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Ionic Engineering wins refinery contract

Ionic Engineering, a Sudbury-based industrial automation and robotics company, will be kept busy for the next three years with modernizing a nickel refinery at Vale Inco’s operations in Thompson, Manitoba.

The company will design and build robotics for the plant, said Stephan Matusch, who started the company in 1999 along with partner Steve Reichle.

“They have a nickel refinery that they’re very aggressively modernizing up there. We’re very much involved in their effort to do it,” he said.

While this large contract comes from the domestic market, Ionic does 65 per cent of its work for foreign companies.

In 2005, the company built a state-of-the-art cathode stripping system for a refinery in South Korea.

A year ago, they completed a copper stripping system for Jin Long Copper in China, and they just finished building an anode handling system for a company in Zambia.

Typically, these automation systems weigh 300,000 pounds, and take up as much room as a large industrial building. The components are built separately, and put together on site.

Ionic is one of three companies in the world to provide these kinds of services, said Matusch.

The South Korean project forced the company to move in 2005 from a small location on Kelly Lake Rd. to a new 15,000-square foot building in the Walden Industrial Park.

The only continent where Ionic has never done work is Europe, and Matusch and Reichle are currently exploring opportunities there.

In the past, industrial automated systems and robots could only build one kind of product, he said. If a different type of product had to be manufactured in the same plant, an entirely new system had to be built and installed.

Ionic builds robotic systems that can be re-programmed to perform a different function, said Matusch. As a result, much of the technology used to build machinery for one project can also be used for different projects, he said.
“Instead of having to design one of these machines for a specific plant, we build a generic machine, and it can go into any plant with a little programming,” he said.

“For the project for Thompson, Manitoba, we’re taking a lot of those same designs that we used in China, Korea and Zambia, and applying them there, despite the fact that it’s a totally different plant.”

Although the company’s work has taken on a decidedly international flavour in the past couple of years, Matusch never forgets that his business exists because local mining companies were willing to give him a chance.

“We originally cut our teeth over at Vale Inco’s old copper refinery before it shut down,” said Matusch. “There were a number of guys there who allowed us to compete with multinational companies for some smaller projects.

We won those and did them well. Through word of mouth, our reputation spread so that within five years, we were working on the other side of the world.”


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