Innovation Today and in the Future: Challenging the Status Quo
Teck Trail Operations is proud to commemorate 125 years of continuous smelting with an eight-part series that explores the company’s significant role in the region and industry, from the gold rush to becoming one of the world’s largest fully integrated zinc and lead smelting and refining complexes. Since 1896, visionary leadership, generations of skilled employees, adaptation, and industry-leading technological advancements in mining and smelting have helped the company achieve long-term success. Please enjoy this series that celebrates our legacy as Champions of Innovation.
Built on the bank of the Columbia River, Teck Trail Operations is uniquely situated in the heart of its community. This proximity to the city of Trail has motivated the company to work diligently at innovating solutions to complex issues while improving its environmental footprint. Along the way, the company has been acutely aware of its responsibility as a corporate citizen.
Since 1896, the company has had a long history of forging industry-leading innovation to address the challenge of the facility’s physical location and effectively manage sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. This work spans from building the world’s first acid plants 100 years ago to upcycling acid into fertilizer, finding a viable use that strengthened operations and diversified the company’s portfolio.
While sulphur emissions were not monitored at an industry level until the 1960s, the narrow river valley challenged Teck Trail Operations to examine and address emissions long before industry standards demanded it. Once again leading the charge, Teck moved away from old blast furnace technology and introduced the KIVCET furnace in 1997, drastically reducing SO2 particulates and metal emissions. In addition, the company lowered its total SO2 output by adopting a new scrubbing technology, using sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to remove SO2 from the flue stream. Taking their efforts to the next level, Teck Trail Operations is set to complete the Dryer Twinning Project in 2023, which includes installation of a second dryer to efficiently prevent the generation of SO2 in the drying process.
“We capture 99% of our sulphur dioxide, which is industry-leading,” says Tim Moore, Metallurgy Intelligence Manager. “Now we are really pushing the limits of technology to make improvements. There are few companies in the world that go to these lengths; our focus on community wellbeing drives us to seek innovative solutions to enhance environmental performance.”
Looking forward, Teck Trail Operations is once again at the forefront of environmental innovation, with the next objective on the horizon to lower greenhouse gas emissions to meet Teck’s goals of a 33% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
RACE to Success
As the world shifts to a digital, information-driven economy, Teck’s global operations are pivoting toward adopting advanced information technologies as part of its business transformation program.
Teck’s new innovation-driven efficiency program RACE21 (Renew Automate Connect Empower) takes a company-wide approach to renewing technology infrastructure, investigating automation and robotics opportunities, connecting data systems to enable broad data and artificial intelligence applications, and designing operating models that empower employees. Successfully advancing this initiative is considered critical to maintaining the company’s competitive edge in a rapidly changing economic landscape.
“RACE21 was intentionally designed to be disruptive and challenge the way we think,” explains Nathan Tremblay, Business Improvement and Planning Manager. “To remain competitive in a global world, companies must continually transform. Digital innovation is finding technological solutions to capitalize on existing business opportunities and resolve challenges in a new way.”
As one of the world’s largest fully integrated zinc and lead smelting and refining complexes, Teck Trail Operations operates within provincial and federal regulatory frameworks. Its location remains a challenge because it is situated in a mountain valley, so when inversion conditions trap outflow, the company must reduce production to ensure it doesn’t exceed permitted SO2 levels in the surrounding communities.
In the first half of 2019, Teck Trail Operations significantly reduced its SO2 curtailment time while maintaining environmental performance by using machine learning. A team analyzed five years of weather and emissions data to construct proof-of-concept models that predicted community SO2 levels. Then, partnering with a specialized machine learning vendor, the company built an algorithm to forecast the levels approximately 60 minutes into the future. This innovation reduces false positives by a factor of 10 and is expected to minimize curtailment time by 60 to 70% annually.
With the support of RACE21, the company is using the power of data and analytics to improve efficiency, reduce the variability of operations, and increase safety and sustainability. Replacing old processes with modern technology, including predictive monitoring tools, helps improve the working environment. By automating riskier jobs, shifting operators to monitoring equipment, and recruiting for tech positions, the company is innovating new strategies that challenge the status quo.
Since inception, Teck has been a leader in industrial technology. From the development of differential floatation to flight exploration to the war effort, the company has proven itself a pioneer many times over. General Manager Thompson Hickey is proud of the company’s history as well as more recent efforts to use technology to pursue new opportunities and address challenges in support of the company and the community.
“Innovation has been core to Teck Trail Operations’ 125 years of success and is the cornerstone of our future,” says Hickey. “We’ve undertaken RACE21 to build an organization that will continue to thrive and grow in the digital age and for the next 125 years. This will benefit both Trail Operations and the local communities our employees call home. People are central to everything we do at Teck; I thank all of our inspiring employees who are working together to accomplish incredible things and continue to shape our evolution.”