This article was originally published in the December, 2010 issue of Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal.
The Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) is a world-class mining research and innovation centre located in the hardrock mining heartland of Sudbury, Ontario.
The new deputy director of the Sudbury-based Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) sees an urgent need to “broaden the base of the intellectual capacity that’s applied to mining issues.”
Doug Morrison, formerly global mining sector leader with Golder Associates, says in light of the lack of highly skilled personnel entering the mining industry, more effort has to be made to enlist researchers in other related disciplines to focus on mining issues.
“I don’t think there’s a long lineup of people waiting to join the mining industry these days, so what we need to do is create as much of a critical mass as we can by being much more collaborative.
“Every university has research being done. The vast majority of these researchers have no idea of the challenges that the mining industry faces, but many of them are working on issues that could be of value to the mining industry,” he said. As examples, Morrison cites researchers focused on environmental sciences, chemistry, physics and biology.
Morrison began his mining career in Sudbury in 1981 as a ground control engineer with Falconbridge. He spent six and a half years there before transferring to Inco, where he worked in ground control and research for eight years. In 1996, he joined Golder’s Sudbury office, which was then a two-man operation. Today, Golder Associates’ Sudbury office has close to 100 employees.
According to Morrison, there is a pressing need for innovation in the mining industry, given the accelerating global demand for metals and the fact that more and more discoveries are being made in challenging environments – either at great depth, or in remote, environmentally sensitive areas.
Morrison sees CEMI performing the role of a catalyst, linking the mining industry with researchers at universities in Ontario and across Canada. Sudbury is an ideal location to carry out this role because of its strong mining base and its proximity to Canada’s mining heartland.
One of the biggest challenges the mining industry faces globally is the social license to operate, he said.
Events like the recent spill of toxic chemicals from a tailings retention dam in Hungary don’t help the mining industry’s image, complained Morrison.
But that tailings retention dam was probably built decades ago with the technology available at the time and doesn’t reflect the industry today, he said.
“The industry has moved on very, very significantly, but the public doesn’t see that. They see the disaster happening now.” Public perceptions about the impact of mining on communities are also at odds with current practices, he added.
“There were times in the past when mining companies moved into an area and had a negative effect on the local community, but mining companies today spend a lot of time and money trying to help local communities develop an economic base that will exist long after the mining operation has closed.”
Encouraging our youth to consider careers in the mining industry is critical, said Morrison.
“A large number of people think that the influence of mining on society is unreservedly negative. We have to reverse that thinking.” This is particularly important in Canada if we want to maintain our status as a global leader in the mining industry, he said.
Morrison sees an urgent need for improved productivity in the mining industry.
“We’ve gone down the path of economies of scale to gain higher productivity levels in the last 20 years. The difficulty is that as mines get deeper, opening large excavations for big equipment becomes problematic.”
The heat and the need for more ground support to maintain stability of the openings slows the rate of development and decreases productivity.
Outdated regulations and work practices are also holding the mining industry back, said Morrison.
“Mines are still working on a shift rotation that’s 50 to 100 years old. We’ve gone from eight-hour shifts five days a week to 12-hour shifts and it seems to me that we need to rethink that whole approach working at great depths.
“We expected to see productivity gains going to 12-hour shifts, and I’m sure some operations saw some gains, but I don’t think any operations saw the gains they expected to see.”
Morrison also takes issue with the regulations governing shift changes, which require the outgoing shift to come out before the ingoing shift goes in.
“Some of these regulations are based on mine disasters that happened 100 years ago. The level of technology and the use of explosives today are dramatically different, but the regulations are still the same.
“We’re still using regulations on explosives based on dynamite, which hasn’t been used in 30 years. I understand that government regulations are slow to change, but in the 21st Century, government has to recognize that they have a role to play in facilitating development and not constrain the mining industry by regulations from a previous era.
“There has to be a broader approach to innovation rather than relying exclusively on new technology.”
It’s also important to focus our research to support the global mining industry and not limit ourselves to local issues, said Morrison.
“We’re here to support the mining industry wherever it operates. That means having a much broader understanding of the issues the industry faces in other parts of the world, whether it’s South America, Africa or Southeast Asia.”
Morrison assumed his duties at CEMI November 1st.