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Global underground mining pioneer Don MacLean passes away

MacLean Engineering has announced the passing of founder and Chairman, Donald MacLean, referring to him as a visionary leader that left an indelible mark not only on the company but also on the global mining fraternity.

A professional Mining Engineer, long-time miner and entrepreneur, Don built his namesake company into a global force for hard-rock mining innovation on the back of flagship, industry-changing products. One such product is the MacLean Scissor Bolter, a product that turned 30 in 2021 and has gone on to ship more than 500 units.

In 2014, Don was inducted into the International Mining Hall of Fame. In 2023, he was honoured with the ‘Safety Leadership’ award by the Canadian Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum association in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the mining community. This includes his continued focus on ore flow conditioning at the drawpoint in the underground mining space.

The MacLean Engineering statement said: “Don led with grace and wisdom, guiding us to new heights. For the past five decades, his vision for safety and innovation has served as the bedrock of our company, and it will undoubtedly continue to do so in the years to come. His legacy will forever resonate within our organisation. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time. May Don MacLean rest in peace, and may we continue to uphold the values he instilled in us.”

Don founded MacLean Engineering in 1973 and had been in the mining equipment business since the early 1970s. He was a professional mining engineer who early in his career worked for Inco in Sudbury. Looking back at our citation for Don’s Hall of Fame induction: “Although not a mechanical engineer, Don brought ideas and concepts that could be turned into useful products. He spearheaded drawpoint obstruction clearance machines, known as Blockhole Jumbos, in the late 1970s that, although a very simple concept initially, became dependable and irreplaceable tools for underground bulk mining.”

Don MacLean with one of his machines in development in 1978

The citation continued: “It was his belief in the importance of ore flow conditioning at the drawpoint and his willingness to foster and adapt new technologies that enabled his company to go from being a regional manufacturer to one having an international impact on the underground mining equipment scene.”

Moving to the late 1990s, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Palabora went in search of a machine that would ensure that drawpoints and drawbells at the conceptual Palabora block cave mine could and would be kept free of obstructions. Drawbells were initially designed at a 16 m height and subsequently increased to 20 m. “The major global manufacturers all passed on the request but MacLean stepped up and developed the High Reach Rig (HRR), a diesel-powered mobile unit that could reach up 20 m, drill multiple 75 mm holes, charge them with re-pump emulsion explosives and arm the holes with a detonator. The operator controlled the machine via radio-remote controls from outside the drawpoint, sitting in a detachable track-mounted unit that docked with the mother rig for transport around the mine.”

These are just two examples of his innovative and problem solving approach. Of course, he also oversaw the globalisation of the company not just in the Americas but also the opening of offices in South Africa, Australia and elsewhere. And he took MacLean firmly into the future of mining, continuing as Chairman as the company became a pioneer in battery electric and zero emissions solutions with its EV Series product line. In 2016, MacLean sold its first battery electric vehicle unit and by the end of 2019, it had sold 31 battery electric vehicle units, across five separate model lines. Often the MacLean units have been the first electric machines onsite, before any production fleet equipment.

Since then it has only been onwards and upwards, including the incorporation of greater automation to enhance operator safety in deeper underground mines – in the company’s 50th year, 2023, MacLean unveiled the 985 Abi-Bolter which included the integration of autonomous robotics into the bolting and screening functions of the MacLean scissor bolter.

Don said at the time: “The world has changed since our founding in 1973, and so has mining. MacLean is right there on the frontlines of that industry evolution, helping to shape and propel it forward.”

A Celebration of Life will be held at the Georgian Bay Hotel, 10 Vacation Drive, Collingwood, Ontario L9Y 5G4 on Thursday, January 18 at 1:30 p.m EST.

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