas, geothermal and engineering throughout the Asia and Australia region.

It was his fascination in the relationship between technology adoption and price point that eventually led Mr Ashton to the world of mining and his current position as Qteq Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman.

The privately held company celebrated its fiirst birthday in July 2018, marking the occasion by confirming its acquisition of WA-based geotechnical logging company Surtech Systems.

“Surtech has one of the most modern and highest specification fleets of geotechnical logging equipment in Australia,” Mr Ashton said.

Qteq is set to continue on its growth trajectory as it becomes the bridge between oil and gas and the mining industry.

The acquisition of Surtech is a vital step for Mr Ashton, who said Qteq was looking to become the “virtual technology bridge” across a range of industries and commodities using the knowledge and technology he had acquired throughout a near 40-year career.

“I have travelled to over 100 countries, probably worked in 60 and have picked up a number of key life learnings during that time,” Mr Ashton said.

“I have a natural inquisitiveness that drives me through each day and into each new venture I take on. I look at trends and the potential of where things can go rather than the granular detail.

“I have seen how things have worked in the oil and gas industry and I know they will work in the mining industry, if we get the price point right.”

The biggest barrier hindering collaboration between different industries, according to Mr Ashton, is price point, and he said one of Qteq’s main aims was to rectify this.

“The disconnect has always been the price point,” he said.

“The time/value of money equation grossly favours innovation and technology in the o shore oil and gas industry, and there is a sea change happening in the mining and groundwater industries.

“The appetite for real-time, actionable subsurface data is insatiable, across society and a global trend.”

Qteq is in the staged process of developing three subsurface tools designed to deliver high-end real-time actionable data, using knowledge and technology currently used in the oil and gas industry.

The first of these is a borehole magnetic resonance (BMR) tool, which works in a similar way to an MRI machine but with the magnets inverted to detail the formation surrounding the borehole.

The second tool in development is a slimhole elemental spectroscopy tool, a technology regularly used by the oil and gas industry but at a far higher price point.

Qteq’s goal for this technology is to create a solution at a price the mining industry is able and prepared to pay for.

“It is all about the value of the data and we already conducted field trials in the Pilbara in June,” Mr Ashton said.

The final tool is being developed as part of a joint venture with Wallis Drilling. This tool will enable companies to access real-time actionable data during reverse circulation drilling, as a sensor package will be placed directly behind the drill bit.

This project recently received a Federal Government METS Ignited Collaborative Project Fund grant, which will match funding by Qteq and Wallis Drilling.

“Qteq is set to continue on its growth trajectory as it becomes the recognised technology bridge between the oil and gas industry and the mining and groundwater industries,” Mr Ashton said.

“We are not constrained by our ambition – we simply need a little support from government to create those major export markets that are open to Australian innovation and ingenuity. The METS grant will help us achieve this ambition.

“The big panacea to the next step change in production costs is real-time actionable data, and if we’re able to provide that across multiple industries then we’re onto something special.

“We don’t want to be in one niche; we want to be using a ubiquitous technology across all subsurface industries.”

One of the biggest challenges facing the mining industry, according to Mr Ashton, is the high turnover of young employees. He said mining was not the sought-after industry it once was and the way to rectify this was through the introduction of new technology.

“It is one of the reasons why all of our acquisitions have been targeted at developing different skill sets,” he said.

“We want to retain our people for the long term and the way we can do that is to allow them to cross-train and learn new skills.

“Getting the best and brightest involved with us can only be a good thing now and well into the future for all of the industries we look after.”

Images: Top: Simon Ashton

Middle: Qteq-branded Surtech Systems wireline trucks.