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Underground test centre a beehive of activity

The NORCAT Underground Centre in Onaping, 45 kilometres north of Sudbury, is an ideal venue for testing new equipment and technology for the mining industry.
The Norcat Undergound Centre, the former Fecunis Mine, is accessed via an adit, has two kilometres of underground workings and eight headings.

The NORCAT Underground Centre in Onaping, 45 kilometres north of Sudbury, is an ideal venue for testing new equipment and technology for the mining industry. The former Fecunis Mine is accessed via an adit, boasts two kilometres of underground workings and has undergone extensive upgrades in the last few years.

“We have one of the largest mining supply sectors right here in our backyard,” said Jason Bubba, NORCAT director of training and development. “A lot of these companies are developing products to be used in an underground environment, but it’s inherently difficult to test them in operating mines. That’s what makes our Underground Centre such a valuable resource.

“If a company runs into a problem with its product, they can fix it, come back, test it and then bring it to market.”

The fact that it’s accessible via an adit is a huge advantage, said Bubba, because companies don’t have to worry about cage times or the size of the equipment being tested.

“They can have a drift or a section of the mine for a day, a week, a month, whatever they need.”

Companies using the mine read like a who’s who of the Sudbury area mining supply sector, including MacLean Engineering, Penguin ASI, Joy Global, Clickmox Solutions, Mansour Mining, TesMan, Symboticware, Fuller Industrial, Boart Longyear and Maestro Mine Ventilation.

The mine has been equipped with a new ventilation system with heated air for more comfortable working conditions in winter, an air monitoring system, new men’s and women’s drys, and office facilities.

“People doing technology testing at the mine have a nice, clean environment where they can go at the end of the day, shower, and change into street clothes,” said Bubba.

They can rent fully equipped office space with printers and WiFi, get on their computer, check their email and return phone calls without having to travel back to Sudbury. There’s also a boardroom within the mine that’s available for meetings.

Several companies use the NORCAT Underground Centre as a showcase for their products. Maestro Mine Ventilation, for example, has installed its air quality monitoring system and Marquee Display showing air quality readings, K4 Integration has supplied a cutting-edge digital tag-in board, Halo Solutions has brightened up the mine with its LED strip lighting, and Cisco Systems has donated a heavy-duty mine-wide WiFi system.

“Companies that install their technology in the mine for demonstration purposes are welcome to bring their customers to us,” said Bubba. “As a benefit, we get to use that technology.”

In some cases, a company will bring a piece of equipment to the Underground Centre solely for the purpose of photographing it in a realistic mining environment.

In addition to using the mine as a technology testing centre, NORCAT conducts hard rock common core training where new or reassigned workers learn how to drill, blast and muck.

Trainees are either mining company employees making a transition from surface to underground work environments, new workers who have left the oil patch in Western Canada in the hope of breaking into the mining industry, First Nation youth, or recent grads.

The mine has a several refurbished load-haul-dump machines and a scissor lift truck, as well as a supply of jacklegs and stopers. There’s no ore being produced, but it looks and sounds like an operating mine, which suits companies testing their products, said Bubba.

>Sometimes, they need to test their technology in an area that’s dirty, with equipment moving around and people in there. They want that reference-able environment, not just the rock. They want the activity that’s going on in the mine as well. That’s where we’re unique. I don’t know of another mine in Canada or North America that will do this type of technology testing.”