NORCAT is planning a $4-million expansion at its Sudbury underground centre to meet growing demand for the development, testing and commercialization of new mining technologies.
Situated northwest of the city in the community of Onaping, the underground facility was established in 1997 at the former operating Fecunis Adit Mine, previously owned by Falconbridge (now Glencore).
Don Duval, NORCAT’s CEO, noted the organization is the only non-profit regional innovation centre globally to have an operating mine dedicated to helping startup companies develop, test and demonstrate emerging technologies in an operating mine environment.
The $4-million expansion calls for an addition of just over 12,000 square feet, which will include new offices for technology companies, demonstration space, and meeting rooms for buyers and sellers to conduct business.
“So you can envision a mining technology company and a mining company going to the underground centre, going into the operating mine, evaluating, looking at, examining emerging technologies that the mining technology is demonstrating,” Duval explained.
“When that is concluded underground you would then migrate to the surface operations in a vibrant technology environment where the mining technology company representatives and the mining company can discuss the technology.”
If all goes to plan, construction is slated to be complete by the end of 2019, and an official grand opening will be held in the spring of 2020.
The expansion will create new employment, but numbers were not immediately available.
Over the last few years, NORCAT has marketed the Onaping facility as a one-stop shop for mining technology and innovation, and business has been brisk, Duval said.
Now supporting more than 40 technology and innovation projects, he said demand is quickly outpacing the facility’s capabilities.
“We’re hosting, on average, one mining company per week, sending delegates to our facility to see, touch and feel emerging technologies that are not only poised to transform the global mining industry, but they’re seeking to better understand technologies that align and potentially address some of their innovation priorities as a company,” Duval said.
The expansion will be funded with capital from NORCAT and government partners, but Duval said the organization is still working on securing the funding.
The underground facility also offers skilled labour training in areas such as underground hard rock common core.
A larger physical space will complement the suite of new training programs NORCAT has been rolling out over the last few years, including the diamond drill common core program, which Duval said has experienced significant growth since its launch six months ago.
There’s also ongoing expansion of existing programs, such as the underground hard rock miner common core program, and the growth of existing programs to domestic and international markets.
In January, NORCAT announced it had opened a new training facility in Chile to serve clients and partners in Latin America, the innovation centre's biggest market outside of Canada. The organization also cut the ribbon on a new training centre in Thunder Bay last year.
As the mining industry continues to evolve, NORCAT is receiving ongoing interest from companies seeking development and training in new technologies, such as teleremote autonomous vehicles and underground communication infrastructure.
Duval said the centre will continue to adapt to meet that demand.
“We're listening and engaging with the global mining communities as well as the mining technology companies to better understand the training and development needs to ensure that both new and existing workers have the right skills, confidence, and competence to understand some of these emerging technologies that are beginning to transform the global mining industry.”