Sudbury’s Mine Specialists (Part 3 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

Adit Makes It Easier

NORCAT’s laboratory work is balanced by its mine training and testing facility in the former Fecunis Mine, located on Xstrata Nickel land in Onaping, an hour northwest of Sudbury.

Safety indoctrination is required for any person employed by a mine or working as a contractor underground in Ontario. CVRD Inco and Xstrata Nickel look to NORCAT for training.

The month-long course for the hard rock miner common core program begins in front of the computer and moves to safety training at NORCAT’s underground mine. This is followed by hands-on work where students go through the cycle of drilling, blasting, scaling, bolting and mucking. More than 2,000 students each year go through the program, which is taught by miners with decades of real-world experience.
While extracting paydirt isn’t the goal of NORCAT’s mine work, the mining is real. Students don headlamps to open drifts and ventilation passages following a plan. The mine gets deeper with each wave of students. The longest drift is 750 ft.

“We realized it wasn’t a real mine if we weren’t selling product,” says Joe Morin, mine manager, NORCAT Underground Training Centre, “so now we sell the mucked rock to local contractors.” NORCAT’s LHDs are used to load on-highway trucks from a stockpile outside the mine.
The primary application of the mine is training, but it’s also available to equipment manufacturers. The NORCAT mine can be rented for product testing or photographing new machinery in its natural habitat.

“The mine is unique because it is the only one like it open to the public,” says Boucher. Others around the world are owned by a mining company or another OEM, and it’s difficult to get access to the rock. We allow people to come in and rent the space. If a company needs it secure, we’ll have the students open a drift or a room.”

NORCAT Mine is an adit, a horizontal tunnel accessible through an opening in the side of the hill. There are no ramps or cages to contend with. More importantly, there’s no danger of getting in the way of a haul truck.

Partners For Efficient Mining

Throughout its history CVRD Inco has performed an extensive role in product development. In 1982, Inco’s Copper Cliff North Mine was established as a research mine. Advanc¬es were made in machinery automation as well as computer and laser technology.

Dr. Greg Baiden was a member of the Inco team that built one of the world’s largest automatic guided vehi¬cles in 1988, an electric truck with a 70-ton pay¬load. It was put into production in the mine and used four years. The side-¬dumping locomotive-like truck traveled on 16 wheels. During its working life the tires were changed once, such was the level of electronic control, and the truck experienced only one failure. A track along the mine’s roof guided it through the tunnels.

The truck was ahead of its time. It was eventually scrapped and has not been reproduced. “It would work today,” says Baiden, chief technology officer at Sudbury’s Penguin Automated Systems Inc. “There are some things I would change because the technology has advanced. Today laser scanners would replace the track, allowing the machine to travel throughout the mine.”

The technology used in mining rarely gets the nod it deserves. “There’s the perception that mining guys couldn’t possibly be doing this type of stuff. It’s quiet work with practical applications.”

Before autonomous machines become popular, Baiden thinks it’s more likely the industry will move into teleoperation, where vehicles are run by people in a cab replicator far from the production area. “Nobody is ready to press a button on 150 tons and let it go to work. Mines need time to gain confidence with that level of autonomy.”

Mine Pro Shop

Inco established Continuous Mining Systems (CMS) in 1984 to design and manufacture mining machinery to improve its own productiv¬ity. CMS heralded one of the first steps away from extraction to technology and product development.

When Bob Lipic acquired CMS in 1994 and combined it with three other companies, his goal was a diversified mining equipment company that would ride out the highs and lows of the industry. Today he’s president and CEO of that company, Mining Technologies Intl. (MTI). MTI is a major manufacturer of production equipment, the counterpart to Industrial Fab’s utility vehicles. MTI designs and manufactures scoops, trucks, self-propelled drills (jumbos) and electric locomotives. MTI also produces scoop buckets and other wear parts, while a plant in nearby North Bay produces hydraulic cylinders for MTI’s own equipment and other OEMs.

Although one of the largest home-grown manufacturers in Sudbury, “MTI is small enough to have the flexibility to offer products our competitors may not be able to provide,” says John Dales, purchasing manager, MTI.

Progress has been made in standardizing equipment design and component selection, but it’s still difficult to produce a one-type-fits-all machine for the Sudbury area, much less the world. The mines require different features for each location.

“There may be 30 items special to their machine that you don’t use for another customer,” says Bob Denton, account manager, MTI. “It ranges from painting the steps red to installing special lights or horns. If you’re going to sell equipment into that mine, you have to comply.”
Introducing cutting-edge features in mining isn’t easy. “This may not be the place to introduce the newest technology simply because it’s available,” says Dales. “Often the newest technology is not applicable. In underground mining they want to be able to fix the machine with a crescent wrench.”

The reluctance for adopting new technology like electronics should start to wane as components are proven to survive in a mine, and when users understand their advantages. Everett Henderson’s work is helping to move the industry that direction.

An alumnus of CVRD Inco’s product development team of the 1980s, Henderson started Minewise Technology Ltd. five years ago. The company’s products and services involve diverse applications ranging from traditional vehicle electric sub-systems and remote controls to specialized video techniques particular to underground mining. Current projects include advanced vehicle traffic control systems, specialized material handling and dynamically controlled ventilation systems.

The fix-it-with-a-wrench approach may have slowed adoption of CAN bus systems in the mines, but in some cases it is already there. “With the use of electronic engines, CAN is more common in mining than people understand,” says Henderson. “They use new engines and diagnose their problems, but no one really says a CAN bus is doing the integration. They just want it to work.

“We are trying to implement the technology in mines because the standards are powerful and will increase machine function. When adding tools we could tap into the CAN system and bring value to the end-user with an attachment that interacts with the engine. When we can explain the benefits of having fewer harnesses and a better response from hydraulic or the ease of making equipment available via remote control, operators will see the benefits.”

Part Four Tomorrow