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Survival means staying one step ahead.

New technology vital to industry's future

While Canadian mining companies have made gains in productivity by implementing technology, they must be developing technology of the future today, according to Will Bawden.

"The bottom line in the mining industry is that technology is the only thing to do to be competitive," says Bawden, the head of McGill University's mining department. "We have high labor costs, and the only way to keep those costs low is to apply better or new technology. They (the mining industry) have got to be 20 years ahead."

The need for the development of new technology has been intensified by Third World competitors which are employing current technology.

"In Third World countries, where the big mines are, like Papua, New Guinea, they are getting the latest technology. The idea that they (Third World countries) are getting our used equipment is a myth," says Dennis Martin, the owner of Drillnamic in North Bay.

Drillnamic has developed an automated compact diamond drill for underground use which has been tested at Falconbridge's Strathcona Mine, and the company is currently moving into production.

The drill is designed for continuous use, and its self-diagnosis feature reduces the downtime caused by mechanical failure.

Martin believes the drill will be invaluable to the mining industry because of the industry's present need to reduce operating costs.

Considering the costs of mining in Northern Ontario, companies had better adapt to new technology or move to South America, warns Martin.

"We're in the same game as the Third World countries," confirms Greg Baiden, the project engineer of Inco's Ontario Division mines research department. "It is a competitive industry, and we have to develop new technology to stay alive and survive, because if we don't, we will go out of business."

Located in Copper Cliff, Baiden and his team are developing some of that "quantum leap" technology at the company's North Mine.

The department has developed an information delivery system which forms the basis of remote-controlled automated systems for underground hard-rock mining.

The Foreman (future ore manufacturing) project is based on similar information systems developed for manufacturing industries, says Baiden.

He says the trick was to borrow broadband communication systems from plants like Ford and use some of his department's own creative ideas.

A successful field test was run after months of development by Inco in co-operation with IBM Canada and Ainsworth Automation.

The test vehicle was a scoop tram operated by a remote-control unit linked to a computer on the surface.

The surface operator views the load-hauling device on a video monitor as he manipulates the scoop tram with a joy stick. Video cameras track the machine and on-board sensors provide data to the operator.

Inco's mines research department is now automating an in-the-hole drill and raise borer at the North Mine. A 70-ton haulage truck at Little Stobie Mine has already been automated.

"The benefits of this technology will be in big cost savings, big quality savings, improved production and improved worker health and safety," claims Baiden.

However, Bawden indicates that Canada is missing opportunities to turn this technology into a major export industry.

Bawden calls this missed opportunity "a classic Canadian tradition."

Glenn Brophey of Mintronics System Corp. of North Bay is more optimistic. He believes that domestic mining technology is replacing foreign-made equipment.

Brophey and his engineering team have developed an underground vehicle guidance system which he claims will increase production and reduce operating costs.

He believes that this technology can be profitably exported, noting that there has already been interest expressed from mining operations in Australia, Chile, Ireland and Sweden.

Developed at a cost of $1 million, Brophey's Opti-Trak laser guidance system steers an underground haulage vehicle automatically as it travels from the stope to the ore pass and back without the need of an operator.

The Opti-Trak system utilizes scanning lasers similar to those found at grocery store check-outs. The helium-neon lasers are installed at the front and back of the vehicle and project a beam onto a retro-reflective strip mounted on the roof of the drift.

The strip contains coded instructions which are picked up by the laser and fed into an on-board computer. The speed of the computer (processing 20 instructions per second) allows it to control steering, braking, dumping and the vehicle's throttle.

Brophey claims the $115,000 guidance system can be retrofitted to virtually any centre-articulated truck in any trackless environment.

Mintronics has been testing the system with scoop trams at Inco's North Mine in Copper Cliff and at International Corona Corporation's Williams Mine in Marathon. Some early testing of the system has also been done at Falconbridge's East Mine. Brophey says his company will also be working closely with the Canadian Centre for Mineral and Energy Technology (CanMet) in Val d'Or, Que., with a full demonstration of the system scheduled for this fall.

The company is now going into production of the system and has already sold one unit.

According to Bawden, strategic alliances between mining and other industries are needed to develop new technology.

Baiden agrees, noting that some of the technology used at the company's North Mine is borrowed from other industries and tailored to fit the requirements of mining.

One example is a joint-venture company called Automated Mining System (AMS), formed by Inco subsidiary Continuous Mining Systems (CMS) and Ainsworth Automation. The new company will design, engineer and market underground communications systems and technology developed at the North Mine.

"You have to develop the next generation, which is what AMS and CMS are doing," he adds.

AMS president Dale Letts says the relationship has worked well for Inco. He says it is a case of Inco finding a need and Ainsworth designing the equipment to fill it.

Baiden sees the need for strategic alliances between mining firms and their suppliers. He speculates that there will be fewer suppliers in the future, but those who survive will be those who produce quality goods and work closely with the mining companies.

Baiden also advocates increased co-operation between the mining industry and Canada's universities.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Resources Reports; Canadian mining industry
Author:Brown, Stewart
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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Next Article:Mining companies and the taxpayer facing steep mine reclamation costs.

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