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Sudbury mining innovation centre plans world’s first underground exhibition

Mine supply vendors will showcase their equipment at action at NORCAT'S Mining Transformed show in September
Epiroc photo 4
Epiroc Canada is one of the mining equipment companies that will be taking part in the mining technology exhibition at the NORCAT Underground Centre in September.

Nowhere else in the world can you go to see state-of-art mining technology being put to work in an underground mine so that buyers and investors can check out the goods and services up for sale.

An event called Mining Transformed is currently being planned for Sudbury from Sept. 26-29 by NORCAT and will be the world's first tech exhibition in an underground operating mine.

Already the sellers have bought up all the available exhibition space at NORCAT''s Underground Centre, a mine located in Levack on the outskirts of the city.

NORCAT is a Sudbury-based technology and innovation centre geared to health and safety training and product development and assistance to companies predominately working in the mining industry.

Now the challenge is, how do you accommodate 150 visitors to the mine in three and a half days when you have to effectively give each person a whirlwind safety orientation, outfit them with regulation coveralls, safety-toe boots, belts, hard hats, safety glasses and hearing protection?

Don Duval, NORCAT's CEO, said safety has to be a key consideration.

"Given that we are doing this in an underground operating mine, you can appreciate the nuances around logistics and scheduling where we can't just have everyone underground wandering around. It has to be a very curated, scheduled tour of these technologies, just given the regulatory and safety environment that we know that we adhere to."

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Companies will have time slots to demonstrate their equipment, meet with investors and answer their questions. The time slots can vary from 45 minutes up to 90 minutes. 

"We will have dedicated supervisors, essentially chaperoning a cohort of up to six individuals, to meet that tech company underground to see the technology in working order,” Duval said.

“It's a chance for those tech company officials and mining company delegates to have a meaningful conversation for an appropriate amount of time.”

Because this is the first time anywhere that an event like this is being done, Duval said it has to be done right, not only in terms of safety but also in terms that work for the buyers and sellers.

Duval said while the number of visitors has been capped at 150 individuals, that number might be reconsidered once the organizers have a chance to examine all the logistics of chaperoning a large number of people underground.

Unlike a trade show conference hall, people cannot be allowed to stroll around at their leisure in a working mine.

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On the other side of that, Duval said the investors need the opportunity to see mining equipment in action and consider how that equipment could be used by their own companies. He said you won't see that at a trade show.

"The expectation that we're setting is that you'll have a good 45 minutes to an hour and a half as a cohort of up to six, to see the demo and then ask very detailed implementation or technology oriented questions about the applicability of what you're seeing to your mining operation. You can't do that in a hallway conversation."

The exhibition will involve live-action demonstrations of equipment and technical services at work. Duval said you won't see a group of mining people stopping by a table loaded up with brochures or PowerPoint slides on a laptop.

The success of the venture will depend on input from both the buyers and sellers, said Duval.

When asked if this could become a regular event, he chose his words carefully.

"Our intent will be to get feedback from both the buy side and the sell side to understand what worked, what didn't work,” Duval said. “You know, I have a hypothesis that out of this we will start to do these on a smaller scale on a quarterly basis themed on various technology areas.”

If the feedback is all positive, he said "absolutely" it will become an annual event in Sudbury.

Duval said the plan bodes well for Canada's brand as a mining innovator and leader. 

"If you want to see the future of mining, you’ve got to get on a plane, you’ve got to get in the car, and you physically have to come to the NORCAT Underground Centre. This is not a virtual event. It's not a trade show. It's not a conference. It is a place to see emerging tech demonstrated in a live environment. And we think that is really a powerful contributor to Canada's national leadership position for mining."