Black Rock makes debut as engineering consulting firm
Ionic Engineering spinoff
Black Rock Engineering, a spinoff of a Sudbury-based robotics and automation company, has made its debut as an engineering consulting firm.
Parent company Ionic Engineering has provided consulting services for more than a decade but has been known primarily for automating electrolytic copper and nickel refineries and manufacturing processes for mining and other industries.
The establishment of Black Rock Engineering removes the consulting business from the shadow of its parent company, gives it a distinct identity and positions it for growth.
“A lot of people know us for either our consulting or our automated equipment work and were surprised that we also did the other,” said Christina Visser, general manager of Black Rock. “That’s the reason we decided to spin it off.”
A systems design engineer, Visser worked for Inco for 10 years and joined Ionic in 2005.
“Our consulting work was originally just for Inco,” she said. “We did a large number of projects for them and didn’t at first go outside because they kept us fairly busy, but over the years, we diversified our client base.”
Black Rock specializes in mechanical and electrical engineering as well as controls. It does scoping and feasibility studies and takes on a wide variety of projects from pumping and dewatering to electrification, programmable logic controllers and distributed control systems.
“We have a very qualified staff of 25 engineers, designers and draftspeople in Sudbury and access to more resources at our office in Cambridge,” said Visser.
While most of its work is focused on the mining industry, Black Rock also serves the pulp and paper, steel and aggregate industries.
“We’ve been fortunate to work on a lot of interesting projects over the years,” said Visser. “We’ve worked on some very interesting energy management and pumping projects, as well as control systems. A few years ago, we upgraded and automated a whole crushing circuit control system for Kirkland Lake Gold. We had very little time to do it and worked with the contractor to get everything converted and commissioned in a very short time.”
Visser likes the variety. “One day we’ll be working on electrostatic precipitators, the next day on cyclones, pumping systems or crushing plants,” she said.
Most of its work has been confined to Northern Ontario, but it was recently hired to do a feasibility study for a lead refinery in British Columbia.
It’s a joint Black Rock and Ionic project and a good example of the synergies the two sister companies are able to offer.
Ionic designs, builds and commissions the equipment in this case, but Black Rock does the surrounding engineering, examines the business case and provides an estimate of the full cost to the owner.
Smaller, less bureaucratic Being small and less bureaucratic gives the firm a competitive advantage, said Black Rock business development manager André Dumais.
“One of the things that drew me to this organization was its ability to respond to customer needs. I’ve seen a trend over the last seven or eight years of large engineering firms dictating the terms of business to their customers.
When you hire one of the big organizations, you’re following their procedures and processes, which has led in my opinion to a gross expansion in cost to the mining companies because they’re no longer in control of the projects.
“With Black Rock, the customer remains in charge,” said Dumais. “We don’t take over. It’s your project. We’re here to help you and work for you. That’s one of our key differentiators. There’s very little bureaucracy in this organization.”
Dumais cites customer driven requests for changes as an example of the bureaucracy that has crept into the business.
“There are forms after forms after forms, whereas we simply ask the customer for confirmation by email. We don’t nickel and dime our clients to death. You’ll often see a job quoted for X dollars, but by the time it’s done, it’s X plus X plus X. They come in with the lowest quote but they give you the absolute bare minimum of scope.
“Has it hurt us? Absolutely…because we’re not always the lowest bidder, but it has also helped us because we have developed a really strong reputation for getting the job done for what we said it would cost.”
The relationship with Ionic is also a big help because if Black Rock needs a special skill set for a short period of time, it can borrow resources from its sister company. It doesn’t have to go out and hire someone, then worry about keeping that person busy beyond the one project, said Visser.
Small to medium-sized projects are its forté.
“The big projects are great, but there are a lot of little projects and that’s more of what we’re focused on,” she said.