Almost a hundred years ago, Albert Francois revolutionized the mining industry with his innovative cementation grouting process. Before long, that...

Almost a hundred years ago, Albert Francois revolutionized the mining industry with his innovative cementation grouting process. Before long, that breakthrough led to the creation of a company called Cementation. Today Cementation operates around the world, a direct hire hard rock underground mining contractor with design build capabilities bringing its expertise wherever mines are present – including Canada, where Cementation has operated from headquarters in North Bay since 1998. Cementation also carries on its founder’s name through its dedication to innovative techniques, all the while striving for better outcomes for its clients and a safer future for employees.

Stronger Collaborations Through Engineering

“When we started, one of my philosophies is that engineering is an integral part of the construction process,” says Roy Slack, President of Cementation’s Canada division. “So right from the start in 1998, we established a core of engineering excellence in the company, and we took on some large design build projects very early on. It’s something that’s unique in our industry – our competitors don’t have that same level of engineering capacity.”

This design build and engineering is not something that most businesses of its kind offer, but Slack notes that it’s an important way to Cementation’s clients some extra security and peace of mind.  “It gives them an option which we think is a very good option in terms of accountability,” says Slack. “We move the project forward faster, and constructability reviews are part of the design process – there are a lot of benefits to it, so it’s been our model since the beginning.”

Building Relationships with Innovative Solutions

This design build process is one key point that sets Cementation apart from its competition; another is its dedication to developing long lasting relationships with its clients by offering them unparalleled service and innovations. “We’ve come up with some innovative solutions,” says Slack. “That may sound obvious, but mining and construction is pretty old school and it’s hard to convince clients to try something new. So when we do, we have to deliver.”

Cementation is currently involved in just such a project at the Young-Davidson mine in Matachewan, Northern Ontario. “We proposed to them a unique solution which cut their capital costs in half, saved them about $40 million, and cut the schedule quite a bit,” says Slack. “They took a leap of faith – we knew it could be done, but it hadn’t been done before so there’s risk involved. But they also felt that we could deliver, and we just commissioned that plan about a month ago and it’s running well and they’re very happy with results.”

According to Slack, Cementation’s design build and engineering capabilities are crucial to its ability to bring clients the sophisticated solutions it provides. “Innovation in our industry is tough, but we have been able to propose some innovative solutions on projects that have really saved our clients both time and money,” he says. “The engineering part of it is important there because if we have the opportunity to work early in the project on the initial engineering, that when we can really get innovative and propose some different solutions – once it’s advanced to a certain point, it’s harder to change things. So the early engineering, combined with creative solutions, has set us apart.”

Of course, every innovative solution is not dreamed up at an engineer’s desk – but at Cementation, every innovation is dreamed up as a way to make clients’ lives easier. “People think about innovations as inventions, but the innovation we talk about isn’t just technical,” says Slack. “Different financial models, different contractual structures to help our clients, different ways of working with our clients and their other contractors – these aren’t technical innovations, but they’re a different way of doing things that has helped the projects.”

Employee Retention Through Safety and Respect

In the last seven years, Cementation Canada has been recognized six times over as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. According to Slack, that’s the realization of a goal set out by Cementation from the beginning. “We identified very early that it was important – our mission statement says that we want to be the contractor of choice for both clients and employees,” he says. “So how do we get there? Some pretty basic things that sound obvious, but companies sometimes struggle with – treating your people right, having respect within the business, and safety.”

Even with that recognition, Cementation has no plans to rest on its laurels. “We challenge ourselves each year to get better,” says Slack. “We try lots of different things, and employee engagement is very high so people are interested and they’re trying to look for ways to continually make the company better. We have a very good apprenticeship program, which has worked well for us, and we have training systems for our First Nations partners. There are a lot of good things we do for our people. Then there are our parties – the Christmas party last year, the theme was the prom: everyone got corsages and we got limousines and we had a high school marching band come in. We just had lots of fun with it. We go all out – we work hard and play hard.”

Safety as a Sign of Employee Respect

 “If you aren’t operating safely, that’s a sign of disrespect because really you want your employees to have a good quality of life,” says Slack, highlighting the way that Cementation’s pillars of employee engagement are all inexorably linked. “You want to care about your employees, and safety’s part of that.”

With this in mind, Cementation is intensely focused on raising the standards of safety – and not only within the company. “When we talk about our vision and changing the way things are done in the industry, one area we’ve worked very hard on is to eliminate injuries,” says Slack, who is also on the Ontario Prevention Council in an effort to make the province safer across all industries. “We do a lot of work that people would consider high risk – but when we deal with all the risks, the work is safe, and so it’s our job to deal with all those risks. We have a good safety record, and we always work to be better. We haven’t had a lost time injury in our US operations in about a year and a half, and we have a number of substantial projects with no lost time injuries – so we know ‘zero-injuries’ is possible, and we work to make that a companywide target.”  

Part of reaching this goal is by being proactive rather than reactive. “Traditionally, the industry’s been reactive – so if someone gets injured, we figure out what went wrong and we fix it,” says Slack. “The idea behind proactive safety is to increase reporting and get employees involved in the safety program, so they can point out hazards before those hazards result in an injury and we can deal with them. We’ve also certainly done some technical innovations to improve safety, but the safety culture is probably what we’ve worked on the most. That comes with training and with knowledge, and it’s not an overnight thing. It’s something that we’ve worked on for a number of years, and our people have taken that culture on and are really the ones that deliver it.”

Growth in the Future

Cementation has seen substantial growth in North America, setting up bases in North Bay and Salt Lake City, then moving into South America with an office in Santiago, Chile. But still more growth is on the way.

“Our US operation has done well, and continues to do well – we’ve just established an office in Quebec,” notes Slack. “We have done some small things with Quebec companies, but we see a market there and felt it was important to establish an office there and to offer the same service to that market.”

Slack also envisions further growth by building partnerships overseas. “We do joint venture work with our sister companies, so we’re doing work in Indonesia, Mongolia, and China,” he explains. “These are one project approaches, so rather than saying going to take on the Chinese market, that’s not the way it works. If one of our clients is doing work there and asks for help, then we’re in a position where we can go anywhere in the world and help our clients.”

In other words, growth for Cementation Canada is expected to come from a mix of sources, tied together by its commitment to helping clients achieve their goals. “There’s establishing a self-sufficient operation in a market – Quebec or South America for example – or there is the ability to enter into foreign markets on a project-by-project basis, which is what we do in Europe or Asia or elsewhere,” says Slack. “So we’re very flexible. We have a service set up where we can help our clients anywhere in the world, and that’s part of our long term commitment to them.” 

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