It began with a blast.
As an explosives technical specialist with Dupont in the 1980s, Tom Palangio was always searching for a satisfactory method of measuring blast fragmentation.
The trail led him to the University of Waterloo where he met researchers John Franklin and Norbert Maerz, who had pioneered the image-based fragmentation analysis technology that would become the cornerstone product of Palangio’s future company.
When Dupont sold the explosives division in the 1990s, Palangio turned to consulting and entrepreneurship. He made Franklin and Maerz business partners in his new venture to commercialize the Waterloo Image Process (WIP) technology.
His 14-employee North Bay company, WipWare, have since become world experts in blast fragmentation with their leading edge photoanalysis and fragmentation analysis software, WipFrag, which examines and measures material in the mining, aggregate, forestry and a host of other sectors.
WipWare was one of three North Bayarea companies that Palangio started, the others being Topex, his international explosives consulting firm, and Bonfield Mining Group, a refurbisher and broker of used mining equipment.
“I didn’t know how successful I’d be, that’s why I started so many businesses.” Decades ago, particle sizing was done by running samples of blasted ore through screens, a far-from-precise method. WipWare’s technology is an automated process allowing particle sizing to be performed in real time and allowing the user to fine-tune their drilling and blasting programs for optimum fragmentation.
In the mining and aggregate sector, or any industry that drills, blasts, crushes, grinds or mills, breaking rock effectively and efficiently at the operation’s front end brings payoffs further downstream in the extraction process.
“The benefits are just humongous in energy, maintenance, environmental issues; all related to material handling and product size,” said Palangio.
Over the years, the WipFrag optimization software tool has proven popular with a who’s who of international mining companies, but it’s also branched out to other sectors to measure more things than just ore.
“We can measure wood chips sizes (for the forestry industry),” said Palangio. “We work for NASA in looking at soil in helping them simulate the moon dust before we send the rover vehicles up there.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada uses their technology to optimize the size of rocks in spawning beds, Even Canada Bread uses it as a quality-control tool to measure the dispersion of yeast bubbles in a slice of bread.
“We can measure the granulation of sugar and salt, and the chemical industry uses our technology because we can measure stuff down to the microns. With the medical industry, we can do counts of blood platelets,” said Palangio.
The company continues to expand and offer a suite of related software, devices and services on bulk material particle size characterization.
One of the newer technologies is Blastcast, a free program for customers that forecasts blast results.
“It’s something I used in my consulting business for many years,” said Palangio. “It’s based on some empirical methods, but we’ve really fine-tuned it with support from many academics.”
Palangio remains an ardent supporter of industrial innovation, having served on the boards of NORCAT, SAMSSA, Canadian Institute of Mining, Canadore College and Nipissing University.
As a high tech firm that constantly lives and breathes innovation, WipWare donated a 3D printer to Canadore College’s ICAMP innovation lab to provide themselves and other Northern Ontario companies with the capacity to conduct rapid product prototyping.
In the next few years, Palangio said the emphasis will continue to be on product improvement and expanding into other industries with his son, Thomas, the company’s chief technical officer, leading the way.