What is your vision for PCL Construction within the Ontario mining sector?
As a US$9 billion company, we are the largest construction company in Canada and are in the top 20 globally. One of the challenges that we regularly experience is market perception, as many are not aware that we are capable of small assignments, and only associate us with very large projects. Therefore, one of our goals in our outreach to the mining industry was to communicate that we can tackle small projects cost-effectively and on schedule. Mining represents a significant part of our marketing efforts since we decided to explore a permanent presence in northern Ontario specifically. An office was established in Sudbury to support this vision. While working with Glencore and other producers, we were happy to see that our organizational cultures are well aligned.
How is the structure of the company unique when it comes to employee ownership?
PCL has been 100% employee-owned since the 1970s. The founders, the Poole family, decided to change the ownership structure to an employee-owned organization. Today we have 4,200 employees and at least 90 - 95% are shareholders. All permanent staff have the option to become shareholders, resulting in a high participation rate and a high degree of engagement. With employee-owners, lasting relationships and commitment to client success are critical to everyone and provide a high degree of commitment.
How are you preparing for the uptick in mining projects given the electrification revolution?
Critical metals are being prioritized in multiple jurisdictions and we are preparing by building a market presence with a team of qualified individuals with industrial and process backgrounds to bring value to clients’ projects and to present high-value construction solutions. Due to our scale and ability to deliver construction in a variety of formats, we can provide developers with a turnkey solution to deliver an entire project or we can participate in the project by carrying out small individual assignments. We developed significant expertise in solar farm development after several extremely large projects in Australia, Canada and the US. Our process experience also helps with the production side of the critical metal mining business, adding unmatched skill to our project delivery.
Can you comment on the transition to solar energy and how you see this playing out relative to other renewable energy sources?
Both wind and solar have challenges because of the availability of power. I believe this will be addressed through the enhancement and the evolution of battery technologies. However, full replacement by renewable is still rare and unlikely at this stage. More organizations are exploring a complete solution, incorporating solar, wind, battery and stored energy.
Is the world moving too fast or not fast enough in the green energy transition from your perspective?
I believe the world is not moving fast enough on mining EVs. There are legitimate concerns about underground fires and the harshness of the environment that electric mining vehicles are exposed to. However, without going through the process of installing these vehicles and allowing the operators and manufacturers to evolve the technologies, there will be no advancements. The installation of electric mining vehicles and construction equipment create a new set of risks but it is significantly less than that presented by vehicles powered by diesel or propane in their early days of development long ago.
How are you integrating big data and analytics in construction?
Data is increasingly collected and analyzed to provide meaningful results. Our Job Site Insight (JSI) system monitors everything on-site and flags what may not be apparent to a human observer. The digital construction technology is becoming more mature and we have carried out multiple large-scale projects paper-free and entirely digitally. This provided information on the efficiency of these projects and on how to tweak the process to provide more value and efficiencies. One of the challenges in a large construction site is having connectivity and making it robust and reliable so that the design team, builders and clients have access to the appropriate data. We are exploring different technologies that allow us to use semi-autonomous robotics to monitor the site such as drones with pre-programmed flights or autonomous robots which walk around the site documenting it in 3D scans and images. These tools gather data that gets fed into an analytical engine which then assesses progress or flags issues. It’s a broad topic, but we have committed resources for years to advance applicable technology and improve its efficiency.