With over 75-years’ experience, KMC Mining boasts a legacy of excellence in a busy and exciting industry. Craig Dirk, President and CEO, shares more about the company’s success and its recent growth.
A ROCK SOLID OPERATION
Canada’s mining industry has seen incredible growth over the past century.
Historically, the opening of three to five mines each decade would be considered significant. Comparatively, the present landscape will see almost 30 mines in the strategic minerals and metals sector go live within the next three years.
“The current state of the mining industry in Canada is extremely exciting. It’s a period unlike any other that I’ve seen in my 40-year career in the field,” opens Craig Dirk, President and CEO of KMC Mining (KMC).
A surge in activity is not confined to a single sector or geographical area; the momentum extends into Eastern Canada, where approximately 10 gold mines are progressing through advanced exploration and permitting stages.
“The scale and scope of these developments underscore the dynamic and promising nature of the mining industry in Canada. It’s an exciting space to be working in, marked by unprecedented growth and a landscape ripe with opportunity that KMC looks forward to partnering in.”
KMC is one of Canada’s largest and most prominent pure-play mining contractors, boasting a legacy spanning 75 years. Its involvement in projects covers everything from initial clearing and site preparation to dyke construction, overburden and ore mining, equipment rentals, maintenance, and final site reclamation.
“Our core commitment revolves around delivering safe, reliable, and cost-effective mining services to both our partners and the broader industry,” informs Dirk.
KMC, who has operated across all provinces and territories in Western Canada, has a diverse history that spans commodities such as oilsands, uranium, metallurgical coal, diamonds, zinc, copper, and even ownership of a gold mine in Yukon.
Today, KMC operates at three mines in the oilsands region, providing overburden, oversize, reclamation, rental, maintenance, and labor services, and boasts a dedicated team of over 500 employees.
A COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE
Throughout its history, KMC has consistently demonstrated a commitment to excellence, and the company’s adaptability has allowed it to play a key role in various mining projects and commodities.
“What sets KMC apart from the competition and establishes us as a trusted supplier in the mining sector can be encapsulated in three key areas: our people and culture, our innovation, and our pursuit of technology,” Dirk reflects.
Central to KMC’s identity is the belief that its people are its greatest asset, a conviction that underpins the company’s commitment to safety and excellence in all aspects of its operations.
“We bring a partnership mindset, long-standing experience, great people, equipment, systems, and know-how to execute work safely and efficiently,” he enthuses.
KMC’s strong values stem back to its founders, Ted and Jack Klemke. The continuity of these values is evident in the involvement of Jack’s eldest son, Dan Klemke, who currently serves as Executive Chairman.
“Dan upholds the guiding principles instilled by his father, emphasizing the importance of looking after our people, maintaining the highest safety and environmental standards, providing value to our customers, and leading by example.”
The company has also been a trailblazer in adopting cutting-edge technologies and equipment. Notably, KMC purchased the first CAT 789 haul truck in North America and the first CAT D9N dozer in the world.
“Our dedication to innovation and the pursuit of technology further distinguishes us. KMC consistently strives to push the boundaries of what is possible in the mining sector, ensuring that we remain at the forefront of advancements that enhance efficiency, safety, and sustainability,” explains Dirk.
The company’s involvement with Komatsu in developing the largest hydraulic shovel in the world at the time, the PC8000, further solidifies its commitment to innovation and shaping the future of mining equipment.
“That shovel, which was intended to be a one-off machine for KMC, has since become one of the most prevalent workhorses in the mining industry,” he reveals.
Today, KMC boasts a fleet of over 120 ultra and medium-class trucks, shovels, and support equipment, allowing it to take on significant projects and deliver economies of scale.
“Our unwavering commitment to our people, coupled with a legacy of values and a forward-thinking approach, positions KMC as a trusted and reliable partner in the mining industry,” Dirk excites.
Over the past decade, KMC has seen many major milestones, which makes its celebration of 50 years in the oil and sands industry all the more significant.
The inception of KMC’s operations in the oilsands dates back to November 1973, in what was intended to be a six-month contract to clear muskeg materials for Syncrude’s plant site.
“We’ve since been an integral part of the oilsands region for over five decades. Our footprint has extended to every oilsands mine site in the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta, showcasing our extensive experience and expertise in this vital sector,” outlines Dirk.
One project that stands out for KMC is its joint venture with an American contractor to help build the oilsands’ newest mine, in which KMC contributed ultra-class equipment and regional expertise to assist its development. The project lasted for seven years and ranged from initial earthworks and dyke construction through to underground line construction and mining operations.
“Each accomplishment tells a story of overcoming challenges, pioneering new technologies, and playing a crucial role in the growth and development of the industry,” he comments.
The company’s contributions extend beyond its day-to-day operations; a KMC employee once made a historic discovery by finding a complete dinosaur, the Plesiosaur, which now holds a place of honor in the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
“As we approach our 75th year, these milestones reflect not only the longevity of KMC but also the company’s enduring legacy of innovation, resilience, and contributions to the mining sector,” rouses Dirk.
Further to this, KMC’s invention of the wet sizing process stands as a groundbreaking technology that has significantly shaped the oilsands mining sector.
KMC brought the first double-roll rotary sizer into the region with the intention of crushing and salvaging large chunks of frozen oilsands ore that were too large to transport on conveyor belts. The prototype machine weighed in at 400 tons and was fabricated using components from England, France, Sweden, the US, and Canada.
Wet sizing technology was the enabler that allowed mines to hydro-transport oilsands to their upgraders. The impact of this invention on the oilsands mining industry has been profound.
“The wet sizing process has proven to be instrumental in improving the overall efficiency of mining operations, leading to enhanced resource recovery and a more effective utilization of materials.
“This, in turn, contributes to increased productivity, cost-effectiveness, and environmental sustainability,” he states.
KMC’s role as a pioneer in developing the wet sizing process underscores the company’s commitment to innovation and continuous improvement.
By introducing a more advanced and effective method for material separation, KMC has not only enhanced its own operational capabilities but positively influenced the broader mining industry.
A LASTING IMPACT
KMC boasts deep experience and a successful track record in the mining industry. As one of the most experienced heavy civil mining contractors in Canada, its reputation has resulted in the company becoming a core supplier to major energy producers, with mutually beneficial relationships that have spanned over 50 years.
“We have also developed strong relationships with major equipment suppliers, strategic vendors, and service providers to ensure continuous and reliable support to our business,” Dirk reveals.
With over 300 years of combined experience, the KMC management team has demonstrated its capability to maintain strong relationships and complete projects on time, all whilst achieving top-tier safety performance.
“This is coupled with our deep roster of skilled equipment and maintenance personnel to ensure that the fleet can be fully utilized,” he excites.
KMC has developed its own proprietary internal management information systems, which can be considered visionary investments in technology and innovation.
“These integrated systems allow management to determine and monitor key performance metrics and the utilization levels of equipment, which helps us to bid more effectively, deploy assets efficiently, and track all equipment in real-time.”
Since 1949, KMC has maintained an impressive safety record and has been the recipient of numerous industry safety recognition awards.
“Our strong and effective safety culture has enabled KMC to operate in an industry with the highest safety standards,” Dirk comments.
To be able to perform at this level, KMC has grown and evolved its safety systems and culture to become an industry leader.
In September 2019, KMC successfully completed a management buyout, which refreshed its operational focus and fleet capacity, and reaffirmed the company’s position as one of the top mining service contractors operating in Canada.
This has also allowed flexibility and appetite to diversify and continue to grow the business.
CARING FOR THE COMMUNITY
KMC maintains a focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the areas it operates, such as community projects in the town of Bulembu in Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, where an old asbestos mine operated until 2001.
Globally, Eswatini has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates, leading to a significant impact on the population. In 2006, a team of social entrepreneurs purchased the abandoned mining town with a vision to restore it and care for over 350 orphaned and vulnerable children.
“The children live in family homes with a caregiver, and they receive a full education at the Bulembu Christian Academy, healthcare at the Bulembu Clinic, and spiritual care through the Bulembu Community Church and various youth programs,” Dirk tells us.
The charity’s vision was to make the town self-sufficient, and Bulembu Ministries, a not-for-profit organization, created community enterprises such as a country lodge offering essential oils, honey, water, dairy, and a bakery.
“Entrepreneurs from Canada, including Dan Klemke, became involved in the project. Because of Bulembu’s roots as a mining town, the project resonated with KMC and our employees.”
KMC is actively engaged in numerous other social initiatives. For example, when fires ravaged the Wood Buffalo region in 2016, it opened its office trailers to the community and coordinated food and water deliveries.
Additionally, in 2020, the Athabasca River overflowed its banks, affecting a number of homes and businesses in Fort McMurray. KMC employed workers who were unable to work at the mines due to COVID-19 restrictions to help clean up and restore homes.
“We have also sponsored many local teams and programs such as the Junior Oil Barons, Keyano College Syncrude Sport and Wellness Center, the Keyano College Endowment Fund, the Keyano College Maintenance Training Program, the United Way, the Children Center Donation Initiative, and the Girls in STEM Initiative,” elaborates Dirk.
Further to this, KMC employs a number of First Nations people and relies on Indigenous companies for key services.
It has had both a limited partnership and several joint ventures with Indigenous companies in support of its commitment to fostering positive relationships and inclusivity within the resource sector, particularly for Indigenous-owned businesses.
PROJECTS, INVESTMENTS, AND INNOVATION
KMC has worked in partnership with six mining companies to set up seven new mines and mining areas in the oilsands, the Elk Valley, and Northeast British Columbia.
“Our executive leadership team has over 200 years of collective experience in the development and operation of new mines and megaprojects,” Dirk details.
Executives on the team have led operations for a CAD$17.5 billion oilsands mining mega project, a CAD$6 billion metallurgical mining project, and a CAD$9 billion deep pit copper mining project.
KMC is completing a 10-year project to transport mature fine tailings (MFT) recovered from tailings ponds and hauling the material to be co-mixed in overburden dumps.
The semi-liquid nature of the material requires that it be disposed of in containment cells and kept out of non-disposal areas and roads. This project led to KMC developing an engineered truck body (ETB).
The ETB trucks are equipped with hydraulic interlocked sealed tailgates and allow larger volumes to be hauled when loaded with MFT.
Designed to maintain the one-third/two-thirds weight distribution on haul trucks, to ensure stability and safety, and to prevent material from spilling on the roads and creating slippery hazards, the ETB is considered revolutionary.
“The ETB effectively converts a large-scale haul truck to the equivalent of an ultra-class truck in terms of volume hauled per load, thus reducing fuel consumption, haul road congestion, operator requirements, and costs by up to 40 percent, while providing a safer operation,” Dirk explains.
Another initiative KMC undertook was to deploy a jet engine on a front-end loader to extend the construction season of impoundment dykes that require ice and snow-free construction.
These innovations reflect KMC’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in mining technology and its ongoing efforts to shape a more efficient and sustainable future for the sector.
Aligned with ‘Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy’ and its commitment to fostering the growth of a green economy, KMC is well positioned to play a role in advancing the country’s strategic objectives.
“As we actively seek opportunities and forge partnerships, we are focusing on supporting the development of mines that produce essential metals for electric vehicles (EVs),” Dirk summarizes.
Furthermore, KMC’s joint effort with SMS Equipment to raise awareness for cancer and mental health has been significant.
“As part of this campaign, we introduced blue and pink haul truck boxes to symbolize our commitment to important health issues. This served as a visible reminder of our industry’s dedication to supporting the well-being of its workforce.”
As 2024 approaches, KMC has outlined its key priorities that underscore a commitment to growth and innovation.
One of its primary focuses is the mobilization of a new mining project in the oilsands, marking a significant expansion of its operational footprint and contributing to the continued development of this vital sector.
“In tandem with our mining endeavors, we are dedicated to advancing our in-house real-time dispatch and monitoring technology.
“This commitment to technological innovation aims to enhance operational efficiency, optimize resource utilization, and further establish KMC as a leader in the integration of cutting-edge technologies within the mining industry,” Dirk informs.
The development of its Edmonton Rebuild Shop is another key priority for KMC in the year ahead. This strategic investment reflects its dedication to maintaining and enhancing its fleet, ensuring that its equipment is at the forefront of performance and reliability.
“A top-tier maintenance system will complement this initiative, setting new standards for maintenance practices and contributing to the longevity and efficiency of our operations,” he allows.
Furthermore, diversification remains a cornerstone of KMC’s strategic vision. The company aims to expand its presence into new regions, leveraging expertise and experience to explore opportunities beyond its current operational boundaries.
“This diversification strategy aligns with our commitment to adaptability and resilience in the ever-evolving mining industry,” Dirk concludes.