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Vale Sudbury opens door on its high-tech operations centre

Hundreds of residents attend open house to see what the future holds for Sudbury’s largest mining company
Vale's Integrated Remote Operations Centre in Sudbury ( photo)

Hundreds of Sudbury residents got a close-up look June 20 at how the largest mining and refining company in Sudbury is moving forward with new technology.

The event was the annual Vale community open house, an event that had been cancelled for a couple of years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The venue was Vale's North Atlantic operations headquarters building in Copper Cliff, also known as the former engineering building.

One of the more popular displays at the event was the tour of Vale's Integrated Remote Operations Centre (IRoC) which takes up a significant area of the building.

Because the technology is new, and because much of the technology is proprietary, no photography or video recording was allowed there.

In a large open area of several hundred square metres, the walls are dominated by large graphics with signs indicating the various Vale mines in large block letters — CREIGHTON — COLEMAN — COPPER CLIFF — TOTTEN — GARSON.

Beneath each was a series of large flat screen televisions with numerous charts and diagrams showing various mining operations in real time.

Other flatscreens had multiple live shots of actual tunnels and mining areas where work was underway, again in real time.

Christine Gasteiger, superintendent of the IRoC, explained how the centre works as a troubleshooting and problem solving hub for any of the Vale mining operations.

"So we really support the mines and being able to achieve the best day every day. And so anybody who's delayed, they give us a call. And we kind of spring into action and try to mitigate the impact of that delay. If somebody can't find something, we help them find it. If they can't find a print (out), we kind of run that down for them and send it to them in the field so that we can eliminate some of that downtime," she said.

In days gone by, if a miner showed up at a work heading and some equipment was missing or if the proper tools had not been provided, it could take a long time, sometimes hours, before tracking down a supervisor or somehow getting information back to surface that there was a problem.

Gasteiger said that's old news.  

She gave the example of a miner arriving at a work heading in the Coleman Mine only to discover he has the wrong print-out for a ground control plan. She said the solution is to call IRoC, which then sends a fresh print to the supervisor, who has a tablet. There is a printer in the underground refuge station. A fresh print is produced and the miner can go back to work.

"So you know, from here, we're sending a print to Coleman mine, 6,000 feet underground, 60 kilometres north of here.”

Visitors to the event were also able to board a shuttle bus for a tour of the nearby Vale greenhouse, also in Copper Cliff. It's where the company is producing thousands of tree seedlings as Vale continues to contribute to the regreening of Sudbury with a tree planting project.  

The Vale greenhouse is also where Copper Cliff residents can take part growing their own produce in a local community garden

Mine rescuers were also at the open house showing off several of the trophies that Vale mine rescue team members took home from the all-Ontario competition, held just last week.  

Glen Duffy, a third-generation mine rescuer originally from Porcupine, and Vale's emergency response lead in Sudbury, was pleased to reveal that Vale won several awards for such things as team firefighting and team special equipment-rope rescue, along with several individual awards. 

Also, over the years Vale mine rescue teams have been named the best in Ontario several times. Visitors were impressed with the scope and breadth of rescue work that mine rescuers take training for along with the fact they're all volunteers.  

Vale mine rescuers were the toast of the industry when they helped 39 miners get safely back to surface at Totten Mine in 2021 when the main shaft was damaged and put out of commission. Mine rescuers used rope rescue techniques to help hoist dozens of tired miners who had been underground for a day and a half.

Also at the open house was a display area, called diverse learning, Vale millwright Dan Jeanveau invited people to try their hand at applying nuts and bolts to a puzzling metal template. 

Jeanveau said it wasn't a matter of speed but instead a way to let people get creative in how they approach the device and complete the puzzle. He said it was the kind of thing that could inspire people to think about working in the trades. 

Vale communications spokesperson Rachel Meehan said the open house attracted hundreds of city residents, and although there was a lull in the mid-afternoon, she said it picked up before the supper hour.

Meehan said in many cases Vale employees who were going off shift were excited to bring family members out to the open house to show off  

In other cases, said Meehan, many visitors used the open house to drop off their employment resumés. 

Visitors were also able to learn about the company's short-term and long-term mining projects in the Sudbury area. These included the Copper Cliff Pit project, the 114 Orebody project and the Stobie Pit for the short term, and the Creighton Mine Phase 5, the Copper Cliff Mine and the Nickel Rim South Extension (joint venture) in the long term. 

Those projects have been outlined in detail in many local news reports and show that Vale will be spending billions of dollars in the next decade to upgrade and expand Sudbury mining operations. 

Len Gillis covers the mining industry as well as health care stories for