It's not every day your colleague tells you you've won a prestigious international award you didn't know you were nominated for.
Sandy Gray, co-founder of Gekko Systems, said it was quite a surprise.
He's just returned from London, where he picked up the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining gold medal for contributions to the industry.
It's capped off a stretch of ups and downs for the company, as it expands into new ventures like data analytics and waste to energy biodigestion, but the gold mining industry, the company's bread and butter, becomes more of a challenge.
This is a Ballarat-based company, and once you get them talking, the engineers are enthusiastic about the ideas that are developed locally, but become essential pieces of equipment across the world.
Mr Gray said he was encouraged by new partnerships with universities and the CSIRO, supported by his growing research and development team.
"There's a lot of invention around, but not as much innovation, not as much commercialisation to get things to the marketplace," he said.
Conveniently, that's where Gekko comes in.
There's a few cool new toys, like a machine that can x-ray rock slurry for precious materials as it emerges from the ground, or help measure make sure there's the right amount of carbon in the right place.
"This is in real time, this is really cool stuff," Mr Gray said.
It's made and developed in Ballarat, with a strong partnership with Castlemaine Goldfields' Ballarat gold mine allowing the company to test on-site, and demonstrate to potential clients.
The next big frontier is in data collection and interpretation - engineers are working on radio frequency-connected sensors that can be placed inside machinery to monitor how quickly bits get worn down - which saves someone putting their head in something dangerous to have a look, Mr Gray added with a grin.
The company's innovation and collaboration manager, Dr Richard Goldberg, said this sort of thing would help miners in all sorts of ways.
"Data's just a number in a way, so we're putting in other products, and we also have experts in house on process performance and gold mining and things, so we can really take the data and add information, turn it into meaningful information people can make a decision from," he said.
"We end up designing what they need and want instead of what we think they want."
Dr Goldberg's other project at the moment is the anaerobic biodigester - this turns waste into gas and electricity, which farmers and factories can sell back to the grid, and has been supported by industry and the state government.
"Our biodigester systems are different from the ones on the market at the moment - one, it's multi-stage, so it gives us process efficiencies that aren't available to other systems, and it's really designed to be low-cost to build," he explained.
"It's modular, so it's easy for people to expand with their needs and with their capability to finance it.
"We're developing a lab facility here where we can predict the outcomes from the multi-stage digester, we've got a pilot plant we're building up that'll be relocatable so we can prove at scale on different sites, they're the main aspects of that project."
As well as leading to more employment in Ballarat - another PhD graduate just joined the research team - the on-farm waste to energy project is a way of diversifying the company's interest amid woes about Victorian mining.
All of Gekko's research has been conducted in Victoria, Mr Gray said proudly, and Dr Goldberg added the smaller size of local mines created a win-win situation.
"These small mines, from a technology development point of view, are very important to us because they're the kinds of places we can go, and they're very happy to work with us testing technologies," he said.
"We can build test rigs here, but you've really got to get it into a mine site to really make it reliable and kick it hard, make sure it works."
The industry internationally is changing, as gold becomes harder to mine - humans have been digging the metal out of the ground for more than 7000 years, which means a lot of people have been "scraping the best bits off the cake", Mr Gray said.
"What we want to do, is hopefully leave a better set of tools," he said.
"When I started 40 years ago, the toolbox was pretty scrappy, there wasn't much there.
"I started hammering rocks with a hammer in 45 degrees, throwing rocks and handpicking, that was my first job - I think we've come a long way in developing the tools."
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