A mineral laboratory in Thunder Bay is helping to advance the city's role in the mining industry.

Accurassay on Gorham Street has installed a new, automated system to crush and separate rock samples in preparation for analysis — something company president Rob Duncan says is the only one of its kind in the Americas.

"The influence of Thunder Bay in the mining scene in northwestern Ontario is growing," he said.

"We have been in Thunder Bay and we have seen some of that transition and we, as a company, have grown over the last 10 years tremendously."

Duncan said the $2 million system is more efficient and safer for workers who have been doing the same process manually.

"Crushing is the first step in preparing mineral samples for analysis," he explained. "You have to break that rock down. When you crush it, you then take a sub-sample to the next step, which is pulverizing.  This new process does the first two steps in a fully automated environment."

'System does all the lifting'

Working conditions will improve as result of the new system, Duncan noted.

"In a manual system there is a lot of heavy lifting and working with a dusty machine and hands-on, processing, one sample at a time," he said.

"In the automated environment that worker's job is changed to loading the system. You are still handling the sample but you are dumping it in a bucket and feeding it into the system. The system does all the lifting. You can load the samples into the queue and walk away from it to do something else while the machine continues to process the samples."

The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund contributed about half the funding to the project.

Accurassay, which has about 100 workers in Thunder Bay, also operates facilities in Sudbury, Timmins, Rouyn-Noranda, Que. and in Newfoundland.