February 2012

Back to basics

Maintenance engineering and mine operators connect in Saskatoon

By Ryan Bergen

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 required.

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 inevitable.

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.
Post a comment


PDF Version