Engineering Manufacturing and Construction [Engineering and Mining Journal]
(Engineering and Mining Journal Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Moving the Industry Forward
As Quebec's mines continue to produce, the industry's support sector has continued to flourish to the point which Quebec mining service expertise is sought out globally. Known for its technical expertise and sustainable approach, the service sector is an asset worthy of export.
Environmental practices grow as industry standards rise
From another angle, R&D has taken on a more important role in Québec's mining sector from the perspective of social acceptability. Service providers have been instrumental in bringing new technologies into the field that minimize environmental and social impact. As a company's social license to enter into production becomes just as important as its mining license, industry service providers are honing their expertise accordingly to meet heighted environmental, health and safety standards.
Biogénie, a division of EnGlobe Corp specializing in remediation, offers miners a patented technology to treat organic soil contaminants biologically. The brainchild of two graduates of Laval University, Biogénie operates worldwide bringing its biological soil treatments to many industrial sites. Unlike many support industry players who are diversifying beyond mining, Biogénie is strategically turning toward the sector to work with the long-life mines starting up across Canada, namely in Québec and Nunavut. "We help mining companies who need to remediate soil they have impacted, which afterwards can be reused to reclaim their tailings," said Eric Thomassin-Lacroix, general manager, Site Assessment and Remediation, Northern Canadaat Biogénie.
"One advantage of our technology is that it is exportable; we can bring it to a mine site anywhere. We have worked, for example, on projects in the Northwest Territories using wind turbines as the sole energy source to remediate the soils. Our clients can also come to us to deposit their soil at our permanent treatment facilities located in Yellowknife or Kuujjuaq. Biogénie has already applied more than 35 remediation technologies and with the support of a multidisciplinary technical department of engineers, microbiologists, geochemist, agronomist and hydrogeologists, we are able to optimize them to suit the needs of specific clients or projects," said Thomassin-Lacroix.
To assist with environmental work, stakeholder communication expertise is also an increasingly important asset for a service provider. Roche, a Quebec-based engineering firm with environmental expertise, worked with Stornoway Diamonds on its ESIA for the Renard project, which won the E3 Plus award tor its environmental and social stewardship. "Roche was responsible for developing communication tools for the public consultations in Misstissini and participated in the public consultations and public hearings alongside Stornoway's representatives," said Vital Boulé, director of environment at Roche.
H.J. O'Connell, the constructors of the first dams and dikes for ArcelorMittal's project site in 1981. has over the years honed its construction methods and techniques to better meet environmental standards. "Since 1981, no other contractor has been taken on for that site. We have also recently built a fish habitat for Wabush Mines," said Anoop Singh, district manager LECQ / H.J. O'Connell. "With companies like ArcelorMittal gaining ISO 1401 certification, environmentally conscious construction is becoming the standard. This is a good thing because we now receive environmental specifications for our contracts, whereas in previous years the industry has had to define its own environmental standards on an ad hoc basis.
The industry receives a high amount of public criticism, but in the past 30 years great strides have been made in minimizing impact, as evidenced by the increase in demand for environmentally-friendly products. EPCMs and equipment providers have brought innovative solutions to answer these growing needs. "Hewitt Equipment provides lube trucks which can plug into customers' machines, remove their oil without spillages and decontaminate it to be used for long periods. Meanwhile, our services for reducing failure eliminate the environmental impact of repairs, and Caterpillar has made massive investments over the years to reduce emissions to next to nothing," Jim Hewitt, chairman and CEO of Hewitt Equipment.
Equipment suppliers assist in the down-cycle
The current downturn has severely impacted the support sector, as many of its players had mobilized for high capacity and expansion in the upswing of 2010-2011. Hewitt Equipment, the authorized Caterpillar dealer for the province of Québec as well as Western Labrador, acquired the distribution rights for Caterpillar's Bucyrus mining product range in August 2012. Subsequently, the mining slowdown and a decrease in infrastructure project spending have led to a drop in new machines going into the field.
To help clients through this hunkerdown phase, equipment providers are looking for new solutions to cost control. For Hewitt Equipment, which launched their D-tech Condition Monitoring Center in 2011, the investment was well-timed to assist in cost reduction. With a team in place to monitor information feeds coming from machines, either by cell connection or GPS, the monitoring center can check machines' health and productivity, and alert customers early on to potentially costly problems. "Safety can reduce costs in its own right, and Hewitt Equipment is one of five dealers around the world to have worked with Caterpillar on the advancement of Condition Monitoring," said Hewitt. "For several years we have had the information available from machines, but using it intelligently and effectively is not simple."
Dux Machinery, a Repentigny-based equipment supplier focusing on trucks for underground mining applications, is a good example of a company that has to deal with cost issues while keeping a significant portion of its products local. Dux's equipment is highly specialized, and the firm often caters to stringent demands from customers who prefer specific dealers or high-end technologies while maintaining a desire to be economical. According to Caroline Bumueller, marketing manager at Dux Machinery, Dux is particularly proud of its work with local subcontractors and the domestic heritage of the parts they provide. "As we have had more equipment in production lately, we have been able to secure volume pricing and pass along savings to our customers whenever possible. We also buy locally, which not only helps reduce transportation costs and lead times, but allows us to better manage the quality of our product," said Bumueller.
Equipment manufacturers have also tound the need to prove themselves in a difficult market. Cowan Dynamics is another example of a company that is proud of its ability to keep its supply-side operations in Québec. The company manufactures its equipment, hydraulic and pneumatic cylinders, entirely in-house at its Montreal office. The ability to ensure rigorous quality control through domestic manufacturing and oversight while being cost-efficient seems like a daunting task. To that end, Cowan Dynamics invests considerable resources in R&D and approximately 85% of its products are non-standard, ruling out scalable mass production. Yet, there is a reason that Cowan Dynamics' client list includes such heavyweights as Xstrata, RioTinto, and IAMGOLD. The company has established a proven track record of success. "A good example of a recent success in productivity enhancement is our work with RioTinto tor a copper mining project in the United States," said Rene Wenker, Cowan Dynamics's president. "Cowan Dynamics brought a solution to them to enhance the efficiency of their existing flotation cells. RioTinto estimated that, partially because of [our solution], they were able to increase their yield by around $33 million annually."
The secret to Cowan Dynamics's success is the company's strategy to take advantage of its relatively small size and to keep its sales and service personnel mobile. The low overheads associated with being a small firm counterbalances costs imposed by non-standard design processes and domestic, in-house production. Even the production process, however, was not taken for granted. "Three years ago," said Wenker, "we embarked on a structured and aggressive 'Lean Manufacturing Program' with the help of an outside consulting firm."
Lower overheads for drilling companies have also had a huge impact on the market, as international drillers' fleets remain largely inactive. Foramex. which specializes in surface diamond drilling for mining exploration, has a small fleet of three rigs that has enabled the company to more adeptly navigate the shrinking market. Despite the low levels of exploration activity in the Abitibi, two out of three of Foramex's drills are running and they are awaiting a contract on their third. Though only founded in 2005. and based in Rouyn-Noranda nearby major international drilling companies, Foramex counts among its clients Richmont Mines, IAMGOLD and Osisko.
"We are in a quiet time today, but being a small company, it is easier for us to tighten spending because our overhead is lower than those of larger drilling companies. To this end, it will certainly be easier for Foramex to get out of the crisis the sector is currently experiencing. We are using this slowdown to repair and improve our equipment. The deceleration in activity has also allowed us to develop new ideas and to focus on making ourselves known to potential customers," said Serge Caron, president of Formex.
As equipment providers strive for greater cost efficiency, product flexibility has played a key role in appealing to clients. The Val- d'Or-based drill manufacturer VersaDrill made its name as one of the first companies to put aluminium drills on the market, and is now also one of the first companies to adapt underground drills for surface drilling. "This is a practice that has caught on. Boreal Drilling, for example, frequently uses our underground drills for fly jobs up in the north. We are also seeing clients in Mexico and Africa using underground drills for surface drilling when they are not sure how deep they will need to go," said Philippe Laplante. general manager of VersaDrill.
With the creation of an engineering department in 2011, VersaDrill is also more focused than ever on R&D to stay competitive in the bear market. "We decided at the end of 2011 to build a drill with geotechnical applications, which was the product of 14 months of R&D and business development," said Laplante.
As the exploration sector in Québec stagnates, building a reputation in the geotechnical market could stand to double the client base for a drilling company.
New technology, new tools
For Quebec's many juniors, consultancies can play a key role in bringing in new tools for modeling and analysis. In recent years, the mining industry as a whole has also witnessed the rise of 3D modeling as a tool to provide sorely needed solutions to issues dealing with equipment and personnel management. SRK Consulting, an international firm with offices across Canada, has focused on supplying consulting services in structural analysis across the mining development cycle.
"In exploration and resource development we focus on understanding what controls either the district-scale or depositscale distribution of mineralization, reducing client's exploration risks and costs," said James Siddorn, a principal consultant at SRK Consulting Canada. "In resource modeling and estimation we have an integrated team that focuses on working with clients to provide geologically robust resource estimations that can be effectively applied to future exploration and exploitation of deposits."
Québec firms have been particularly innovative in developing 3D modeling technology. Montreal area-based Simsmart Technologies, for example, originally started as a software engineering firm that created computerized models of ships and nuclear submarines to assist the military sector with design and retrofitting. Eventually, when the company's technology was used to map, analyze, and control submarine heat transfer and airflow, the mining industry took notice.
The company's flagship software, SmartEXEC, represents the adaptation of its military technology to the mining industry. Using SmartEXEC, mine operators can access a dynamic 3D, simulated visualization of their mines to interact with and control air conduits, dampers, fans, electrical wiring, generators, fluid pipes, etc. all in real time. The ability to work with a simulation to design, tweak, and optimize the operations of all of these key infrastructures remotely, and even in advance of equipment installation, can help reduce costs in a number of ways. Optimal airflow can reduce electrical consumption, one of the greatest expenses in mine operation. It also reduces the need for extra control and engineering personnel, while boosting the productivity of existing staff.
In another example, Simsmart Technologies works with Vald'Or-based Meglab to service the Opinaca mine in the James Bay region. According to Michel Massé, Simsmart's president: "Meglab does the physical controls and communications systems in the mine, and [SmartEXEC] is essentially the brain that you put on top of that, managing the distribution and optimization."
With a software firm from Montreal and a controls engineer in Val-d'Or working together to service a mine in the James Bay, it is an excellent demonstration of cross-regional ties developing multiple aspects of the operations value chain. "We dial into Opinaca every day from our office via the internet and help them remotely using our Montreal-based engineers," said Massé.
Of course, software can be used in a far wider range of applications than mine site mapping, extending even to the area of social responsibility and the environment. Golder Associates, a geotechnical and environmental consulting firm, has developed a software called Goldset, which is a multi-criteria analysis tool that assists firms in making environmental decisions. "We mostly apply it to the tailings facility site selection process," said Pierre Fréchette, a partner at Golder. "By law in Québec, you cannot simply choose the most convenient location for a tailings facility. You need to prove to the authorities that you have made the best possible compromise between economic efficiency and environmental factors. (Goldset] has thus developed a tool and service to assist our clients go through the various options in the shortest time possible.."
Goldset software is an innovative, but integral part of Goldeds overall goal to help its mining clients maintain their commitment to the environment while ensuring profitability.
(c) 2013 Mining Media, Inc.
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