Sudbury is moving too slow for mining technology and change
An expert on Canadian mining said the rate of technological change and improvement in Sudbury’s mining industry is so “painfully slow” that mining in Sudbury is in real danger of losing out on significant business opportunities.
That’s the assessment of Doug Morrison, the president and CEO of CEMI (Centre of Excellence for Mining Innovation) who presented his case this week to the Sudbury branch of the CIM (Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum). His presentation was focused on the future of mining in Sudbury.
Morrison said after more than 30 years in the mining industry, he regards the future of Sudbury as a global mining technology centre. But he said serious change is needed.
Morrison said the mining industry goes through change cycles where industry learns to adapt to new procedures and technologies in order to do the job better. He said Sudbury was leading that change in the early 1980’s but since then, it has just not kept up.
“I think part of our problem is partly complacency. We think we’re in a really great place. How bad can it be?” Morrison told the audience at Dynamic Earth.
Morrison said Sudbury went through “a brutal process” in the early 1980’s where Inco and Falconbridge shut down several mines when it became apparent they could not survive economically using the old equipment that dated back to the Second World War, such as slushers and mucking machines, with a lot of the machines powered by compressed air.
Morrison said there were ideas and options for change such as diesel mining and bulk stoping and other processes using fewer workers.
“In actual fact they didn’t do any of those things fast enough and in 1982 every single one of these 18 mines was closed. Zero production. Closed. With no date as to when they’re going to re-open,” Morrison recalled, referencing 12 mines owned by Inco and six owned by Falconbridge.
“You can imagine what impact that would have on this town,” he added.
“I’d only been here for six months and all of sudden every single mine is closed. Now they did actually reopen less than a year later, but nobody knew that when they closed them down,” Morrison continued.
He said the message was driven home that mining had to change to something that was new and more effective. He said that’s what it took to get Sudbury back on its feet.
“Unfortunately, since then, we haven’t changed it significantly,” said Morrison.
He mentioned that things such as remote-controlled equipment and tele-remote equipment was all in operation before 2000.
“This is not moving very quickly. And sooner or later somebody is going to realize we have to do something more drastic if things are going to change faster,” said Morrison.
He also spoke about ways of improving the mine backfill system to recovered months and even years in production time.
He said ways are also needed to shorten the mining cycle of drill-blast-muck. Morrison said there has been a dreadful decline in performance in the traditional mining cycle despite the fact that Canadian mines have been using modern equipment in the past 25 years. He said the rate of advance in a mining drift has become very slow.
“Look at the decline in performance over those years at a time when we were using the biggest, most sophisticated, most expensive equipment the mining industry has ever seen. And we’ve gone from 12 to 10, to eight to four, to less than three metres a day,” Morrison revealed.
“And going slow kills orebodies because time is one of the most valuable commodities you have,” he said.
“And if somebody else is not wasting their time, while you are wasting yours, they will take advantage of that,” he added.
Morrison said CEMI has been working on the creation of a new canopy style of mining, where the workers do their bolting, screening, shot-creting, mucking and drilling all beneath a sliding canopy, allowing different workers to do their job simultaneously. He said it is a big time saver.
Morrison said none of the mining functions can be done on a lesser scale, but the time factor can be compressed by having more than one job done at the same time, under the canopy.
“We need to be bringing in advanced manufacturing techniques into our business,” said Morrison. He said mining companies need to look at other industries to do things better.
“If you took anybody from any of the car plants in Ontario and took them underground in our mines, they would be absolutely horrified at the amount of time we waste underground waiting for stuff to get to where it is supposed to be,” he said.
“Sooner or later all of the new technology is going to be done by somebody. If it is not done by us in our global technology centre, it is going to get done by somebody else,” said Morrison.
“Because everybody else has exactly the same problems we have. And they’re going to try to solve those problems just exactly this way. Either we in this town and the people who make these changes happen, or somebody else does, and they eat our lunch,” said Morrison.
He said it is a far better thing to create and develop technology in Sudbury and have others come here to buy it, than to watch others create new technology and have to buy their products.