Showcasing the newest in high-tech and innovative mining technology has become stock-in-trade for the NORCAT Underground Centre, which is a live underground mining operation in Onaping, Ontario, part of the City of Greater Sudbury.
It is where NORCAT is currently constructing a new $4.5-million 13,000 square-foot surface building at the centre in order to meet the growing demand for NORCAT’s ability to demonstrate new technologies in action and to provide the amenities to the growing number of visitors.
“We are quite unique in the world. We are the only place where small, medium and large international technology companies can use the Underground Centre as a place to develop and test and a place to demonstrate and showcase technologies that these companies believes are poised to transform the global mining industry,” said Duval.
Duval said for more than 15 years the underground centre has proved its worth time and again as mining equipment buyers come to see new equipment in operation in a real mining environment before making a decision to invest in that new technology.
“They want to be able to see it, touch it and feel that technology in an operating mine,” he said.
Duval added that NORCAT plays host to 50 delegations every year to groups of innovators and buyers who want to see equipment being tested or demonstrated. He said the demand for the service has far exceeded the capacity to serve visitors. Duval said this includes amenities such as a dry, showers change-rooms and meeting rooms for visitors who have spent time underground.
“We don’t have enough surface operations to provide a place for the buyers and the builders to convene after they’ve been underground. They’ve seen the technology, they have had technical discussions. They then want to migrate that discussion to a meeting room. They want to have lunch and to get business done.”
In addition, Duval said some of the visitors are on site for longer periods as they continue to work on continual refinements and product improvements. They become tenants at NORCAT and lease out office space where technology companies can play host to technology buyers.
Duval said NORCAT also specializes in skilled labour training and development for the mining industry. He said the market forecast indicates significant growth to the point that NORCAT needs additional spaces for things such as lunchrooms, showers and drys.
Duval said the new facility is designed to meet the increased demands for roughly the next 10 years.
He said the new building has a total of 11 new offices and already three of them have been leased by mining technology companies.
“They see value in having a permanent presence at the Underground Centre because they’re heavily investing in new R&D technology and/or they have a dedicated resource that they want on site,” he explained.
Duval called it “place based innovation” meaning that for people in technology and innovation the NORCAT centre is the place to see and be seen.
Currently the underground workings comprise nearly three kilometres of drift said Duval. But that is ever increasing as there are nine working headings where drilling, blasting and mucking takes place on a regular basis. The new building is expected to be completed in May.