In this episode of ‘Making it in Ontario,’ Nick Persichilli speaks with Greg Major and Edward (Ed) Wisniewski from NORCAT. Greg is the Director of NORCAT’s Underground Centre, and Ed is their Chief Technology Officer. Over the course of the episode, Ed and Greg discuss the various activities that NORCAT is involved in. In addition to being an operational mine, the Underground Centre is a state-of-the-art training facility, an R&D centre, a technology demonstration zone, and a Regional Innovation Centre (RIC).

The connection between advanced manufacturing and mining may not be immediately apparent. However, both industries have a lot in common: Both industries are struggling to recruit new talent due to perception challenges. Both are seeing an exodus of veteran workers as they retire. Both are working hard to adopt advanced technology to improve all aspects of their operations. In fact, testing and demonstrating new technology is one of the primary functions of NORCAT’s Underground Centre.

Recently, both the federal and provincial governments released their plans for Ontario’s and Canada’s Critical Minerals. As the need for our minerals increases (both globally and locally), it’s important the industry be able to grow and evolve to meet the growing needs. To NORCAT’s credit, Ontario’s Critical Minerals Strategy actually mentioned NORCAT by name as a recognized hub of technology development, testing, and innovation. “Sudbury-based NORCAT has underground facilities where companies can develop and test new technologies in an operating mine setting while also training their workforces.”

During the episode, Greg and Ed explain the evolution of the training technology developed at NORCAT over the years. For example, back in 1996, when overhead projectors and transparencies were still ubiquitous, they began looking at using virtual reality (VR) interfaces for training. Today, their training operations are even more advanced. (If you look at the title image of this blog post, you’ll notice that it’s not a photograph but a digital image of a piece of mining equipment.) In addition to having further developed their VR training to include Augmented Reality (AR), they also include mental health training and awareness. As Greg says in the episode, “…it’s about training people above the neck. No more attitude of ‘Just rub some dirt in it.’”

Recently, several investment announcements have been made in Ontario regarding the shift to EV production. The implications of these announcements are that the mined battery materials will now flow through much shorter and local value/supply chains. As our mines and advanced manufacturing ecosystem get busier, NORCAT’s work in training will become even more important.

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