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Taking Intelligence Underground


First-of-its-kind ore handling solution puts safety first at one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines

Mining companies are digging deeper than ever. And to maximize output, what starts as a pit mine often extends underground.

“As mines get deeper, extraction of valuable ore becomes more costly,” said Derek Meloche, manager of business development, Variant Mining Technologies. “In addition, safeguarding personnel from underground hazards is a critical concern.”

Located in the Sudbury basin in Ontario, Canada, Variant Mining Technologies specializes in solutions for underground hard rock mining. The company works to solve one of the industry’s biggest challenges – moving material underground safely and efficiently.

Opportunity at Massive Mongolian Mine

Recently, a leading global mining company engaged Variant Mining to solve an ore transport challenge for a copper and gold mine in Mongolia. The mining company began open pit mining at the site in 2011 and recognized the value that lay deep underground.

“In fact, this site boasts one of the largest known copper and gold deposits in the world,” Meloche said. “Specifically, the company approached us to design an ore-pass loading system for underground operations slated to begin in a few years.”

Upon completion, the underground mine is expected to produce 95,000 tonnes of ore per day, tripling the current production at the site.

Block Caving Challenges

Transporting ore underground presents significant challenges, depending on the excavation method used. Underground operations at the Mongolian mine will use the “block caving” method. In block caving, a large section of rock is undercut. The ore then collapses – or “caves” – gradually under its own weight.

The resulting rubble funnels through a series of vertical ore passes at various levels in the mine. A chute system is located at the bottom of each ore pass.

“The chute is a device that allows ore to be transferred safely to the haulage vehicles,” Meloche explained. “It controls the flow so haulage equipment can be loaded quickly and safely.”

Trucks collect the material from a chute at the haulage level and transport it to conveyance systems, which bring the ore to the surface.

If ore is not sufficiently controlled, loading material at the haulage level poses a significant safety risk to personnel. Potential hazards include chute failures, falling debris, uncontrolled run of muck and unexpected vehicle traffic.

Safety First

“Safety is the number one priority for this customer,” said Meloche. “They are focused on creating a productive mining environment that mitigates safety risk – and is an attractive place to work.”

The project is well aligned with Variant’s niche in the marketplace. Traditionally, underground ore chute systems have been viewed as steel fabrications, with very limited control. However, Variant brings control technology to the forefront to help make equipment safer, more efficient and more reliable.

A Two-Fold Control Solution

Successful operation of the ore loading system depends on the coordinated control of the ore chutes and haulage vehicles. Variant is charged with supplying the ore chutes – and a safety control system that meets functional safety requirements. To achieve a functionally safe system, in this case a system that meets SIL 3 ratings, the design considered the process that encompasses the bin, chutes and trucks.

The control system is built on a Rockwell Automation® platform featuring Allen-Bradley® Compact GuardLogix® safety controllers, Allen-Bradley POINT Guard I/O™ modules, and HMI based on Allen-Bradley PanelView™ graphic terminals.

The system is designed with a GuardLogix controller and HMI in each chute and aboard each truck. For fail-safe communication, the integrated system uses the CIP Safety™ protocol running on an EtherNet/IP™ wireless network.

“We have a history of working with Rockwell Automation during our design process,” Meloche said. “We’re a relatively small company developing state-of-the-art solutions, so we rely on the core competence of our larger group of companies and supply chain to support the development our solutions.”

Enabling Smart Technology

To optimize the system, Variant incorporated several technologies that are not new in other industries but new to underground mining. For example, the vehicle detection system in the chute loading area detects a truck’s presence and position – while RFID technology determines the vehicle model and type.

“This technology – and CIP Safety over wireless – allow operators in the truck cabs to control the chutes in a safer manner,” Meloche said. “The chute will not operate unless a haulage truck is present and in the correct position. Jeeps or other vehicle types cannot trigger operation.”

The system also includes fallen object protection. A gate at the end of the chute contains any loose rocks from the previous load to help safeguard approaching vehicles and personnel.

“And our system monitors the ore bins associated with each chute to make sure they don’t run empty,” Meloche said. “We keep material in the bins at all times to serve as a buffer – so ore falling 150 feet doesn’t come out of the chute like a rocket.”

On the mechanical side, Variant designed the chute with a large, 5’ X 10’ (1525 mm X 3050 mm) opening to improve throughput and minimize the risk for hang-ups.

Exceeding Expectations

Variant’s initial contract includes five systems. The final mine plan will have as many as 30 chutes distributed underground – and up to 40 surface and underground haulage trucks for loading.

“We tested the first system onsite here in Canada,” Meloche said. “We fully assembled the system and ran it for a month. The customer was very pleased with the results they saw at our facility.”

The initial system has shipped to Mongolia and is awaiting underground installation.

In addition to enhancing operator safety, the ore handling system is designed to optimize mine throughput. When installed, each chute is expected to achieve a maximum instantaneous flow rate of 10,000 tonnes per hour (tph). Variant anticipates the system will enable significantly better traffic control and equipment utilization than other systems on the market.

“Overall, mining companies are most concerned about safety – and productivity,” said Meloche. “Our safety-rated SIL 3 system is designed to improve both.”

This truck loading control system is currently patent pending.

SudburyROCKS will support the Northern Cancer Foundation with its 2020 marathon, with a new race date of May 31.

“We’re excited to bring the SudburyROCKS Marathon to a new date,” said Brent Walker, race director for SudburyROCKS, at a press conference at Health Sciences North on Tuesday. “We’re hoping it brings warmer weather, more runners and increased volunteering.

“We’re also very pleased to once again be working with the Northern Cancer Foundation with the race this year. With the help of our runners, we have an opportunity to put our best foot forward for local cancer care.”

During the last 14 years, SudburyROCKS has become one of northeastern Ontario’s most popular races and is Sudbury’s only Boston Marathon qualifier.

Last year’s race saw more than 1,800 runners and walkers take part.

“We are so pleased to be the charitable recipient of the SudburyROCKS Marathon committee again this year,” Anthony Keating, president and CDO of foundations and volunteer groups at Health Sciences North, said in a release. “Keeping an active lifestyle is an important piece of the cancer prevention puzzle, but another piece is raising funds for charity.

“In addition to participating in SudburyROCKS, we’d like to strongly encourage all walkers and runners to help raise funds for the Northern Cancer Foundation by asking their friends and families to make donations. Funds raised through this event support world-class research and care delivered at the Northeast Cancer Centre.”

For more information or to register for the SudburyROCKS Marathon, visit www.sudburyrocksmarathon.com.

Article by: Sudbury Star Staff

Variant Mining Technologies is calling it the biggest ore chute in the world. The Sudbury-based company said it built the chute for Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi mine— a combined underground and open pit copper mine in the Gobi Desert.

A chute is used to safely control the flow of rock from an ore pass to a truck, conveyor belt or rail car in an underground mine.

Derek Meloche, manager of business development and sales for Variant , said this project was the perfect match between what Rio Tinto wanted and what Variant could build.

“This system here is the first controlled, reliable, functionally safe truck loading system in the world,” Meloche said. “And that’s what Rio Tinto wants. It was kind of a perfect storm of the client driving exactly what they wanted for this particular project.”

Meloche noted this project has taken Variant Mining Technologies to a whole new level.

“Primarily [we’ve] been a . . . I’ll say a local, domestic type supplier dealing within Canada and a little bit of the United States,” Meloche said.

“This has really put us on the map as far as being recognized as a global supplier.”

A manufacturing shop in Greater Sudbury has created the largest ore chute in the world, which will soon be shipped out and installed in one of the largest copper and gold mining operations in the world, the Rio Tinto Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia.

The massive steel chute, as big as a house and with built-in safety features, was manufactured at Variant Mining Technologies in Lively. It is the prototype for several other chutes that will be installed at the mine in the coming months and years.

An ore chute is a device that allows chunks of rock (muck) to be transported by force of gravity from one level of the mine to another level. The chute is used to control the flow of muck, or waste rock, so that haulage equipment such as scooptrams, ore trucks or even underground rail cars can be loaded quickly and safely.

Variant’s website describes the company as a global leader in loading chute systems, which can explain why company designers decided to go so big.

“The size of the chute was driven by the size of the material they are actually processing and the tonnage that will be processed,” said Variant general manager Paul Chamberland.

Despite its size, Chamberland said the entire chute can be broken down into individual modules, making it easier to be moved. He added that the dismantled components can be transported down a mine ramp or loaded onto the cage in the mine shaft. That way the chute can be bolted back together and installed deep in the mine.

The project has been a few years in the making, according to Derek Meloche, Variant’s manager of business development and sales.

“So we started pursuing the client in 2016, which was our first trip to Mongolia,” said Meloche.

“Strategically, we believe that to conduct business in certain countries you need representation there to do it effectively. So we went over there with the intent of finding a partner, which we have found. We have a partner in Ulaanbaatar, which is Mongolia’s capital city.”

He said he was pleased that Ulaanbaatar is a large manufacturing hub with enough technical and industrial expertise to carry on the work.

“Our contract for Rio Tinto is to build five of these systems. We have four them being built in parallel to this one being built in Canada,” said Meloche.

He said Rio Tinto wanted the prototype put together in Sudbury so that all the functional testing could be carried out on such things as the electrical, mechanical and hydraulic engineering. He said that took place in February.

Meloche said there were challenges for Variant, not just in functionality, but also in safety designs.

“This will be the first of its kind,” Meloche said. “It is a patent-pending chute with the arc gate on the end of the lip. That is a fallen object protection for operators coming through the loading zone.”

Meloche credited Rio Tinto for putting such a high priority on safety that Variant developed new technological solutions to meet that need.

Chamberland said it was something that Variant anticipated.

“The design of this chute is all oriented towards safety. This a design we worked on for some time and basically it was the biggest selling feature with the client. We already had a design that was control-reliable and functionally safe, developed by the time this project came out for tender,” said Chamberland.

“So that is a pretty big challenge in the mining environment. There are a lot of factors that are difficult to predict. We have quite a bit of experience working in that environment with this product. So we had a pretty good understanding of what we were up against.”

Meloche said the project is a success for the Variant team and the hope is that the new chute will be adopted by other mines in Canada. Variant held an event in May to showcase the chute to a select group of mining professionals. He said mining insiders will be watching the project closely over the next few years to gauge the long-term success of the project.

“This is the early stages of this particular operation in Mongolia,” said Meloche. “By the end of the day, there will be 29 to 38 systems going into this particular mine over the next seven years. So we received the order for the first five, to develop the technologies and work out any kinks and find adjustments to make it technically perfect.”

From there he said Variant will continue to move forward on building the best mining chutes available.

Len Gillis is the editor of Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal. This story will appear in the September edition of that publication.

Article by: Len Gillis

A sun-soaked Naughton Trail Centre hosted their 8th annual Ionic Mountain Bike Tour Sunday, raising $39,000 for bladder cancer diagnosis and treatment at the Northeast Cancer Centre.

Since being introduced as a component of the Sudbury Fitness Challenge, the Ionic Mountain Bike Tour has attracted crowds of participants, representing a wide variety of ages and fitness levels.

It was this growing success and the sudden diagnosis of one committee member Ryan Lougheed, that inspired the Walden Mountain Bike Club to host the annual event in support of Bladder Cancer Canada and the Northern Cancer Foundation for the first time in 2018. Since then, in addition to sponsoring the community cancer centre, the event hosts representatives of Bladder Cancer Canada to discuss symptoms and screening of the disease.

Bladder cancer is the fifth-fastest growing cancer said Tannys Laughren, executive director of the Northern Cancer Foundation, which affected the lives of nearly 9,000 Canadians last year alone. In an effort to combat this growing problem, Laughren said 100 per cent of the proceeds from these past two events will go toward the purchase of equipment designed to detect and treat bladder cancer.

“It was important for us at the cancer centre to offer that technology.”

While Laughren said she has seen a steady increase in attendance over the years, she credits this to the centre’s pristine trails, which are maintained through a partnership with the Walden Mountain Bike Club and Walden Cross Country.

Maintenance of these grounds is no easy task according to Rusty Hopper, president of the Walden Mountain Bike Club, who said that every year the group logs over 800 hours grooming the area and hosting events such as the Ionic Mountain Bike Race. But it’s worth it.

“In order for mountain biking to take off the way it has, you need spaces that are set up so that people can come and expect the trails to be marked, the trails to be groomed, they know it’s safe,” said Hopper. “It’s a place they are guaranteed to come out and enjoy.”

Article by: Keira Ferguson, Sudbury.com

The Ionic Mountain Bike Tour 2019 is ready to hit to the trails at the Naughton Trail Centre this weekend in support of Bladder Cancer Technology at the Northeast Cancer Centre.

This will be the eighth year for the Mountain Bike Tour and the second year in a row that the proceeds will be donated to the Northern Cancer Foundation (NCF) for equipment that can help bladder cancer patients at the Northeast Cancer Centre.

Last year, this event raised more than $37,000.

Riders will hit the trails this Sunday, July 21, bright and early with registration opening at 7:30 a.m. at the Naughton Trail Centre, 1 Denis Ave.

The kids race is scheduled to get underway at 9 a.m. while the main race gets started at 10 a.m.

Information on how to register, race times, making a donation, volunteering and more can be found online at the Walden Mountain Bike Club’s website, www.waldenmbc.ca or at the NCF’s website www.ncfsudbury.com.

Article by: Sudbury.com Staff

We are very excited to unveil a whole new look; Ionic Engineering will now be known as Ionic Mechatronics.

For more than 20 years Ionic has been providing industrial automation services to a wide range of industries, but our client’s have struggled to understand exactly who we are.  We are engineers at our core, but there is some room for our brand to more accurately reflect the work that we do, and using the term mechatronics in our name goes a long way toward doing that.

Mechatronics is a branch of engineering that focuses on the engineering of both electrical and mechanical systems; it encompasses robotics, electronics, systems, controls, artificial intelligence and everything that moves. 

“By replacing the term Engineering with Mechatronics, we are making a clear statement to our customers that we build machines. It goes a long way to differentiate us from the dozens of firms that provide consulting engineering services.” says Andre Dumais, General Manager of Ionic Mechatronics.

Ionic Mechatronics is Northern Ontario’s premiere robotics integrator and machine builder. Servicing a wide client base around the globe, we specialize in building automated systems for heavy industry. We are deeply committed to improving our customers’ safety, productivity and profitability with innovative and practical automation. 

We are very proud of the team we’ve built over the years and look forward to further proving to industry that Ionic Mechatronics is the go-to team to solve their challenges as they relate to industrial mechatronics.

by: Northern Ontario Business Staff
Variant Mining Technologies is a leader in providing clients with muck circuit material handling solutions, solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges in moving material safely and efficiently, while remaining cost-competitive.

As an innovation-driven company with roots in an internationally recognized mining centre, their growth plan has always been focused on staying ahead of the curve by introducing new technologies to the industry.

“Our value comes from fostering a core belief in our people ensuring the success of clients with quality solutions and support,” said Derek Meloche, Variant’s manager of business development and sales.

During the recent downturn in the mining sector, when many other companies were cutting back, they invested in bringing this model to a global platform by developing like-minded international partners, knowing eventually there would be an upswing.

In less than 10 years, they’ve gone from being a small and predominantly local provider to a global platform, doing business in places like Chile, Mongolia and Australia, and it’s only the beginning of their expansion.

“We go out there and actively seek and develop our strategic partnerships so we can duplicate the successes from home,” Meloche said.

“It’s a process over proceedings and relationships. We want to be sure our partners are the right fit.”

In their business, it’s not just about selling to customers, it’s about forming partnerships to carry their brand, product line and after-sales service internationally. Every deal builds their reputation as a top choice to tier one mining companies for products and services.

Meloche added the Canadian Trade Commission has also been a great help with securing potential partnerships and promoting Canadian mine service companies overseas.

Pursuing business deals at a time when there was little business to be had, and sometimes no guarantees of projects getting off the ground, was risky, but they had to maintain their presence in the market.

The upside of being part of a project contract is there is often plenty of lead time.

Variant already has a reputation for responding quickly to tight deadlines, often in as little as four hours, for a service call.

However, they could have up to six months to deliver on an equipment order.

Going forward, the company is continuing with expanding their presence globally, targeting markets in Australia, South America and Russia, among others.

The company is seeing its biggest growth in the past year, and they are staying with the mantra that has worked so far: stay ahead of the curve.

Businesses from across Northern Ontario showcase their growth and success in this advertising feature.

SAMSSA

Variant Mining Technologies is now a proud member of SAMSSA.

samssa
Variant Mining Technologies is a leader in providing clients with muck circuit material handling solutions, solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges in moving material safely and efficiently, while remaining cost competitive. As an innovation driven company with roots in an internationally recognized mining center, our growth plan has always been focused on staying ahead of the curve..

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