Innovation in hard rock mining alive and well in Northern Ontario – Dick DeStefano (May 2011 – Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal)

Dick DeStefano is the Executive Director of Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA). This column was originally published in the June, 2011 issue of Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal.

In the past weeks and months, it has become evident that the mining sector is on a continuous upswing.  There is a general consensus that we are only at the midpoint of a super cycle in commodities and much needed mining products and services.

I was impressed during the recent Canadian federal election campaign to read and hear a much-awaited acknowledgement about the importance of Northern Ontario’s mining cluster from Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Ignatieff said “One of the great things about Northern Ontario — you see it everywhere – is that this is a part of the world that has absolutely world-class expertise in mining technology, mining research and mining science. And we mustn’t lose that.”

It has been a bit of a struggle over the past few years to inform and motivate government agencies and others that there is a major cluster of innovative mining supply and service companies situated in Northern Ontario. This cluster consists of world leaders in producing goods and services that are innovative and adaptable to the increased demands for efficiencies required by mines to reduce costs and operating expenses.

A recent third party study of the sector by Doyletech confirmed the importance of this mining supply sector with defensible numbers indicating that there were more than 23,000 people employed in the region within approximately 550 companies that had sales in 2008 exceeding $5.6 billion and generating over $1.3 billion in wages and salaries annually.

In recent months, there has been a push to recognize the innovative products and services that flourish within this northern corridor stretching from Thunder Bay to Timmins and to North Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie

The list of products and services from the Northern Ontario mining supply and service cluster continues to grow every year.

Here are a few examples that illustrate this region’s expertise in underground mining operations.

Rock-Tech Sales & Service in Sudbury builds an underground lubrication station called SatStat that eliminates extra costs by having a full lubrication and service capability underground instead of on surface.  Rezplast builds Polar Climate Safety Showers, which provide complete shower, eye and face wash equipment, outdoor enclosures and warm water blending systems.  Ionic Engineering Ltd. is a full service automation/robotic systems integrator and custom machine builder. Itasca Consulting Canada Inc. specializes in mine design, high stress geomechanics, blast design and monitoring instrumentation systems.

Another component of the Doyletech Study described the Northern Ontario mining technology cluster’s capacity and strengths in the following areas:
          • mining engineering and mine management
          • mining equipment manufacturing
          • customization of wheeled, tracked and flanged vehicles
          • equipment repair and rebuild
          • consulting, research, training and financing

There are numerous additional specialized capabilities, for example, in remediation and regreening.

Stan Sudol is a well-respected mining communications consultant who has a popular blog www.republicofmining.  He has consistently written about and supported the basic premise that Northern Ontario is the heartland of hard rock mining expertise in North America and is one of three most important mining clusters in the world.

The mining cluster in Northern Ontario has seen major investments in mining research and agencies that focus on underground mining. Funding from major mining companies and the Ontario government has given the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) led by Peter Kaiser a mandate for developing solutions for the mining industry globally. This has allowed CEMI to develop a global network of companies and agencies that are committed to excellence in mining research. These include Rio Tinto, ITASCA, BESTECH, Mira Geoscience, Golder Associates, Symboticware, CAMIRO, C-Core, Roc Science, MIRARCO, the University of Laval, the Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining at Queens University, the University of Toronto Lassonde Institute, Memorial University, Objectivity, Laurentian University and the Mineral Exploration Research Centre.

Another important player in the region’s mining supply cluster is the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT).  Their long-standing mandate to support private sector mining supply entrepreneurs has proven to be extremely successful. Recent funding has allowed for increased space for innovative product development for underground mining.

The expertise of the cluster’s mining supply companies, research organizations and academic institutions augers well for innovation and mining globally.