Sudbury’s Mine Specialists (Part 4 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

The Northern Bermuda Triangle

Today CVRD Inco is still involved in product development, albeit in a different capacity. Most of the equipment in Sudbury leaves the factory fully assembled. If it’s going to be lowered in a cage, a few tricks must be performed. Depending on the size of the cage, this can mean tearing the machine down, lowering the pieces on the cage and rebuilding it underground. It’s an extra process that can cost the mine as much as $30,000.

CVRD Inco wanted to prove new machines above ground. It created a ramp with a 20% grade in an old open pit mine near Sudbury.
It’s been called the Bermuda Triangle of the North because things happen to vehicles on the ramp test that never occurred in the past. The vehicles are pounded repeatedly by worst-possible situations that replicate real-world conditions. The Canadian Standards Assoc. (CSA) and other groups spell out specifications like safe stopping distances. CVRD Inco’s test uses the standards, then cuts them by a third to make up for extended maintenance intervals.

That has grown out of — and continues to be — a way for CVRD Inco to ensure the equipment it buys is up to the conditions it will be working in has become a valuable asset to equipment manufacturers. For a fee, OEMs can use the ramp test to prove vehicles before moving into full production.

The guys at Industrial Fab have spent some time out on the ramp, which offers a nice view of the countryside while exposing man and machine to the effects of windchill.

“If something is going to go wrong you want to know about it early, says Industrial Fab’s Rautiainen. “Part of that includes the customer in the design process. We can’t afford to design equipment and not have it work.” Testing is important, too. “With the ramp test facility we can get a successful product out faster.”

Traditional support vehicles have a three-year turnover rate, says Berube. “After that time its condition has run out beyond its economic life. We have worked to extend that. Minecats have been working for five years because of the chassis design, approaching 10,000 hours. Ten years ago it would be having serious issues after 3,600 hours.”

From Sudbury to the Moon

Some of the research being performed in the Sudbury Basin — a geologist’s dream created by a rock hurled in from outer space — isn’t focused on the Earth at all. At NORCAT, Boucher’s staff has connected mining to the space industry.

Several years of work with space drill prototype development led to a $3 million three-year contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to build a drill that can sink its bit 1 m into the moon’s surface. Lunar mining is seen as a way to sustain exploration work. Shipping raw material into space is cost-prohibitive.

Working with Electric Vehicle Controllers Ltd., a local company, research has involved developing a highly abrasive moon dust simulant and installing a cryogenic test chamber that chills metal down to -235 C. Boucher will be required to test the drill in moon-like conditions, for which a room has been cut out by mine students for a hypobaric chamber.

Technology discovered along the way to the moon has applications in terrestrial work. NORCAT was recently approached to help one of the mine companies develop a special drill bit for its smelter, while EVC has retained the underground rights to use a business-card-size moon drill controller.

“The work on the space project has been a collaborative effort,” says Jim Richard, vice president of technical sales, EVC. “NORCAT has a network of entrepreneurs that can transfer this technology back to other industries.”

NORCAT hosts the annual Planetary & Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium, where sessions cover subjects like rover payloads and machine guidance.

Penguin Automated System’s Baiden is research chair for robotics and automation at Sudbury’s Laurentian University and chief technology officer at Penguin, the company he started last summer. Much of his work has centered on getting the operator out of harm’s way, regardless of where that harm is located.

“We have been looking at deep ocean mining,” says Baiden, “where people are never going to be able to work safely. Submarines have communication umbilicals attached to them. In a mining operation with multiple machines things would get tangled.” Technology developed by Baiden’s group allows subs to be run together, wirelessly, communicating between them and a boat.

“Much of this work is going on under the radar screen. It’s unusual for mining guys like me to get calls from space agencies and the military.” That is changing. The impetus behind the submarine project was a telephone call. Knowing Baiden’s expertise with teleoperation, the caller asked him to help solve some challenges standing in the way of orbiting space solar power.

“Construction on such a big project would have to be done through teleoperation, as sending thousands of workers into outer space would simply not be practical. One of their biggest hurdles was how to direct the construction equipment from Earth.

“Because I have a mining background, we took a practical approach. Instead of building tanks costing millions of dollars, we’re using the lake in front of my house, and the lab is a pontoon boat. Mini submarines act as the space craft. The water gives weightlessness. Once the technology is proven by the mini submarines floating in the lake, it can be scaled up to space work.”

There’s more to come. “Sudbury is an interesting place right now,” says Baiden. “There is a renaissance going on centered on mining equipment.”