By Ian Ross
Ask Ron Miller the secret of his staying power in the highly competitive mine equipment market and he sums it up as being innovative and flexible to customer needs, taking a few calculated risks here and there and literally going the extra mile for clients.
Even if it means sending mechanics to a mine in Tanzania to service one of their underground vehicles, he will do it if that is what it takes to satisfy the customer.
“We would have no growth at all if we didn’t export,” says Miller, president of North Bay’s Miller Technology Inc. and RHM Equipment, who estimates about 30 per cent of their equipment line leaves Canada to the U.S. and overseas.”
Miller Technology, which started out 23 years ago as a three-man operation in his garage, today employs 30 people at their Seymour Street shop and at a new sales office on Ferris Drive with a total combined space of 20,000 square feet.
“Almost every mine in Canada knows us and has bought something from us over time,” says Miller, 56, who counts Inco, Falconbridge, Cameco and several potash and smaller mine operations among his regular clients.
Very much a family affair, one son, Chad, heads up the sales and marketing division of its underground equipment, while the other son, Kent, oversees the engineering department.
Miller, a former chief designer with Jarvis Clark, a forerunner company to mining equipment giant Sandvik Tamrock, started his own business in 1979 rather than end up caught up in some management and philosophical changes in the company.
When the city and neighbours began complaining about his diesel tractors “making a lot of noise,” he shifted activity to his present site on Seymour in 1985 with a 3,000-square-foot shop and warehouse.
The company’s “bread and butter” has always been manufacturing or modifying underground personnel carriers, a process that began with a four-wheeled ‘Mine Kart’, which Miller’s describes as a “overgrown golf cart,” before eventually expanding into other multi-functional utility carriers.
Rather than go head-to-head with mass producers like John Deere and Caterpiller, Miller Technologies worked out a deal to buy Toyota Underground Landcruiser cabs and chassis and specially outfit them with accessories to suit customers needs. Miller estimates about 90 per cent of the equipment they sell are custom builds in some fashion.
They also operate a spinoff company, RMH Equipment, which sells Komatsu Forklifts, JCB heavy equipment and a snowmobile trail groomer.
However, the design wheels at Miller Technology’s continue to turn with their latest innovation - a high lift-capacity, multi-purpose fork lift and utility vehicle with front and back attachments.
They also manufacture a variety of ancillary equipment for the application of shotcrete, cable bolt installation, explosives loading, electrical cable handling, road maintenance and rock drilling.