Noranda closes massive Pointe Claire technology centre after 40 years

Guest Contributor
August 8, 2003

Noranda Inc is closing its 40-year-old centralized R&D operations in Pte-Claire PQ, a victim of sagging markets and multi-year losses by the mining and metals giant. A ‘For Sale’ sign went up in front of the massive, 17,000-sq-m Noranda Technology Centre (NTC) earlier this year. It marks the demise of yet another large corporate laboratory in favour of shorter-term development driven by the bottom line.

Noranda’s principal centre for technology now becomes Sudbury and several NTC staff will relocate there. The primary focus of the Falconbridge Technology Centre is nickel. Notification of the restructuring of R&D operations was issued late last year via an internal memo from Tony Hannaford senior VP technology for Noranda and Falconbridge. Hannaford cited low metal prices and current economic conditions for the NTC’s closure and the layoff of many of its employees (see box).

There are now 55 people remaining at NTC — down from approximately 100 prior to the announcement — with just 10 technology-related positions remaining and awaiting transfer. The remainder are with a 10-person transition team, an information systems team (25) and a handful attached to corporate and quality process functions.

Just eight years ago, NTC employed 250 — representing half of Noranda’s entire technical staff — and performed $33 million worth of R&D, more than half of that year’s total (see chart).

“This is not temporary. We’re selling the land and the building. The decision was really driven by the financials and the obligation that technology impact on the bottom line of operations,” says Hélène Gagnon, director of public and corporate affairs. “We will focus (R&D efforts) on processes and operations. We can’t afford to maintain mid- to long-term development. It’s the same with exploration.”

Gagnon adds that there may be some longer term R&D conducted at the Falconbridge laboratory, which has several mid- to long-term projects underway related to nickel. For the rest of the firm, it will focus on all areas of technology. But everything must be linked to the core business functions. There will also be no new technology development.

With the NTC closure, few large corporate labs remain in Canada, with corporations like Alcan and MacMillan Bloedel closing their facilities in the 1990s (R$, February 4/98). Xerox Canada, IBM Canada, Hydro Quebec and Kinetrics Inc (the old Ontario Hydro research labs) are notable exceptions, but many are concerned that corporate Canada is abandoning fundamental research and losing a critical capability.

“With a view to make business units more autonomous and accountable for achieving their commercial and financial objectives, we have decided to integrate, to the maximum extent feasible, the technology function with the activities of each business unit ... Noranda/Falconbridge remain committed to technology as a core element of their growth strategy but the way in which we manage technology will profoundly change.…Despite the challenging conditions we are facing, the companies still plan to invest in R&D close to $25 million in 2003.” —

Tony Hannaford, Noranda SVP

“Corporations expect their labs to earn money and pay for themselves ... You have to be careful because the true vector of technology transfer is people,” says Dr David Jackson, an adjunct professor of engineering physics at McMaster Univ and an expert in technology management. “You need a certain number of people working together to bounce ideas off one another. If you disburse people throughout the company you lose that. I support large centralized labs but they can’t be isolated from operations. There has to be a balance.”



($ millions)
YearR&DRankingR&D Intensity

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