Saskatchewan’s mining industry is booming. The three current
potash producers have all been busy adding capacity, and both BHP
Billiton and K+S are pressing ahead with their own projects. Likewise,
uranium miner Cameco intends to add another 20 million
pounds to its global output by 2018, much of which will come from
its projects in the Athabasca Basin. But the outlook has not always
been so positive for the two sectors, and it was with this history of
booms and busts as a backdrop that Saskatoon hosted the Maintenance
Engineering / Mine Operators’ Conference.
“Maintenance needs to be good during the lean years,” Cameco’s
Dave Bronkhorst told those assembled for the panel discussion that
opened up the technical sessions. The vice-president responsible for
Cameco’s McArthur River, Key Lake and Millennium operations said
that commitment to sustained operational excellence must come
from the most senior levels. If assets are neglected, he cautioned, the
opportunity to capitalize on a rise in prices and demand can be
delayed or lost entirely if the facilities cannot match the capacity
The challenge of building human resources capacity in a
province undergoing a growth spurt also drove the conversation.
“You have to have a compelling reason to have people
join your company,” said Gary Haywood, Golden Band
Resources’ COO. He also stated that employee turnover is
Bronkhorst added that resisting layoffs during a downturn
may not be enough to preserve skills. “It is hard to keep people
if they do not have enough to do,” he said.
Developments and lessons learned at potash and uranium
operations commanded a large share of the technical session
presentations that were devoted to mining and milling, maintenance
and reliability, safety and environment, and people and
productivity. However, the oil sands and hard rock operations,
as well as the developing gold and diamond sectors in
Saskatchewan, also added to the event’s “Back to Basics” theme.
MEMO 2011, held at TCU Place in Saskatoon, included a
trade show with 72 exhibiting companies, and the mining
education outreach event M4S. Students from more than 60
schools attended M4S and explored interactive pavilions
designed to give them a better understanding of the scope
and potential of career opportunities in the mining, minerals,
metals and materials sectors.
The success and growth of MEMO has created a number of challenges
in organizing the annual event. To ensure maintenance
engineers and mine operators will be well-served by the location
and organization of future conferences, CIM societies, partnered
with CIM National office, will use the coming year to plan for the
next decade of MEMO conferences. The conference will be put on
hold for 2012, and the next one will be in 2013.