Engineering Pioneers Seek Hall of Fame Boost in MexicoWed, 10/21/2015 - 12:44
There are far worse calling cards for a company than to have its founder named as an inaugural member of the International Mining Technology Hall of Fame. Having created MacLean Engineering in 1973, Don MacLean brought a visionary approach to technological development in the mining industry. In the 1970s, MacLean pioneered the creation of blockhole jumbos, which help to clear obstructions in block cave mines. MacLean Engineering still successfully markets this advance today as its Blockholer product line. In the 1990s, he struck gold again by inventing high-reach and medium-reach rigs which utilize high pressure jets of water to break draw point boulders. It was this thirst for invention, his refusal to settle for using established technology, and the way his inventions spread like wildfire across global underground mining circles that saw Don MacLean deservedly elevated to the Hall of Fame.
For Rene Valle, General Manager Mexico of MacLean Engineering, the current company’s philosophy is an extension of MacLean’s own. “When the company was founded, Don was looking above all to increase personnel safety in mines and to make operations simpler and more productive. That quest for safety continues to be of the highest importance for MacLean Engineering. We would rather lose a client than be involved in an operation that cannot guarantee the safety of its workers,” says Valle. MacLean Engineering’s products were designed to help Canadian mining companies meet the country’s stringent standards, but they are also capable of enabling any mine to attain higher levels of safety. As an example, Valle states that Don MacLean’s proudest contribution to the mining industry was the Scissor Bolter. While Mexico has no legislation to regulate bolting, in Canada, bolting is systematic and obligatory; every meter that a mine expands needs to be supported by bolts. This is where the Scissor Bolter comes in. “It is a very safe piece of equipment since it can be operated from a distance of 1.5m from the machine,” assures Valle. “It serves not only for bolting, but also for smoothening surfaces and removing debris that may be prone to falling. Nonetheless, the successful operation of the Scissor Bolter requires operators to follow careful steps in order to ensure their safety and that of the mine.”
MacLean Engineering is now on a mission to bring Mexican safety and equipment standards up to the level of Canada. It began selling equipment for Mexican operations in 2010 although it only opened offices in Mexico in December 2012, after striking its first major deals with Canadian firms like Great Panther and Aura Minerals. According to Valle, Agnico Eagle has also become a trusted customer, as it moved away from exclusively using Sandvik drilling equipment and Getman utility equipment to include 11 MacLean Engineering machines in its line-up, from shotcrete sprayers to bolters. From 2010 until mid2014, Valle estimates around 70 MacLean Engineering machines were sold to Mexican mines. One of the reasons that MacLean Engineering has been able to sell itself so well among mining operators is that it seeks to develop equipment, according to the most pressing and underrepresented market needs. Its three main product lines are Ground Support, Ore Flow Facilitation, and Utility. The Ore Flow Facilitation line, which includes secondary breakers, is designed to eliminate ore flow blockages in block caving extraction methods. “The Blockholer was designed to tackle this very issue. It can be operated remotely and can be used to drill and position explosives that facilitate the flow of ore from the area of extraction, without exposing workers to danger,” explains Valle. The Ground Support product line includes bolters, shotcrete sprayers, and concrete transporters, while the Utility side of the business covers scissor lifts, personnel carriers, and fuel trucks. However, all three of MacLean Engineering’s product lines are not on an even keel in Mexico. When it started here, the company sought to position the Scissor Bolter as its star product, seeking to emulate its success in Canada. “But the market here is already dominated by other suppliers of ore flow facilitation products. Additionally, the mining industry in Mexico has been cheated many times by equipment suppliers that have taken advantage of the good faith of Mexican miners,” reveals Valle.
To solve this imbalance, MacLean Engineering feels there needs to be a change in the culture of operation in Mexican mines. “Mining companies here need to learn to be systematic and avoid skipping steps in important safety procedures such as bolting,” believes Valle. MacLean Engineering has already offered two demonstrations of its ore flow facilitation equipment at two mines: Peñoles’ Velardeña and Grupo Mexico’s Charcas. It is now busy setting up two Scissor Bolters at Goldcorp’s Los Filos and Peñoles’ Tizapa. In these demonstrations, it showed the importance of choosing the right kind of bolt and the procedure to install it correctly. “The Scissor Bolter allows the operator to apply any type of bolt. Other equipment allows you to use only one type of bolt, which can compromise the safety of the mine. Our equipment is easy to use but it still requires operators to follow procedures.”