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Paterson & Cooke pastefill firm opens Sudbury office

Turkey, South Africa, Nevada, Mexico: the list of destinations Rob Brown travels to for business may be expanding, but the North remains home.
Paterson and Cooke
Lab manager Ryan Francoeur prepares a sample for analysis at Paterson & Cooke in Sudbury. The Northern Ontario branch of the company, located in Sudbury, specializes in paste backfill services.

Turkey, South Africa, Nevada, Mexico: the list of destinations Rob Brown travels to for business may be expanding, but the North remains home.

Raised in Massey, just over an hour west of Sudbury, Brown has spent his career in the Nickel City, where he established the Canadian arm of Paterson & Cooke in March 2010 and opened the new Sudbury office this past spring.

The company, which specializes in paste backfill, has engaged mining's biggest names—Barrick, Goldcorp, Vale, Xstrata—and the work has found a global market.

“For being a small Sudbury group, we're working all over the world. You're not really limited to Sudbury,” Brown says. “Nowadays, you can work from almost anywhere, and Sudbury's a great place to live and work.”

A second Canadian office is located in Vancouver, and the company is on track to establish a third in Calgary in the coming months to serve the oil sands industry.

Specializing in mine pastefill, the company's services range from the study level though to feasibility to basic engineering. Paterson & Cooke additionally offers lab and operation support, including plant commissioning, startup, monitoring and troubleshooting.

The firm regularly presents courses on slurry pipeline design, thickening and clay slurry behaviour, and paste and thickened tailings. While some in the industry find it odd for a company to openly disseminate its knowledge, Brown believes it's part of Paterson & Cooke's appeal.

“If you're confident in what you do, there's no reason to be afraid of sharing your knowledge,” he said. “I think a lot of clients come to us because of that. They see in the courses and the work we do that we're some of the best people doing what we do, and we're confident.”

Unique to Paterson & Cooke's operations is its on-site lab, in which pastefill recipes are tailored to a client's needs. Having a lab at the ready allows the firm's engineers to test material and interpret the results as it arrives. The firm caters to all mineral industries, including potash, base and precious metals, and oil sands, and the resulting client report is a condensed and useful document.

“We try to be very efficient and concise with our reporting and in our designs: everything the client needs and nothing they don't need,” Brown said. “We realize our clients are busy, and no one has time to read something very thick. If it can be summarized accurately in a short report, that's the way to go.”

With a background in engineering, the Laurentian University graduate has worked in both construction and mining, and spent 12 years at Golder PasteTec (now Golder Paste Engineering and Design).

He struck out on his own after watching the rising popularity of pastefill, which conserves water and efficiently manages mine tailings underground. As permitting becomes more stringent, Brown believes pastefill offers miners a viable alternative to tailings management.

With few pastefill specialists in the North, Brown says Paterson & Cooke, which was founded in Cape Town in 1991, serves a niche market for companies seeking a firm that focuses on its strengths and delivers results that meet a high standard of professionalism.

The mining community has been supportive of the new venture. Brown borrowed office space offered by Matt Ward at Varis Mine Technology for the first year while he got established, and he said his contacts in the industry have led him to bring on talented employees who don't just view their work as jobs, but are keen to make a difference for their clients.

Brown is currently seeking to add to his staff of seven, but is taking his time filling the ranks.

“We spend a lot of time getting to know individual people because, ideally, they're going to stay with us for a long time,” he says. “I really think if you have good people and you do good work, the rest takes care of itself.”