KPI Industrial Controls thrives by making mines safer
Electronic fence system keeps workers out of harm’s way
It’s been tough times in the mining industry over the last couple of years, but KPI Industrial Controls, a Sudbury mining equipment manufacturer, has achieved impressive growth by focusing on product innovation and skills training.
Kyle Bradley, president of KPI Industrial Controls, says his company has developed a series of new products to help mines operate safer and smarter. Those products have contributed to double-digit revenue growth at the company over the last two years.
“By developing new products and markets, we’re doing better despite the downturn in the mining industry,” Bradley said.
KPI Industrial builds, installs and maintains mining equipment, power systems and automation-management technology, including programmable logic controllers.
Bradley personally came up with an innovative electronic fence system. He says the problem with existing safety barriers is that any worker who chooses to take the risk can “push through” them. KPI’s system shuts down dangerous underground drilling with state of the art sensor technology.
Another KPI innovation is a portable inverter station, developed to give shaft maintenance crews more flexibility to work with power tools in locations that are difficult to access. The station is designed to provide crew and equipment with enough 110-volt electric power for an eight-hour shift.
KPI has also diversified its product line to tap broader markets with an extendible cover that stretches to fit all-terrain vehicles of different sizes. “The mining industry uses it to protect stored equipment, and snowmobile owners are going crazy over the cover because it’s easily carried on excursions,” Bradley said.
He funded his product development efforts with a loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). Bradley says the funding has allowed him to avoid depleting his company’s working capital.
“The loan gave us breathing space to innovate during tough times. We used the money to cover the costs of R&D and amortize them over a period of time. It allowed us to go after different markets and products.”
In addition to new product lines, Bradley invests heavily in developing the “technical smarts” of his 10 employees and used part of the BDC loan to fund extra training.
He says the combination of a skilled team and a reputation for innovation enabled KPI to land a lucrative contract servicing underground automation systems for a large mining company.
In partnership with a Las Vegas company, the next project on KPI’s books is to adopt LED technology to improve safety lighting on underground vehicles and safety barriers.
Bradley, a former telephone technician turned entrepreneur, believes a similar innovation strategy could help other companies weather the storm in the mining industry and position themselves for the recovery.
“KPI has always looked for ways to offer more efficient technologies to their mining industry clients,” said Cora-Lee Ratcliffe, manager of BDC’s Sudbury Business Centre. “Our loan just helped them to move to the next stage.”
Ratcliffe says it’s important for mining entrepreneurs to invest in innovation and skills training.
“Some companies hesitate to invest and tend to be reactive rather than innovative,” she said. “However, they may be holding back more than they should.”
“U.S. and other global competitors invest more than Canada in R&D and are better positioned for the future. We want our entrepreneurs to do the same, and more.”
In addition to loans, BDC offers advisory services to entrepreneurs, including advice on how to improve their operational efficiency and financial management.
Ratcliffe believes KPI’s success is living proof that an enterprise can grow in difficult times, with the right approach.
“Certainly in this case, I think the mantra innovate and thrive has applied very well.”
Tagged Bank of Canada, BDCs Sudbury Business Centre, Business Development Bank of Canada, Cora-Lee Ratcliffe, equipment manufacturer, financial management, KPI Industrial Controls, Kyle Bradley, Product innovation