November 2009

Keeping the engine going

Fine-tuning the key to the specialized players of Sudbury's service and supply sector

By M. Eisner

In 2002, DMC Mining Services successfully sank an 18-foot diameter, concrete-lined ventilation shaft 3,370 feet deep at Vale Inco’s Garson Mine in Sudbury.

Greater Sudbury is a city redefined. With a population of just under 160,000 and a successful reclamation program underway, this “mining town” is an example of a workable symbiotic relationship between mining operators, their suppliers and the community in which they live.

Paul Reid, a business development officer with the city of Greater Sudbury, has lived in the area his whole life. In the last 30 years, he has witnessed a series of changes, from the greening of the city, to the growth and expansion of a globally placed supply industry. “Sudbury is a great place to live,” says Reid. “It’s a modern city with all the amenities in a great setting. There are about 300 lakes within the boundaries of the city and you would be hard-pressed to find land that hasn’t been reclaimed.”

During the last three decades, large mining companies began closing down some of their internal operations, creating a major shift in business practices. This led to the growth and development of a strong supply and service sector. “The supply sector was created in Sudbury when the mine companies started to concentrate on their core competencies,” explains Reid. “They started farming things out and that gave birth to a lot of firms, creating opportunities for other people.”

Today, there are more than 300 businesses from the supply and service sectors in the region, making them the city’s largest employer, hiring approximately 8,000 people. Even though that number is down 4,000 from a year ago due to the global economic situation, one of the city’s main business strategies is to continue developing this sector.

“We have a very large, diversified supply and service sector here,” says Reid. “We support the local association that promotes the suppliers in town, SAMSSA, and we work with various levels of government on trade and buying missions. The number one economic engine is the mining and supply sector. We work with them to attract them here.”

Making it work

With a 90-year history in the area, Terex supplies underground and surface drilling equipment and shaft jumbos, and manufactures jumbo drills. They service mining companies as well as the contracting, engineering and construction companies that support them.

Regional sales manager, Jim Laroche, says being located in Sudbury brings his company into the heart of the industry. “We have worked with everyone from Vale Inco to Xstrata, as well as companies such as Castonguay, Cementation and J.S. Redpath,” says Laroche. In an industry that is constantly shifting and changing, Laroche says one of the challenges he faces as a supplier is answering the specific needs of his clients and providing up-to-date machinery equipped with the latest technology. “We find that over the years we have increasingly been customizing equipment for our clients.”

As companies expand their exploration opportunities, their equipment needs change. Whether it’s going deeper into a mine where the ore zones are smaller, or the desire to expand cooling systems, take larger bulk samples or increase rod carousels, Laroche says the industry is becoming more sophisticated. Mine operators are requiring “extreme” data collection. Suppliers are answering that need by offering computerized equipment and developing machinery that takes into account the safety of the operator. “We developed a new product, the MK7 jumbo, based on the participation of 173 mines in North America,” says Laroche. “Some of that development came out of two key areas; maintenance and the health and safety of the operator.” That means a design that allows the maintenance person to service the equipment from ground-level without having to climb on the machine. It also means designing the cab ergonomics to put the operator into a climate-controlled environment with sound reduction, on a machine with an anti-vibration suspension.

Laroche states that there have also been accommodations in relation to cash flow. “We’re doing more leasing business,” he says. “Instead of companies having to put up the cash out front, they are able to lease. We’re also being asked to support equipment more, whereas in the past, mining companies were having their staff to support it.”

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