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The Drift: Sudbury distributor shining a light on underground mining

X-Glo North America’s LED rope lighting enhancing safety across the North

In nearly two decades in mining supply sales, Don Bertrand has visited plenty of underground operations where the lighting was OK at best.

But a little over 10 years ago, he hit upon a product that illuminates underground spaces better than anything else he’s encountered, and now he's spreading the gospel to mines across the continent.

X-Glo North America sells its proprietary LED rope lighting to clients in the mining, tunnelling, and oil and gas sectors.

Bertrand cites its many benefits as increasing visibility and safety, operating more efficiently than traditional lighting, and, perhaps most importantly, easier use.

“We say you ‘set it and forget it,’” said Bertrand, general manager of the Sudbury-based company. “You basically install it, it’s up, and you walk away.”

Bertrand was working for OCP Construction Supplies when x-Glo first came on his radar. After selling the product for a number of years in that capacity, he decided to go out on his own, becoming the North American distributor for the product.

An x-Glo light strip looks similar to the kind of rope lighting you’d see in festive Christmas displays, or perhaps strung around your teen’s bedroom. But the x-Glo version is rugged enough to withstand harsh underground conditions.

Useful in either temporary or permanent applications, the lights are certified for up to 256 watts per strip, according to industry standards set out by Underwriter Laboratories (UL), and they can be plugged into any 110-volt power source for instantaneous use.

The colour and intensity of illumination is equivalent to noon-hour sunlight, and the light strips won't cast shadows.

Bertrand and his team will consult with clients on the best use of the product in determining how many lumens or foot-candles — a light measurement that equates to one lumen per square foot — are required for the space.

“Typically, anywhere that the area needs light, they can use this,” Bertrand said. “Our goal is to get (clients) to light the whole mine, but typically where they would use it is any high-traffic area.”

That includes the waiting area at the cage, refuge stations, lunchrooms, and mechanic bays.

In 2021, Bertrand introduced an accessory to the x-Glo line: the Visual Alert Control System (VACS).

“I’d had this idea since I saw the product 10 years ago about how to have a chasing light to show direction, so if there’s an emergency, the light goes from white to chasing,” Bertrand said. “I just didn’t know how to implement it.”

So it was fitting when he was approached about a collaboration by FiComm Technologies, a Sudbury-area tech company that makes a number of products for the industry.

FiComm wanted to tie its gas monitoring system to the x-Glo lighting to provide workers with a visual warning in the case of gas underground — if gas was detected, the lights would change from solid to chasing to alert workers to take precautions.

It was a successful partnership, and VACS was launched at the MINExpo tradeshow in Las Vegas, Nevada, that year.

With VACS enabled, lighting can switch from solid to chasing or flashing, and can also change colour. Options include red, green, and blue, but the controls are completely customizable, Bertrand said, depending on the preferences of the client.

One of the first customers to purchase a system was Thyssen Mining, which is currently undertaking excavation work on the Fermilab project in South Dakota, a neutrino research facility similar to the SNOLAB in Sudbury.

Thyssen is using the x-Glo lighting for tramming, Bertrand said. When material is being hauled through the cavern, the light glows amber; when traffic is cleared and it’s safe for walking, the light turns white.

A mine in British Columbia, which bought a system last year, uses it to help truck drivers navigate the mine portal, which can be difficult to see when the area becomes foggy in colder weather.

“If they know a truck’s coming in, they can actually change the colour to activate and say ‘There’s a truck coming down; don’t come up the ramp,’” Bertrand said.

In Northern Ontario, x-Glo systems have been installed at mines in Sudbury, Timmins, and near Marathon. Interest is growing, he said. 

Mining remains the company's primary industry, although Bertrand expects sales in tunnelling to grow exponentially over the next five years.

He's also working on developing new add-ons for the product line, based on feedback from clients, including one in collaboration with Northern College in Timmins.

Bertrand acknowledges that x-Glo lighting is priced higher than other underground lighting solutions on the market. But he contends that the benefits, especially VACS, pay for themselves in the long run, not the least of which is keeping workers out of harm’s way.

“That's the idea of the product,” he said. "To get people to safety.”