Sudbury Mine Specialists (Part 1 of 4)

OEM Off-Highway magazine Editor Chad Elmore has given Republic of permission to post an October 2007 article on Sudbury’s Mining Supply and Service sector.

OEM Off-Highway magazine provides an editorial mix of new technology, component information, engineering processes and industry news to help product development teams design and produce better off-highway vehicles and component systems. OEM Off-Highway

If mining expertise is what you need, the Sudbury Basin has it.

The deep hard rock mines lining Ontario’s Sudbury Basin feature some of the toughest working conditions in North America. There are more than 3,000 miles of mine tunnels under the region’s lakes and trees — some of those miles start at the bottom of a shaft more than 8,000 ft. below sea level. Down there, moisture-laden air mixes with ambient rock temperatures hovering around 100 F. Factor in long ramps with grades of more than 20%, narrow tunnels walled with unforgiving igneous rock and the occasional puddle holding enough sulfuric acid to consume a screw — Pebble Beach, this is not.

Equipment builders get no breaks, even in that environment. Whether using a production or support vehicle, mine operators expect maximum availability from their equipment. An equipment failure in a narrow tunnel 5,500 ft. down and two miles from the elevator, or cage, to the surface can be very expensive and downright inconvenient. Mines also want the machines to be safe and easy to maintain.

Utility vehicles, as ubiquitous in mines as telehandlers at a Las Vegas casino construction project, must be able to move quickly so as to not impede a truck loaded with nickel-bearing ore worth thousands of dollars. Utility vehicles must be extremely reliable and easily serviced. If a production machine is down, the supervisor’s 4×4 will have to wait and likely keep working until its turn comes up.

Once workers leave the cage, it can be a long drive through the tunnels, or drifts, to the development work (such as extending a drift en route to the ore body), or the stope (where ore is being removed). Work areas are spread out, and supervisors must keep an eye on each location. A utility vehicle can easily add up more than 100 miles a day.

Covering 1,400 sq. miles five hours north of Toronto, the amalgamated City of Greater Sudbury is the home¬town market for Industrial Fabrication Inc.’s utility vehicles. The Minecat 6000 Series is the company’s flagship model. It’s a heavy-duty multi¬-use vehicle that can be ordered in many different variations, such as a two-passenger lube truck and a seven-passenger personnel hauler with ROPS/FOPS protection, each on the same common platform.

The 6000 Series grew out of a line of modified farm tractors Industrial Fab acquired in 2002. For several decades, trac¬tors were mining’s preferred founda¬tion for underground utility vehicles. A new tractor was purchased and stripped, its agriculture-specific bits replaced with compo¬nents designed for mine work.

“They were relatively low-capital cost in the early days,” says Daryl Rautiainen, vice president, Industrial Fabrication, “but they were plagued with reliability and durability issues which drove up operating costs. Many of these utility tractors were costing as much in maintenance as large production equipment.”

Over the years, as more equipment suppliers built their utility equipment on farm machinery the tractor-based Minecat became a “me too” product. Nothing put the utility vehicle apart from its competition. Pat Berube was hired as engineering manager to help raise the bar on Industrial Fab’s vehicle line.

“We realized that the most successful machines in the mining industry are the ones that are purpose-built for their application.” says Berube. The decision was made to explore the opportunity of building our own purpose-built machine.”

Berube’s team talked extensively with end-users during the design stage. He did not have to leave the city to meet with potential customers. There are 15 mines and more than 100 years of continuous min¬ing experience within the city limits. Supporting that work are nearly 300 firms focused on mining supply and service (MS&S) ranging from specialized fasteners to equipment design and world-class system developers. It’s a virtually unparalleled concen¬tration of hard rock mining experience.

When developing a new product “you have to talk with customers and learn what they want,” says Berube. “If you don’t listen you won’t be successful. Getting the end-user involved early gives them ownership in the final product, as well.”

That approach seems to have worked; the new-generation Minecat has been a strong seller, finding work in the United States and as far away as Indonesia.

Berube sat down with local mine specialists again when he started work on Industrial Fab’s latest product, intended to fill the role a full-size pickup would play on a pipeline project. The purpose-built philosophy worked for the design of the new-generation Minecat and was carried forward on the new project.

Introduced in June at Nevada’s Elko Mining Expo, the Minecat UT99 is designed and built from the ground up for supervisors and other workers who no longer want a modified sport-utility vehicle or pickup. After its debut in Nevada’s gold country, the UT99 prototype was trailered to the Stillwater Mine near Nye, MT. The Montana mine has already ordered several UT99s. These machines will be supported by a sales and service operation, Industrial Fabrication USA Inc., which opened in 2006 in Winnemucca, NV.

The new truck is used to travel quickly between a surface office and a distant stope. In a mine vehicle, speeds can reach 20 mph. Typical speeds in a mine are usually half that. The UT99’s top end can be limited to the specific mine’s requirements for safety purposes.
Berube’s team specified robust parts, including MICO’s new wet enclosed disk brake (May 2007 issue), mine-grade wiring, an Iveco Motors (FPT) 99 hp MSHA-certified engine, automatic transmission and a dedicated hydraulic system.

“In Sudbury there are many local people specializing in all of the different aspects of mining,” says Rautiainen. “You’re never too far from someone who can help you with an issue. You can’t do all of the development on your own.”

Paul Ballard is part of that local knowledge base. He’s president of Fluid Power House, a full-service hydraulic component distributor that specializes in one of mining equipment’s key safety systems — brakes.

“If there’s a diesel engine on the machine, we are interested in assisting with product development,” says Ballard. “The estimate is there are 3,000 pieces of diesel equipment underground in the Sudbury Basin,” including production and util¬ity vehicles. “Manufacturers are specialists in certain areas of the machine and usually turn the brake work over to us. We guarantee everything, which takes much of the risk away from the OEM.”

Fluid Power House is invisible to end-users. OEMs call for replacement parts. “We keep a lot of parts in stock. When a machine is down, there is no waiting around for a part to come in. A guy will stop in to get a part, and we’ll give it to him and sort the paper work out later.”
A movement toward standardized vehicles wherever possible has helped with parts availability. OEMs are encouraged to use common components. Ballard can stock a relatively small number of products to support 90% of the applications. “Everyone benefits from standardization,” he says.

Part Two Tomorrow