Innovative products and enhanced customer service are just a couple of reasons why Schauenburg Industries Ltd. of North Bay continues to be a success story in Northern Ontario’s mining service and supply sector after half a century in operation.
The company has been part of the North Bay industrial scene since 1969 and was set up in that city to deliberately provide ventilation solutions and quick transportation access to Northeastern Ontario’s mining operations not only in the nearby Sudbury Basin but also to the mining camps along the northern Highway 11 corridor.
Managing Director Don Croteau (P.Eng) said the company’s 50th anniversary in North Bay is a portent of good things to come as he is anticipating an increase in business to coincide with an upswing in mining. Croteau seems to have the same sense of optimism that inspired Hans-Georg Schauenburg, a German entrepreneur, to open the North Bay operation with a 6,000-square foot plant to manufacture his own brand of ventilation products to serve the Canadian mining industry. Over the years, in the 1980s and again in 2010, the North Bay operation expanded to more than 24,000 square feet to include new manufacturing space, new office spaces and a new warehouse.
One of the innovations for Schauenburg was the creation of a rigid fiberglass ventilation ducting system, the only one of its kind in Canada. In addition to that, the company created a smooth interior lining for the ducts to enhance the airflow. Croteau said this was developed to save money for the customers. “Years ago energy costs were not an issue. Energy prices were a lot lower. In the past number of years energy has gone up. Electricity costs have gone up, so industry is looking for energy savings. “So we worked with an IRAP program (Industrial Research Assistance Program) and over a period of a couple of years we made changes to our fiberglass ducting, including re-launching it as a brand new product now called K-Max,” he said. Croteau explained that the K-factor is a measurement of airflow efficiency. “That was a big deal because of the energy costs. We improved the smoothness of it,” said Croteau. He said the next step was to find a better way to transport the ducting because the pipes were so bulky they were basically shipping large tubes of air on a transport.
“So we looked at tapering the pipes slightly so they would stack for shipping. The new tapered design will not affect the integrity of the airflow,” he added.
Croteau said the rigid ductwork is designed for permanent installations, but he said the airflow energy savings from K-Max is such that he’s hoping to convince purchasers to consider installing K-Max rigid ducting in less permanent areas. Croteau said the energy savings are considerable in the long run.
“I think what we need to do is get to the higher levels of management and explain to them the energy savings,” said Croteau.
“Our first launch was March of 2018 so we’ve only been working to sell this for under a year,” said Operations Manager Elizabeth Fournier. The selling process can take a while, said Croteau. He said many companies get used to a certain product and it can take time to change their minds. But he said his ace in the hole is the cost savings from the need for less energy, something that all mine managers are keen about these days. Croteau is confident K-Max will become a buzzword in the mining industry. “So we’re just educating the customers right now on the benefits of it,” he said.
Another selling point for Schauenburg’s rigid ducting is the fact that it can be configured in the traditional round shape, or in an oval shape, which tends to flatten out the O-shape of regular ducting. Croteau said this is a space-saving measure underground, where an oval shaped pipe can hug the back of a drift and yet still deliver sufficient amounts of fresh air. “It’s been around for about 20 years but I do notice there is more oval (ducting) is the last few years. I think that is because it’s less development costs in the drift. If you can make the drift six inches or a foot shorter, there is a big money saving,” said Croteau.
Schauenburg has other ventilation solutions on the market as part of the company’s turnkey approach for specialized tunneling projects. This includes such things as dust collectors, wet scrubbers, fans, silencers, duct storage cassettes, heaters, tunnel waterproofing and sensor systems. The innovation over the years has paid off for the North Bay operation. Schauenburg flex tube ventilation systems and the K-Max rigid ducting can be found in mining operations throughout Northern Ontario, northwestern Quebec and across Canada. Customers have included Alamos Gold Inc. in Matachewan, Vale in Sudbury, NORCAT in Sudbury, and Sifto salt mines in Goderich.
Currently the company is operating one shift daily with about a dozen employees. Croteau said the workforce can be increased if there is an urgent demand for more product. He recalled one incident a few years ago where the workforce was bumped up to 45 workers and production was ramped up to three shifts around the clock in response to an order from a diamond mining operation. “They needed this huge order, all to be made within two months,” said Croteau. This was because the order had to be shipped by trucks over an ice road in the Western Arctic. “Well, we pulled through. It was going very well. And then, just like that, the mine shut down. There was no warning. Just a phone call. That was it,” said Croteau.
“We learned a lot through it all though. In some ways it was good, because when it was all finished, we regrouped and decided what could we have done better,” he said. “So now we have put things in place so that when our business grows and things begin to pick up – and we know that things are starting to pick up – there are things that we’ve changed and we will be a lot better equipped to handle it,” Croteau explained.
Along with the success Schauenburg Industries of North Bay has enjoyed in supplying ventilation solutions for Northern Ontario’s mining industry, the company is also enjoying success with the tunneling side of the business.
It means Schauenburg is bringing fresh air to companies that create specialized tunnel projects for underground mass transit and municipal sewer and water projects. The company has a big contract to supply ventilation ducting and related products for the 19-kilometre Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit line for the Crosslinx consortium in Toronto, a $5.3 billion project that runs underground for 10 kilometres. It is also providing ventilation ducting for a British Columbia Hydro tunnel expansion project on the Peace River in the northeastern part of that province as well as a light rail project in Ottawa.
Managing director Don Croteau said the company is having success with its turnkey solution for these specialized projects because the customer doesn’t have to search out extra components on a complex ventilation job. “We can supply the heaters, the fans, the rigid ducting and the flexible ducting that goes down the tunnel,” Croteau said. “Customers like that because it makes their job easy. They don’t have to be dealing with five suppliers. We are working on other projects like that now the same way,” he added.
Croteau said Schauenburg has established partnerships with several companies that manufacture separate components for ventilation systems, including fans, silencers, dust collectors and even monitors that detect carbon monoxide and methane gas. Croteau said part of Schauenburg’s success over the years has been adapting to change in the industry with solutions such as its turnkey program.