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North Bay duo develops versatile, all-purpose drill rig

Nov 11, 2015
Kathy Stackleberg
Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal

To get the perfect drill rig, you have to get the recipe just right. That’s a very simple way to describe the very complex machine that’s been developed over the past 18 months by Drillco Mining and Exploration.

The company is led by two North Bay, Ontario, mining equipment gurus, Sylvain Brisson and Gord McLaren. They have close to 50 years of drilling equipment engineering and operations experience between them. In 2013, they founded Drillco Mining in North Bay with the goal of becoming the premier builder of diamond drill rigs in North America.

Having worked with drilling equipment over the years, Drillco president Sylvain Brisson noticed there was never one unit to meet all drilling needs. Drillco’s vision was to build a very versatile, flexible system that’s rugged and easy to operate and maintain. “It’s not only what it does, but it’s the right combination of components in the unit that makes everything work, just like a good recipe. That’s what makes it so unique,” said Brisson.

Drills are generally limited to one specific application. Many companies are saddled with a number of different drills and parts, depending on where they are doing their work, whether underground, on surface or remote fly-in locations. “We designed one hydraulic system that will work in all cases: underground with an electric motor, on surface with a big diesel motor, or disassembled for fly-in applications,” said Brisson.

Drillco’s goal is to sell the complete unit, but it can also be reconfigured to adapt to existing machines. “If a large contractor has a fleet of 100 rigs and wants to use some of our technology, we can easily sell them the hydraulic valve and the computer system. They just need to hook it up. It’s easy to integrate into existing equipment.”

Brisson and McLaren are modest about their accomplishment and attribute much of their success to the support and input they received along the way from various sectors of the mining industry.

“We spent a lot of time in the design phase, getting input from the industry on the features that are important from an owner’s point of view, from an operator’s point of view, and from a mechanic’s point of view, ” said McLaren. “It’s been 18 months of research, going back and forth trying different applications, endless hours of scribbling on the whiteboard, 3D modeling, making changes and connecting with other companies not necessarily mining related just to see how they did things.”

“If it would have been easy, it would have been done before,” laughed Brisson. The key was to make sure their prototype was pretty much perfect before they sold it, rather than sell something not quite right, and then have to fix it later on.

To bring the perfect recipe to life, Drillco focused on the core of its product line, the drill’s hydraulic and control systems. McLaren and Brisson went out in search of help and partnered with Wajax Industrial Components, for hydraulic engineering and component support. That work resulted in two working prototypes currently operating at a mine near Matheson, 68 kilometres east of Timmins. Based on the success of the two units, Drillco is now in the process of fully commercializing the drill system. That means moving into a larger manufacturing facility.

McLaren says while computer technology isn’t new, it is still somewhat foreign in the drilling industry and Drillco wants to change that. The company took advantage of computer technology for the development of the drill controls, working with Canadore College’s ICAMP, the Innovation Centre for Advanced Manufacturing (See ICAMP story, Page 23). McLaren points out the technology will allow the drill “recipe” to be changed to suit the customer’s needs, which is important considering the fluctuations and the demands placed on the exploration and mining industry.

Creating an innovative drill such as this one during a downturn in the industry is not a bad thing, according to the Drillco partners, who have self-financed the development of their drill and are confident of success. The best time to design and develop equipment, they insist, is during a slump so you are ready when the industry takes off again, and it always does.

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