BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
Out of his own idea, Norbert Hoffmann created a unique niche in the mining industry, which has in turn spread over the whole planet.
Hoffmann, chief executive officer for Novenco Consultants Ltd., came to Canada in 1963 from Germany where he was a specialist in reinforced concrete, and also a mason.
“I came to Canada looking for adventure,” Hoffman says.
In 1968 Hoffmann got involved in masonry and building contracting in Canada. In 1980 he purchased a sandblasting and painting company and became involved in the industrial bricklaying refractorie business, working on furnaces in the smelters. In 1990 the refractorie business grew and he started doing business offshore, supplying bricks and mortar to new acid plants around the world. By 1993 he had developed a new process for creating polymer concrete hybrid tanks out of a secret formula he created over 20 years ago to hold highly corrosive sulphuric acid.
“I educated myself and through trial and error developed the formula used today,” Hoffman says.
Hoffmann dabbled with various blends of polymers, fiberglass resin and concrete before he came up with the winning formula. His vision was to replace the high-maintenance steel- and rubber-lined or lead-lined concrete tanks the mines were using, which leaked. His formula corrected the problem.
Novenco has made and installed hundreds of tanks since his first tank was installed in 1992.
“Those tanks installed in 1992 are still going strong.”
Novenco has one competitor, based in Belgium.
“Our tanks are better because we use a superior formula,” says Hoffmann. “Number one, they do not leak, and they are tough because they can stand up to a lot of abuse.”
The tanks have been installed all over Ontario, North America and the world, and receive good reception from customers.
“Our tank sets the standards,” says William Bacon, sales representative/ refractory specialist.
“We are a small company, but continue to grow and grab a market share based on the quality of our tanks,” says Bacon.
In early February, Novenco received an order for another 80 tanks from Inco Ltd.
Falconbridge’s Kidd Creek zinc and copper refineries are changing all their tanks over to Hoffman’s unique tanks.
The tanks are produced in a range of sizes to accommodate all needs.
“We made a tank 76 feet long, 14 feet wide and five feet high,” says Hoffmann.
The family-run business has a manufacturing plant in the Valley East Industrial Park and a shop in Timmins run by Hoffmann’s son.
There are about 20 employees in Sudbury and an additional 20 in Timmins. During mine shutdowns the number increases to about 100 employees.
Hoffmann, a self described modern day socialist, travels the world in search of new markets. He was recently in Vancouver talking with a Chinese delegation to expand his market into China, Russia and Indonesia.
“They want me to license them to work with them to use our technology and have our people go over there and train their people.”
International business is nothing new for Hoffmann. He has been doing business in Germany since 1983, buying acid resistant materials like bricks, mortars and coatings to ship all over the world.
“We can not sit in our building waiting for Inco to come calling,” says Hoffmann, adding he respects the way business is carried out in Germany.
“Over there, when a company does well, everybody working there does well.”
Besides the tanks, Novenco produces corrosive-resistant floor and wall coatings. They also do concrete remediation and would like to expand the refractorie division further.
Novenco has an on-site test lab, which is an important component to the business.
“It is vital because it helps us with quality control and research and development,” says Bacon. “It makes sure we are putting out a consistently good product.”
Novenco works actively with the government and Laurentian University associate professors with polymer backgrounds, to advance their products. The partnership helps improve the strength and design of the formula.
“We need those little Einsteins from the university,” says Hoffmann. “In tests we can see how, why and where the concrete failed.”
Hoffmann also developed a high-strength fiberglass reinforcement to replace steel rebar used in concrete wall and bridge construction.
“It is a lightweight and non-corrosive alternative,” says Hoffmann. “You will not find this stuff in your local corner store.”
Novenco is always on the look out for new markets for its products.
“Anything with corrosive environments counts.”
The secret formula remains under tight security at the manufacturing shop and will remain that way, he adds.
“We are just like the Pentagon here,” says Hoffmann as he points to the barb-wire fence enclosing the building.
Hoffmann is planning a 100-foot addition to the existing 5,000 square-foot building next year to accommodate more growth.