Engineers continue to improve mine safety and promote better environmental stewardship of Canada's underground resources, said panelists at the 2012 Engineering Innovations Forum (EIF).
Organized each spring to coincide with National Engineering Month, the forum is an opportunity to showcase the importance of engineering and technology and to encourage young people to consider careers in the profession.
Held March 7 at the Ontario Science Centre, the 22nd annual forum was dedicated to engineering innovations in mining. Speakers included Roy Slack, P.Eng., president, Cementation Canada Inc.; Susan Grandone, manager of strategic technology solutions, Barrick Gold Corporation; and Wisam Farjow, P.Eng., vice president of engineering, Mine Radio Systems Inc.
CBC reporter Lucy Lopez moderated the event.
Opening speaker Roy Slack outlined Cementation Canada's role in helping rescue 33 miners trapped underground in the August 2010 San José mine disaster in northern Chile.
Cementation was one of three international companies called on by the Chilean government to devise rescue plans for the trapped miners.
The miners survived 69 days 700 metres underground before individual escape pods reached the emergency station where they had congregated immediately after the cave-in.
Slack described Cementation's use of the Strata 950 raise-boring machine to carry out its rescue effort.
Although it was another outfit whose drilling operation eventually freed the trapped miners, Cementation's role earned praise for its quick improvisation and ready response to a complex and unprecedented rescue operation.
In fact, Cementation and its Chilean partner, Terraservice, were the first group to break a hole through to the trapped miners to ensure they were still alive.
Slack pointed out that although Chile has a sophisticated mining industry with a good safety record, the San José mine itself had been noted for accidents and safety violations. He said the mine operators failed to properly backfill excavated material, leading to a catastrophic collapse in one of the ramps leading deep into the mine.
Slack said the rescue efforts called forth the best in engineering collaboration, problem solving and ingenuity.
"It wasn't a miracle but plain hard work that led to the successful rescue of those 33 miners," Slack said. He also suggested the San José experience calls on engineers to be mindful of a more proactive approach in preventing disasters, rather than simply a reactive response to emergencies and disasters.
In keeping with the theme of innovation in mining, second speaker Susan Grandone described the "green mining" initiatives of Barrick Gold, an international corporation with 44 per cent of its operations in North America.
Grandone said Barrick now incorporates the CHESS (community, health, environment, safety, security) system into its worldwide operations, and that it was one of the first multinationals to incorporate a global climate change program into its operations.
She said there is clear value to be gained in environmental stewardship thinking and that it is no longer simply an exercise in public relations or good corporate posturing.
Final speaker Wisam Farjow of Mine Radio Systems (MRS), an international company specializing in the development of communications and sensor systems, outlined some of the unique technical challenges in devising communications networks in mining and tunnel settings.
Farjow, who oversees all MRS engineering activities throughout the world, has experience in the design and management of complex engineering systems in the fields of underground mines and tunnel communication and safety systems.
He explained how enhanced communication between underground workers and management personnel on the surface leads to improved safety and productivity. Farjow put special emphasis on the role of professional engineers in developing more sophisticated and reliable systems for harsh, unpredictable environments.
He said a key challenge for engineers is to design and operate underground communications systems that can survive cave-ins, fires or other emergencies. In some cases, he said, a hybrid network involving wireless, fibre optics and traditional antenna-transmitter-receiver systems can provide a more robust method of communication between miners and those on the surface.
Farjow also outlined some of his company's work with "through-the-earth" (TTE) signalling and hand-held locator devices for trapped miners, which would greatly enhance identification and possible rescue of those trapped deep underground.
More than 200 people registered for the 2012 innovations forum. Exhibitors on hand this year included PEO, Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Javelin Technologies, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers and the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT).
OACETT member Paul Annis, CET, chaired this year's EIF organizing committee.