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Northern Light Technologies illuminates global mining

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At a time of lacklustre metal prices, Toronto-based Northern Light Technologies (NLT) is helping mines around the world stay in business by cutting costs and boosting productivity.

Starting with its first product in the mid 1980s, a helmet lamp for miners, the family-owned company has grown into a global supplier of high-tech underground safety and communication equipment. For example, NLT’s N Connex network enables an operator to remotely manage underground scooptrams (low-profile loaders) and other vehicles from the surface. A remote-controlled scooptram can handle greater shock and vibration and work faster, which makes it far more efficient than one operated in-person.

“The future for us is automation and software that you can drive over a network ,” says Heidi Levitt, NLT’s president and CEO. About half of the company’s 85 employees are based in Australia and Chile, and it has local distributors in several other countries.

Even NLT’s helmet lamps have come a long way, enabling them to offer a degree of quality and technology not found in less expensive lamps from other countries that have flooded the market in recent years.

The battery packs on NLT’s high-end models are equipped with tracking tags, Wi Fi and Bluetooth connections and collision awareness sensors. A new model, due to be launched in Australia later this year, will feature a built-in digital camera and a computer screen that can collect and send real-time data to other parts of the mine across a Wi Fi network.

“ We’re making our lamps smarter and smarter ” Levitt says, describing them as yet another building block in the fast-growing Internet of things, the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects. “Even so,” she adds, “our real push is on rugged communications. We’re designing whole backbones for mines using Wi Fi and Ethernet technology. That’s the growth area for the company, and the 'cap lamps' help pay a lot of the rent.”

NLT’s Canadian connection helps underline the high quality and advanced technology of its products to foreign distributors and customers. Levitt notes, for example, that the company’s Peruvian distributor carries only equipment sourced from advanced industrial economies, such as Canada and the United States.

Levitt signed up a few years ago for the Trade Commissioner Service’s Canadian Technology Accelerator program, which helps businesses devise an export plan. “ That’s a really good program for small businesses, especially ones that are not yet exporting,” she says.

She’s interested in the opportunities for market access provided in the new Asia-Pacific region trade agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which came into force in December 2018. “ I haven’t given it much attention yet. If the Trade Commissioner Service can tell us how to leverage that, I’d need to listen. That would be great.”

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