March/April 2011

Moving millions

Canada’s mining production in motion

By Dan Zlotnikov

Westshore Terminals, south of Vancouver, ships about 21 million tonnes of coal annually | Photo courtesy of Westshore Terminals

As a major competitor in the global mining arena, Canada relies on many strengths. There is, of course, the sheer enormity of the country’s mineral wealth, without which the industry could never have been conceived. There is also the network of training programs and educational institutions whose graduates are in such high demand, not only in Canada, but around the globe. A less-recognized, yet absolutely vital pillar of the Canadian mining industry is the extensive, hugely complex and constantly expanding transport network.

The globalization of trade now demands that raw materials move from pit to rail to port and then traverse oceans to feed the mills in Asia and Europe, whose economies are hungry for our metallurgical coal and ores. Industrialization continues to provide the means for hundreds of millions to eat more of the foods that we Canadians take for granted — foods that demand fertilizers this country produces to keep pace with that growing appetite.

Without a way to transport your product to the customer, though, you might as well have left it in the ground. Many of the major logistical challenges inherent in a supply chain are not readily apparent to the casual observer, yet must be solved or prevented by the carriers on a daily basis.

“I always like to say that we’re out there with oil cans every day to resolve the minor things, to make it flow as smoothly as possible to end customers,” says Steve Douville, director of distribution and logistics for Vale. “Our goal is to be invisible, to look like a plant has produced something and a salesman has sold it and away it goes.”

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