Engineers running supply lines in parallel to deliver on time and on budget

Engineering firms are continuously being challenged to think further out of the box to meet tighter deadlines and cut down on costs in what has become a very competitive construction and mining environment.

When multi-disciplinary global engineering group DRA was awarded the Whabouchi Mine project, they were requested to have a building shell for the on-site concentrator in place within six months. The Whabouchi Mine is located in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Region of Quebec and Nemaska Lithium owns 100% of the claims. Whabouchi encompasses a combined open pit lithium mine and concentrator.

“We had to be innovative right from the start,” says André Boilard, Sr. Project Manager at DRA. “At the time, the flow sheet had not been finalized and of course the layout had not been optimised and no one could confirm the final size of the building. Site mobilisation had to commence almost immediately, and getting everything in place was not an easy task, as absolutely nothing was prepared in advance.”

DRA decided to proceed on multiple fronts to try to save time, and simultaneously, narrow focus on fewer, yet value-adding potential partnerships.

“Collaboration and the sharing of information between the parties made it possible to design and fabricate the necessary pieces that would become the concentrator in record time,” André adds.

Firstly, DRA only approached five suppliers to bid for the structural steel supply and erection contract for the building, based on the existing feasibility study layout already completed by the Toronto listed Nemaska Lithium. After a rigorous analysis, Constructions Proco, with great expertise in steel construction and metal work and situated close by, was selected.

Secondly, DRA had to navigate the supply constraints of the local concrete preparation plants. Plants in the area were located too far from the site to supply the concrete to cast the foundations required for the project on such short notice. The company collaborated with pre-cast concrete firm Béton Préfabriqué du Québec to find a solution that would fit within DRA’s time frame and meet the required standards of the client. This decision to manufacture prefabricated concrete foundations saved on time and money avoiding the below freezing temperature constraints of the area and reducing the on-site labour force.

At the same time, the DRA team was reviewing and optimising preliminary layouts incorporating changes made since the Nemaska Lithium feasibility study was completed. Geotechnical reports, site surveys and clearing and grubbing were done and temporary access roads to the site were built.

Although infrastructure was put in place quickly to receive the future concentrator, it was not without challenges posed by the various ecological and regulatory hurdles associated with doing business in remote Northern Canada. “We had to work in very difficult conditions with temperatures down to -35 degrees Celsius,” says André.

“Furthermore, we encountered numerous unknown underground water sources, had to excavate more rock than originally estimated, persistently had to follow up on permit requests and had to take hunting season into account as well.”

However, despite the countless hindrances that DRA came across in managing the undertaking, the team was able to install the first column foundation four months into the project, and the last piece of wall siding was put in place nine days ahead of schedule, just before the Christmas break.

“In Engineering project terms, that has to be a record,” concludes André.