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Sample prep lab opens in Dryden

An analytical services company has opened a sample preparation lab in Dryden, adding to its network across the North.
Act Labs sample
Actlabs started in Thunder Bay with a sample prep lab.

An analytical services company has opened a sample preparation lab in Dryden, adding to its network across the North.

Activation Laboratories (Actlabs) opened the facility the first week of April and it will employ 10 to 15 people once it is “fully ramped.”

“Depending on how it does this year, there is a potential for expansion next year and it would be a full gold lab,” said Ryan Mackie, regional Northern Ontario manager for Actlabs.

In 2008, the Ancaster-based company established a lab in Thunder Bay, followed by a sample preparation facility in Geraldton the following year. That lab was then expanded to a full-service laboratory. In 2010, the company put in full labs in Timmins and Red Lake and then added 39,000 square feet in Thunder Bay. The 2011 expansions in Northern Ontario total $5 million.

“This is the business model we are taking now,” Mackie said. “Instead of having one big facility far away from our clients, we are establishing the smaller ones in communities where there is mining activity because it is better for us and our clients.

“It is more cost efficient and serves the clients better because it is a lot easier for them instead of having to ship samples 500 and even 2,000 kilometres away.”

Some samples prepared in Dryden are shipped to Thunder Bay, for same-day delivery, while others are handled at its main lab in Ancaster.

In Thunder Bay, there are about 130 employees while Timmins, Geraldton and Red Lake all employ about 30 people each.

An expansion in Timmins is planned for later this year and an additional 20 employees will be required.

“We just finished our expansion in Thunder Bay and we are undertaking another large one as well,” said Mackie.

Robotics will be added to the facility to allow for higher-end instruments to undertake lithogeochemistry for rare earth elements.

“There are rare earth deposits throughout Northern Ontario and over the last year and a half, they are becoming a very popular commodity,” Mackie said.

China supplies more than 95 per cent of the world's rare earth elements and it has indicated it will be cutting back on exports.

“There is a large demand for them and China is reducing exports so it is driving the price up,” he said.

The elements are used in products such as fuel cells, flat screen TVs, industrial magnets, hybrid vehicles and electronics.

“We are the only lab in Northern Ontario offering this analysis,” he said. “Other labs could prepare the samples but they would have to be sent to Toronto, Vancouver or the U.S. to have it completed. Our clients here can have the analysis completed where they are exploring.”

Once the robotics are installed at the Thunder Bay facility, another 10 jobs will be created. It is expected the work will be completed by June.

“By automating part of the process, we can be a little bit more accurate and handle a higher volume,” Mackie said. “The robotics are similar to what is on an automotive assembly line but they do analytical work instead of making cars.”

Finding employees in the North hasn't been a great challenge for the company. In Thunder Bay, Mackie said there hasn't been a month where Actlabs hasn't been hiring due to the expansion and growth occurring at the facility.

“The smaller communities like Red Lake and Dryden tend to be more difficult to find people and if we don't find them locally, we advertise outside the area. We always want to hire locally first but we have had some people relocate.”

Actlabs has facilities in northwestern Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and B.C. as well as Australia, Africa, Chile, Greenland, Guyana, Mexico, Mongolia and Venezuela.