Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal is a magazine that showcases the mining expertise of North Bay, Timmins and Sudbury.
Euro zone debt, American stagnation and a slowdown in China paint a picture of economic doom and gloom, but Northern Ontario’s mining engineering consulting firms have never been busier.
Sudbury and North Bay staff with Hatch, Stantec, Wardrop, AMEC and Knight-Piésold are busy working on projects across Canada and around the world, and are bullish about the next few years.
The engineering consulting sector in northeastern Ontario constitutes an important sub-section of the region’s mining cluster, employing upwards of 600 engineers, scientists, technicians and administrative staff.
This wasn’t always the case. Wardrop, now part of Pasadena, California-based Tetra Tech, started out with a three-man operation in 2001 and today has 50 employees at its Sudbury office. Stantec, formerly McIntosh Engineering, had one or two people in Sudbury in 2008 and now has 92, with approximately 100 more in North Bay.
Hatch has the largest presence in the northeast with more than 230 employees in Sudbury, Golder Associates has 110, AMEC has grown from an office of two in 1999 to 40 today and Knight-Piésold in North Bay has 40. Most consulting firms also report that they could hire more staff, but are having trouble recruiting them.
The Hatch office in Sudbury serves as a centre of mining excellence for all of North America, but also plays a lead role on projects in Europe, Russia and South America, said Jim Gallagher, director of mining for North America.
According to Gallagher, the number of employees at Hatch’s Sudbury office has doubled in just over a year.
“We have a very strong team in Sudbury and we treat it as a centre of mining excellence. We have full capabilities here. We can do all aspects of a study, from ventilation to computer simulation for mining productivity and performance. We do shafts and hoists, all the infrastructure underground, geological block modeling…we can do all of that, including full detail engineering and project execution.”
Hatch’s Sudbury office has satellite groups in Saskatoon, Scottsdale and Mississauga, and provides support to the firm’s St. Petersburg office in Russia.
“Originally, our office in Sudbury was here to serve Falconbridge and Inco. We still do that, but now we’re also working on projects globally and bringing that work back to Sudbury,” said Gallagher.
Work underway includes Xstrata Zinc’s Pallas Green project in Ireland, Kinross Gold’s Fruta del Norte project in Ecuador, Kennecott’s Eagle Minerals nickel project in Michigan and Vale’s Clarabelle Mill upgrade in Sudbury. The office has also worked on a number of Kinross projects in Russia and is close to winning its first job in China.
Prior to being acquired by Stantec, McIntosh Engineering was a niche consulting firm specializing in underground mining with offices in North Bay and Tempe, Arizona. In 2008, the firm won a big contract with Falconbridge for all of the underground engineering, including the headframe and hoist room for the Nickel Rim Mine.
“That’s what sparked our growth in Sudbury,” said Mike Mayhew, Stantec’s director of global mining services.
Today, Stantec’s mining practice employs close to 300 people, but has access to the firm’s 10,600 employees in 156 offices across North America and their expertise in power generation, transportation, the environment and dozens of other engineering specialties.
“We are looking at one and a half to two years of solid backlog and we’re still growing,” said Mayhew.
Diversification is a key to weathering any economic downturns. If base metal prices plummet and projects are put on hold, the hope is that potash, gold and diamonds will keep Stantec busy.
The firm’s biggest client now is the BHP-Billiton Jansen project in Saskatchewan, currently the subject of a feasibility study. If approved, Jansen will begin producing potash in 2015 and ramp up to eight million tons a year. The total capital cost of the project is estimated at $12 billion.
Other recent and ongoing projects include Potash Corporation of Canada’s Allan Mine upgrades and HudBay Minerals’ Lalor project. Closer to home in Northern Ontario, Stantec is engaged with Vale, Xstrata Nickel, Quadra FNX, First Nickel, Goldcorp and Lake Shore Gold.
As an independent, niche consulting firm, McIntosh Engineering focused almost exclusively on North America, “but that vision is changing,” said Mayhew. There are still no Stantec mining practice offices outside Canada and the U.S., but the firm’s track record and relationships forged over the years have resulted in several assignments in Europe, South America and Asia.
The Wardrop office has grown in Sudbury “because we realized that Sudbury is the mining capital of Canada, if not the world, and having recognized that, we saw it as vital to establish ourselves very strongly in a huge mining centre,” said Sudbury office general manager Jamie Santi.
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