Monday, April 13, 2015

Iron Range's future: flat or 3D?

For those interested in the future of Minnesota's Iron Range, read The Economist's article about what's happening with coal. The parallels between coal and iron ore, while not perfect, are disturbing and seem indicative of the changes various sectors will face as we move to a more sustainable economy. Their description of Poland also provides an insight into what happens when politics and local economies become too intertwined. Poland's state-owned mines lose about $19 / ton on coal but keep politically potent miners employed. That made me think about reports of Giant's Ridge losing $4 million / year for how long? From what I've been reading, much of the mining and fossil fuel sectors will be undergoing transformations likely to lead to a future very different than the past, a future with higher-paying jobs in more sustainable, perhaps more integrated industries, at least for mining. Wales is showing lots of leadership moving beyond coal. Maybe the rest of the world will follow soon. Another example of what I'm referring to can be found in this excerpt from the World Economic Forum's Scoping Paper: Mining and Metals in a Sustainable World:
"Advances in 3D printing have had profound implications for the efficiency of mining and metals operations. Maintenance downtime is shorter because spare parts can be made on site, and time-saving approaches are multiplied for operations in remote regions. Cost savings are realized, and environmental benefits accrue. Use of 3D printing leads to lighter, smaller and more efficient designs that may last longer and work more efficiently, reducing the environmental impact of operations. Broken-down or redundant equipment can be easily recycled for new parts. For terrestrial mines, 3D printing has helped to reduce costs by 50-80% compared with standard manufacturing methods.8 In the metals industry, specialist companies have applied 3D printing technology to print liquid metal that is conductive and can be printed at room temperature.9 Since this technology’s introduction in the early 21st century, mining and metals com- panies have fully adopted it as initial barriers to its use have been rectified. In particular, safety and quality standards are unparalleled; the technology has a critical presence internationally and is supported with the appropriate skills; and the production cost of using 3D printing is lower than relying on external supply chains.10"
new growth emerging in Spring
new growth emerging in Spring
Photo by J. Harrington

Reading that paragraph left me encouraged that the University of Minnesota, Duluth has a Northern Lights Technology Center that provides rapid prototyping services. I wonder linkages linkages or partnerships between that center and any of the technical colleges and/or the IRRRB. Would investments in 3D printing provide a higher return than a Chalet at Giant's Ridge? Since Spring is always a new beginning, it seems like a good time to think about new beginnings for northern Minnesota, doesn't it?

ferns unfurling
ferns unfurling to three dimensions
Photo by J. Harrington

National Poetry Month


As Wales may teach us something about moving toward sustainable economies, Hayden Carruth can teach us something about enjoying Spring's transitory pleasures.


Springtime, 1998


Our upstate April
        is cold and gray.
                 Nevertheless
yesterday I found
        up in our old
                 woods on the littered
ground dogtooth violets
        standing around
                 and blooming
wisely. And by the edge
        of the Bo’s road at the far
                 side of the meadow
where the limestone ledge
        crops out our wild
                 cherry trees
were making a great fountain
        of white gossamer.
                 Joe-Anne went
and snipped a few small boughs
        and made a beautiful
                 arrangement
in the kitchen window
        where I sit now
                 surrounded.


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