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Simulation company sees increasing demand

A small Sudbury firm is helping mining companies peer into the future to avoid costly mistakes.Labrecque Technologies creates computer models of mine operations before they are developed in order to analyze and solve any problems that may arise.

“Mining companies can spend billions of dollars on development projects and we can build that mine in the computer before any actual work is done to help them make really key decisions,” said company president Pierre Labrecque.

Those decisions can include mine design, sizing of the equipment fleet and sizing of bins and ore passes.

Labrecque has been doing simulation work for more than eight years. He started his own company in 2008 after working at a major engineering consulting company for six years. A year later, he hired Adam Kalviainen. Now, the two mechanical engineers are offering a niche service to the mining industry. Their clients range from juniors to large multi-national mining companies throughout the world. Most of the projects have been block cave mines that range in capacity from 40,000 to 160,000 tonnes per day.

Growing demand

“There is a growing demand for this type of work within the mining industry,” said Labrecque. “In terms of this technology, the mining industry has often been a little bit behind. The airline and manufacturing industries have been taking advantage of the type of analysis I do for a longer time. Now, simulation has become part of the feasibility studies that larger mining companies are doing.”

While most consulting firms have some staff trained to perform simulations, not many are focusing on mining.

“I can’t really say how many other people in the world are offering the same services we are, but I know it isn’t a lot,” he said. “Many companies are doing simulation work but they all don’t specialize in mining.”

Both Labrecque and Kalviainen enjoy their work. The software they use includes Arena by Rockwell Automation, and SimMine, which originates in Sweden. Labrecque is also the sole Canadian distributor of SimMine.

“We both get to build the mine on the computer,” said Kalviainen. “We have a layout which is the visual representation, and then the code is what makes things happen on the layout, such as making the equipment do all that it is supposed to. For instance, we can make the trucks go to a certain chute, and then drive to a crusher.”

While the simulation may be analogous to a video game, the work they do is integral to the future plans of the companies.

“These mines haven’t been built yet. They are future projects,” said Labrecque. “Our clients are relying on the analysis of our modeling to make multimillion-dollar decisions. We are helping them with tradeoffs in terms of design, and figuring out things like where the ore passes should go and what size trucks they should use.

“It has to be done right and it is taken very seriously. That is the whole point of using modeling to make these decisions that have huge financial impacts.”

It is difficult to make those decisions using only a spreadsheet since the simulated models can take into account variables such as equipment interference, the queuing of trucks, random breakdowns and random process times.

“The compounding effect of all these different dynamics is something that is just impossible to capture in a spreadsheet,” said Kalviainen. “The modeling we do is the closest thing you can get to operating your mine in real life before you actually build it.”

Inputs

Several days can be spent with clients ensuring they understand what is being built. The model can involve more than 1,000 inputs, which can be changed and tweaked. If a problem is encountered, options are discussed with the client to find a solution.

Problems can include an undersized fleet, bins that are sized too small, or traffic restrictions.

Their simulation work is also being used for research and development of new prototype mining equipment.

“Using simulation models, we are introducing the equipment into an existing mine and seeing how it is going to work and interact,” said Labrecque.

Word of mouth has kept the pair busy, and future plans include expansion.

“We are at capacity now and we are looking at getting more people,” said Labrecque.

www.labt.ca

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