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Dec 15, 2004

   

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Precise sets new course with drill bit

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Precise sets new course with drill bit
Headline News
Northern Ontario Business
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By IAN ROSS

A North Bay mining supplier expects big things from a novel piece of highly engineered mining equipment.

The ripple effect of the booming world metals market has been felt at J.N. Precise, which moved into a spacious new 70,000-square-foot location this fall on Kirkpatrick Street in North Bay’s east end.

After operating for the past 15 years as an exclusive sub-contractor for Boart Longyear, the custom machine shop is stepping out of the international driller’s shadow with the production of a new mining bit in anticipation of huge international growth.

The company moved out of its cramped Gormanville Road facilities and renovated a former food products distribution warehouse providing ample space for their 28 CNC (computer numerically controlled) lathes and milling machines, as well as installing a 10-tonne overhead crane.

“We’ve created lots of area for stock,” says operations manager Ken Perrin, “We’re really going after the market and we’re building our resources up to support high volumes.”

The 72-person firm, which has almost doubled its workforce within the last year, was busy in mid-November applying the last licks of new paint in preparation for an open house celebrating their new expanded location and the unveiling of its new Rotocan rotary blast hole drill bit.

“It’s the only product line we have, but it’s a very substantial one and a huge potential for growth,” says Perrin, particularly in targetting Western Canada and the South American mining markets. “We think that area holds the greatest potential initially, but after that it’s the world.”

Besides bit production, the company makes a variety of hydraulic cyclinders for agricultural use, augers for environmental applications, machines carbon for diamond drill bits, and manufactures a number of exploration in-hole products for the mining, oil and gas sectors.

Perrin says the rotary bit product line will diversify the company’s manufacturing base beyond the cyclical nature of the exploration industry to more stable continuous mining applications.

The proprietary technology, which was originally designed for use drilling blast holes in open-pit mining, had previously been in development for several years by a now-bankrupt North Bay start-up company.

J.N. Precise founder and president Joe Guido, who was a minor investor, acquired the technology and has spent the past few years fine-tuning the bit for use in soft rock formations. The company is also looking at designs for hard rock formations.

“No one thought it was going to go anywhere until Joe took it under his wing and said ‘I’m going to make this thing successful,'” says Perrin.

Based on positive field tests in South America, the company recently picked up a half-a-million dollar (US) order from an identified Argentinian company to produce 240 bits. It is “a whole year’s production for one mine,” including 60 for delivery by Dec. 1, says Perrin.

The company aligned itself with Boart Longyear to identify potential mine sites for the bit and to line up some targetted customers to prove their product.

But the company says it intends to take measured steps to develop its supply chain to handle large orders before adding any more customers.

“There’s a lot of work that went into the rotary bit and we want controlled growth,” says Perrin. “We’re not going to make promises we can’t live up
to.”

To complete its move, the company has partnered with Earle M. Jorgensen (EMJ), one of the largest Canadian suppliers of tubing and bar stock, and convinced EMJ to come to North Bay.

The Toronto-based supplier has leased 12,000 square feet from J.N. Precise to cut and supply all its tubing, as well as establish a regional presence for other mining suppliers.

“It’s a great launching platform for them for the North,” says Perrin.

Perrin delivers much of the credit for the company’s stellar growth to Guido.

A former Boart Longyear sales manager, Perrin was lured by Guido out of his Florida retirement last year. He runs the day-to-day operations while Guido spends time on the shop floor or on the road.

He calls his boss a “true entrepreneur” who started the firm 15 years ago as a one-man machine operation making custom parts for Boart.

Guido’s tenacity and reputation for solid work has enabled him to expand his operation several times over the years.

“It was just sheer tenacity on his part and having the insight to think he could make it work.

“He has the uncanny ability to smell an opportunity. He often tells me, ‘Ken I don’t take anything on unless I’m 95 per cent sure it’s going to be
successful’. His success rate is in that range. I don’t think he’s failed at anything yet I know of.”