Hotbed for innovation
Some mining supply and service companies in Thunder Bay are finding success developing innovative solutions to common industry challenges.
Dingwell’s North America, which specializes in machining and fabrication, is one northwestern Ontario supplier making a name for itself as an innovator. Among the mining-related projects it is working on is an electric-pulse disaggregator used to break down material without crushing or caustic fusion. The current prototype, called the Gator 3, releases thousands of volts of electricity through heterogeneous rock.
“The disaggregator does not actually ‘break’ anything,” said Brad Graham, manager of research and development at Dingwell’s. “It will take anything apart from anything else, but it keeps the original material boundaries intact.”
That’s especially important for gem mining, where crushing ore could destroy the precious stones within. The technology could also be used to re-evaluate tailing piles in a cost-effective way, recovering gems that would otherwise be lost.
Although the material is blasted with an extremely high-voltage pulse, the power needed to run the machine is much lower than that of a crusher.
Currently, Dingwell’s is developing a new machine based on the original prototype that will be more controllable with a computer interface. With that unit, they will be able to test sample material at different power levels. Customized diaggregators can be built for specific clients, scaled to any size needed.
One client is Zenyatta Ventures. With its unique graphite deposit near Hearst, 260 kilometres west of Timmins, preserving quality (i.e. keeping large chunks of flake intact) is important.
“(The Gator disaggregator) would give them considerably more usable graphite,” said Rob Bell, Dingwell’s president. “In graphite, size matters. If they can have bigger flakes, that would be pretty advantageous. Plus, it would be a lot cheaper.”
That’s because operating costs would likely be much lower than operating a crusher – it uses less power and has no moving parts.
“(Crushers) are power-hungry and constantly in need of maintenance,” Graham said.
The technology could potentially be used in metal ore extraction as well, including gold.
Another Thunder Bay-based company, Rudnicki Industrial, is also developing new technology for the mining industry. One item just entering the market is a portable fuel drum crusher that could be used to clean up fuel barrels flown up to northern camps.
Called the Pac-a-Drum, the self-contained unit weighs about 400 pounds including motor, can easily be loaded into an airplane or transported by helicopter, and plugs into a typical generator. The Pac-a-Drum uses a combination of purchased parts (the motor, fasteners, etc.) and custom-fabricated parts (including the aluminium frame), all assembled at Rudnicki Industrial. One unit is already operational in Yellowknife and another was purchased by KWG Resources. Owner/innovator Mike Rudnicki said that he plans to have a commercial unit ready for the PDAC in 2016.
“All indications are that we have to start manufacturing a lot more of these things,” Rudnicki said. “We’re still getting enquiries left, right and centre. Our focus now is moving more towards getting the manufacturing down on these barrel crushers.”
Unit prices are in flux with the fluctuating Canadian dollar, but currently a Pac-a-Drum costs about $17,000 to $19,000. It would likely pay for itself quite quickly – a typical Twin Otter can fly out about nine uncrushed barrels versus 40 barrels crushed with the Pac-a-Drum, Rudnicki said, so transportation costs would be reduced by about 75 per cent.
Rudnicki also sells the Strap Eater which reduces metal strapping to manageable, recyclable lengths, and is designing an adjustable rail system that can carry a portable crane suitable for loading and unloading float planes from the water in remote areas such as mining camps.
Tagged Another Thunder Bay, Brad Graham, Graphite, KWG Resources, metal ore extraction, Mike Rudnicki, Mining, mining equipment, Recycling, Rudnicki Industrial, success developing innovative solutions, technology, Thunder Bay, transportation costs, Zenyatta Ventures