March/April 2006

The Iron Ore Company of Canada

By C. Chen

Labrador City mining operations


The Iron Ore Company of Canada is the largest producer of iron ore pellets in Canada with mining and processing facilities in Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador, a port in Sept Îles, Quebec, a 418-kilometre railway connecting the two, and a corporate office in Montreal. IOC has enjoyed a long and successful history, celebrating its billionth tonne sold in 2004 and its 50th year of operations in 2005.

IOC’s 50th year also proved to be its most successful. The company set around 30 production records with the highlight being annual pellet production of 13.3Mt – more than 10 per cent higher than the previous best. At the same time IOC had its best safety year ever, reducing its injury rate by more than 20 per cent. These achievements have been made possible by the hard work of IOC’s 1,700 employees, who increased their productivity by more than 10 per cent in 2005 after putting in place a new collective agreement in the previous year. IOC has invested in providing its people with world-class equipment and replacing and refurbishing much of its 50-year-old infrastructure. It also embarked on an ambitious business improvement program in 2001 (called Renewal) to reduce costs and improve operating efficiency. “A lot of what we’ve been doing allowed us to get these incremental increases, and at the same time reduce our costs,” said Terry Bowles, IOC’s president and CEO since 2001 after Rio Tinto took over majority ownership of IOC in 2000. “Now that we have made good progress on this, we are turning our attention towards expansion.”

It all starts in the mine where IOC purchased three new Komatsu 830E haul trucks to add to its fleet of 16, which allows IOC to mine some 50 million tonnes of material each year. The trucks dump ore into loading pockets where it is fed into the automated electric train system (known as the ATO) and hauled 10 kilometres to IOC’s processing facilities. Over the last three years, IOC has upgraded to a new digital control system for the ATO, overhauled loading pockets, and replaced much of the track.

Ore from the ATO is crushed and fed into the concentrator, which produced 16.4 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate in 2005. IOC is improving the concentrator’s ability to recover iron from its ores by replacing eight spiral lines and upgrading the magnetite and hematite recovery plants. All of this will lead to higher concentrate production over the next few years.

Most of this concentrate is fed into the pellet plant where it is mixed with additives, and fired in six big furnaces (or induration machines) to produce iron ore pellets.IOC’s record pellet production in 2005 has been all the more remarkable as it was achieved without significant investment to expand the pellet plant. Improvements to operating and maintenance practices have increased equipment reliability and throughput, allowing the pellet plant to produce more pellets than ever before,and almost one million tonne more than its rated capacity of 12.5 million tonnes, with essentially the same infrastructure.

The pellets and remaining concentrate are transported to the port in Sept-Îles along IOC’s 418-kilometre railway from where it is shipped around the world through the deep-water, year-round port. At any given time, there are six or seven trains of up to 210 cars in length running on the railways, which take around 50 hours to complete a round trip. These trains transport merchandise, materials, and employees, and are an essential link between Labrador City, Wabush, and Sept Îles. IOC is currently commissioning seven new AC4400 locomotives, which will improve efficiency by allowing longer trains (up to 240 cars) operate more reliably in the harsh winter conditions, and require less maintenance.“This investment will considerably increase IOC’s transport capacity and increase the profitability of its production operations,” said Bowles.

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