HIBBING — Iracore International, Inc., has been producing quality pipe lining systems for more than 50 years.

Its state-of-the-art pipe coatings are designed to protect against corrosion and abrasion, and are specifically developed to protect hydrotransport and tailings pipe in the Canadian oil sands.

A team of local engineers tirelessly designs thousands of custom solutions for mining construction and other businesses.

While Iracore has developed a worldwide reputation for producing top-notch slurry pipe systems at their base in Hibbing, their customer’s needs continue to expand.

To keep up, Iracore is undergoing a major expansion.

“The growth of the oil sands market has presented the need to build a bigger plant,” confirmed Iracore’s Vice President of Manufacturing Jeremy Smolich. “This plant (in Hibbing) was built in 2006 and was then remodeled in 2008 to optimize it. It was built for one project and went so well that customers wanted more. So we had to optimize the plant to get more pipe through more quickly. The plant was designed for producing pipe 20- to 50-feet in length, and recently our customers have asked us to produce pipe 60-feet, or about 10 feet longer, than the plant is capable of doing.”

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Iracore has long considered itself an innovator in rubber to line pipe. In the company’s early days, it created a team of engineers, chemists, technicians and consultants, which resulted in the design of its urethane-based compound — one of the first of its kind.

“In 2006, the company became a disruptive technology where we put our urethane and rubber together in a pipeline and began selling to the oil sands in northern Alberta, Canada,” said Smolich.

They then began incorporating the new company into their custom pipe lengths; however, 60-foot pipe is considered “more traditional.”

As Iracore has competitors in Alberta, Canada, already providing linings for the 60-foot option, they knew plant modifications would be necessary to remain competitive.

That’s why a year ago, Iracore began investigating the feasibility of a plant remodel. After determining that a plant modification would be more economical than building a completely new facility, they enlisted the services of Barr Engineering to design the structural, mechanical and electrical systems.

“In January, we got approval from our board of directors to spend up $5 million to modify the plant,” said Smolich. “The construction began in early March and will continue into September of this year.”

The project is expected to come around $4 or 4.5 million, according to Smolich. Iracore has also received a grant from Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) to assist with some of the demolition costs.

Boldt, of Cloquet, Minn., is general contractor and is working with JK Mechanical Contractors, Inc., of Nashwauk and Tromco Electric, Inc., of Hibbing.

The company is also proud to be utilizing local fabricators for the structural steel and other plant modifications, including Furin & Shea Welding & Fabricating, Inc. of Hibbing, Range Steel Fabricators (RSF) of Hibbing, Hancock Fabrication, Inc. of Angora, and Northshore Steel, Inc. of Two Harbors, Minn.

Smolich said they estimate the project will take 20,000 man hours of construction to complete.

“We’re adding about 4,300-square feet to the building size,” he noted. “The building was originally 34,400-square feet.”

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The timing of the project is favorable because the company is between major pipe projects normally manufactured at the Hibbing plant, said Smolich.

Even so, they fully intend to juggle several pipe orders during construction and are confident they will go off without a hitch. And there’s another bonus.

“It’s going to create opportunity for more jobs,” said Smolich.

One challenge the company has encountered in the past is the fluctuation of orders resulting in a fluctuation in workforce. They believe this expansion will solve that by increasing ongoing customer demand.

“It will help us preserve our current employment along with anticipation of additional employment as projects are awarded to us,” Smolich explained.

He affirmed that the community has been very supportive of the project and employees are excited to bring it online — something they plan to do in August.

The company is also looking forward to continuing to providing existing and future customers with a high-quality end product.

“The gratitude that comes with finishing a large project for a customer and satisfying their needs when it all comes together — that’s the most rewarding,” said Smolich.

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