Service, Safety, and Innovation

BESTECH

Deep underground in a mine drift, where air quality is very important to the wellbeing of the workers, ventilation drifts equipped with fans are pushing air continuously 24 hours a day. These fans use an enormous amount of energy even when personnel are not present. Operating at the forefront of energy management technology, BESTECH began as an Electrical Engineering and Automation firm and has evolved to a mid-size, all encompassing, multi-disciplinary engineering firm which operates two distinct business divisions: a full service engineering firm and a product division specializing in technology for the international mining industry.

One arm of the company works with customers to keep their mine sites operating; while the other works on developing new products and innovative solutions in order to help the mining companies become lower cost producers and retain a competitive edge. BESTECH’s innovative products include AQM, or Air Quality Monitoring, which collects data from ambient air monitoring instruments set up in the field. This web-based monitoring network offers a variety of options for acquiring and distributing the collected and validated data to various environmental and operational stakeholders, which is all within regulatory compliance.

Known globally for many decades as a mining town, Sudbury, Ontario now has 19 sulphur dioxide network stations which are maintained and operated by BESTECH. Sensors located within the Sudbury air shed, coupled with BESTECH’s AQM software, will actually take an air sample every few seconds and then average them into minutes in order to determine the sulphur dioxide level within the area. The software then sends this data to the environmental group who helps the smelters operate within the acceptable emission limits. The data provided by the AQM collection, combined with the weather forecast, is fed to a predictive modeling software that assists the smelting operators with determining how the gases will react with the environmental conditions as they dissipate into the air. This process is critical since the weather can have a significant impact on air quality over a certain area.

BESTECH’s AQM product has been used to monitor air in the community of Sudbury since 2003, but it also has another role to play when it comes to monitoring the air quality for workers in underground mines. AQM has been combined with BESTECH’s NRG1-ECO energy consumption optimization control solution to provide a complete energy management system. BESTECH realized that the AQM software could be used underground as a data collection platform which was capable of recording all underground environmental parameters, such as temperature, dry and wet bulb, air flow, and common underground harmful gases like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide. Combining AQM with the NRG1-ECO software was a logical approach since the system has the ability to control processes like fans within ventilation circuits, dewatering pumps and compressed air. Monitoring air quality and having the ability to ramp ventilation up or down based on air quality parameters was the next step. Hence, adding the collection of environmental parameters helps keep the underground mining environment in line with government regulations and helps reduce the amount of energy a mine consumes in order to ventilate its underground workings.

The power and flexibility of the NRG1-ECO (Energy Consumption Optimization) solution is obtained by leveraging the five control strategies it uses to optimize energy consumption. The platform provides remote manual real-time control and scheduling control by using pre-set schedules which trigger processes to start and stop based on time or date. The system also uses discrete events as control strategies, such as the detection of a high level gas, like carbon monoxide or radon, which would trigger ventilation to increase air flow in order to evacuate the gases or dilute their presence per cubic feet of air. Furthermore, the system makes use of tagging and tracking systems and applies the information assigned to assets, such as LHD (Load Haul Dump) mining vehicles, which require a certain level of air in order to operate or to be safely operated by its user. The system uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tagging to identify asset presence in a particular working block and will trigger ventilation according to vehicular needs or set parameters. The overall system employs environmental monitoring to ensure that the required air flows are made up of good air quality. As a result, the combination of all five control strategies provides energy savings of up to 30% with respect to a mine’s operations.

Thus, the NRG1-ECO software suite can ensure increased productivity and worker safety – and over time, it saves a lot of money. This technology is used within Vale’s Coleman Mine and Xstrata Nickel’s Fraser Mine in Sudbury, and is currently being installed at Goldcorp’s Hoyle Pond Mine in Timmins, Ontario. This software and hardware solution can also be seamlessly integrated with existing mine hardware in order to deliver requested data to the ventilation technicians in real time.

Within Coleman Mine, this technology has been used to actually take air from upper levels and push it down to lower levels, postponing the need to add an additional ventilation fresh air raise. This type of innovation is just one example of BESTECH’s ongoing commitment to continuous improvement. The many people working on the company’s products are immersed in research and development with regards to improving daily pain points for the mining industry.

“Our R&D team is continuously improving our solutions in ways that will enable mining companies who adopt them to become low cost producers. This type of continuous improvement is done through our applied research and development services for the mining industry,” explains Mr. Dubreuil. “Mining operations come to us with a problem and we will figure out how we are going to resolve it. Whether it is for their underground operations, or the production facility itself, that’s where we leverage our engineering team’s skill sets and come up with innovative ideas to address the pain points.”

BESTECH employs a large team of professionals comprising Electrical Engineers, Automation Specialists, Mechanical, Structural and Civil Engineers who service the mining industry. The company has offices in Sudbury (2) and in Timmins and is looking at opening a fourth office overseas. Mr Dubreuil explains, “We are very different from a company that simply develops a product that can be purchased off the shelf; we offer custom solutions adaptable to a mine’s conditions which require the knowledgeable input from our service group who are working on a daily basis in the mining industry. For every custom solution that we sell, we offer a service level agreement and we also have people on staff that offer 24/7 support. We can actually log into the client’s system remotely, take a look at what’s happening and then based on what we find, we can offer recommendations for improvements. We also use the history of what other clients have done in the past – with their permission, of course – and offer solutions to subscribers of our service level agreement based on what has worked well for them.”

BESTECH began in 1995 with two owners, Mark Boudreau and Denis Pitre. The two professional engineers were childhood friends who ended up attending the same university and later worked at the same Falconbridge mine site. They launched their company from a single office in Sudbury which has expanded over the years to accommodate the large part of their current 100+ workforce.

With a sales office in Toronto complementing the Northern Ontario sites, the company is able to meet the demands of the international market as well. Dubreuil describes, “We have 118 employees right now, and in 2012 we were named one of the 50 Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada.” The company prides itself on having a young, innovative staff with a lot of bright new ideas. In fact, the managers take the approach of pairing these new employees right out of university with experienced veterans who act as mentors.

In the past, the mining industry wasn’t always exactly at the forefront of leading edge technology. In recent years, however, the kind of innovative and accessible products BESTECH has to offer has contributed to moving the industry forward. BESTECH’s technology enables greater automation, increased productivity, and safer work environments – amazing advantages in today’s industrial environment.

November 22, 2017, 9:28 AM EST