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$60M investment: Minntac celebrates electric shovel rebuilds

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MT. IRON, MN -- Turning something old into something new is how one Iron Range taconite production plant creates efficiency.

It's known as the electric shovel rebuild project and after four years of work employees at Minntac celebrated its completion Wednesday.

"It's really good reuse," said Chrissy Bartovich, Director of Environmental at U.S. Steel's Minnesota Ore Operations. "So instead of buying a new shovel and getting rid of one, we're reusing the bulk of that equipment, but just upgrading it and making it more efficient."

Mike Bakk, Director of Reliability for U.S. Steel has been working on the project for the last four years.

He says this is the sixth and final rebuild of our electric shovel rebuild campaign.

"The electric shovels are much larger in size, they're more, I guess you could say, green because they're just using electricity from the electric cord that plugs into them. They don't need to be stopped to be refueled - they can just keep running from shift to shift. They're very quiet and they're smooth to operate."

Jay Sanders knows a little something about operating a shovel.

With 31 years in the industry and four generations of miners in his family, he's heavily involved and a big fan of the new technology.

"The controllers are different," said Sanders. When asked if it's easier to operate Jay said it's "much more comfortable."

He operates one electric shovel out of Minntac's fleet.

However, that fleet is growing, and it could be a sign of what's to come in the future.

"So, for us, electric is absolutely the future for mining equipment," said Rod Bull, V.P., and General Manager for North America Mining - Komatsu. They were part of the electric shovel rebuild at Minntac.

"If you look at the machine itself, which we're super proud of, and you see the new paint job, it's exciting because it looks like a brand-new machine even though it's over 20 years old. But from an employee perspective, when you see the pride and the time these guys put in making sure every bit of the quality is spot on, that's the most rewarding part for sure," said Bull.

As Minntac prepares to get the shovels into operation, employees, like Chrissy Bartovich, said the investment from U.S. Steel is a good thing for the local mining industry.

"It's a huge sign to all the employees here that there's a commitment by U.S. Steel that our facilities are here to stay and they're putting a significant amount of money into us and that they support us and see that we're important to the company."

Meanwhile, U.S. Steel also invested in two brand new P&H shovels for Minntac's fleet with a price tag of about $50 million.

Mine officials expect the rebuilt shovels to be hard at work as soon as Friday evening.

Kristen Vake

Anchor, Reporter

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