Exploration upswing keeps heat treater busy
Northern Heat Treat doubles plant size, commissions new furnace for stress relieving service
One good indicator of the turnaround in the exploration industry is the traffic outside the Northern Heat Treat plant north of Sudbury.
One recent morning, for example, two flatbed semi trailers weighed down with diamond drill rods were parked in the yard, either waiting to unload or hit the road.
“Ordinarily, we have 6,000 to 8,000 rods here, but now we have around 20,000, and they’re still coming in,” said Northern Heat Treat president George Sidun Sr.
The company receives shipments of drill rods from Argentina, the U.S., France and Italy and heat treats six to 10 inches of each end using a robotic induction hardener. The rods are grabbed by a robotic arm and deposited into a ring-like receptacle where they are heated to a temperature of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, then subjected to a rapid cooling.
The process toughens the rods, making them stronger and able to go deeper.
Once treated, they are sent off for machining to add the threads necessary for joining them together down the drill hole.
Northern Heat Treat, the only heat treating facility in Northern Ontario, doesn’t buy or sell drill rods. It simply provides the service.
The company is vulnerable to the cyclical nature of the exploration industry.
“When we were going full bore in 2008,” recalled Sidun, “we had over 50 people working 24/7. It was going to be our biggest year ever. Then, in September, the bottom fell out of the market and we went down to nine people working one shift four days per week.”
Northern Heat Treat currently has 30 people on the payroll, and could go up to 50 again if the exploration industry continues at its current pace, he said.
Sidun has been in the business for 58 years, having co-owned a heat treating facility in Erie, Pennsylvania before moving to Canada. His father was also a heat treater and his four sons are being groomed to take over, accounting for three consecutive generations in the business.
He was originally lured to Northern Ontario in 1975 for the fishing. The following year, he bought a cottage and continued making the trek north with family in tow for the next decade.
One year, he recalled, “a guy who knew what I did for a living told me about the need for a heat treating business in Sudbury, so I looked into it.”
Sidun sold his share of the business in Erie to his brother, moved the family north and set up shop in Sudbury. That was 32 years ago.
Until September, the business operated from a leased 27,000-square-foot facility in Coniston, 13 kilometres east of Sudbury. Its new plant in Capreol, 32 kilometres north of Sudbury, is twice the size and sits on a 9.2-acre property. The former home of the National Railway Equipment Company which refurbished and sold new and used locomotives, is equipped with multiple rail sidings providing access into the building.
The rail sidings will be put to good use as one of them lines up perfectly with a new 8ft. x 8ft. x 21ft. stress relieving furnace to accommodate refurbished ladles and grizzlies. Until now, mining companies in Northern Ontario had to ship large items for stress relieving to Toronto at great expense because of their size and the need to permit them for highway transport.
The ladles are used in smelters for handling molten metal.
“We have had more and more calls for this service,” said George Sidun Jr. “Years ago, there may have been four to six requiring the service. Now, it’s more like 30.”
Stress relieving is necessary, Sidun explained, because “when you weld something, it puts a stress in it where the weld is and if you don’t take it out, it will crack and pop off at the weld.”
Northern Heat Treat is also seriously looking into offering a field service for both heat treating and stress relieving.
“There’s definitely a demand for it because mining companies now have to call someone up from Toronto.”