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Made-in-B.C. drill bits bore way to market

Product specialized for different rock types

There was a time 14 years ago when Eric Gaunder ran his diamond drill bit company from the kitchen table of his Richmond home. How times have changed. Now he sits in his own large office on No. 5 Road in Steveston above a manufacturing plant that turns out about 110,000 diamond- tipped drill bits a year for the mining industry worldwide. A collection of industry and community awards on the wall grows bigger each year.

The latest to be hung in the gallery is a 2014 Ethno BC award from the Ethno Business Council of British Columbia, which recognizes the achievements of new Canadian entrepreneurs in helping expand the country’s economy.

“We are very proud of those awards,” says Gaunder, the president and founder of Hayden Diamond Bit Industries, who came to Canada in 1986 from Fiji.

More than 70 per cent of his Richmond- made drill bits, which are mostly used by the mining exploration industry to take core samples, go for export.

Gaunder came to Canada to study accounting at the University of B. C., where he received a business diploma and qualified as a certified general accountant, and went to work as a comptroller for a company servicing the mining industry.

A downturn in the economy caused the company to shut down and he was left without a job.

“I had two options: I could go back to accounting and go on with that or do something in business. I had an interest in the mining service industry because I knew something about that sector,” he says.

That led Gaunder to import drill bits manufactured in South Africa and sell them to mineral exploration companies. In 2002 he opened a small warehouse with seven employees.

“That’s how we began. The major product I was dealing with was a diamond product. I was importing them to service the mining industry in the North American market,” he says.

However, it wouldn’t be long before he began thinking about making the drill bits himself.

“With my knowledge and skills, I began trying to make a unique product. When I say unique I mean building a better matrixes — the diamond surface which cuts the ground.”

“There are many different types of rock so you need different ingredients to cut different rock, and I wanted to improve on what we had,” he says.

With my knowledge and skills, I began trying to make a unique product. ERIC GAUNDER PRESIDENT, HAYDEN DIAMOND BIT INDUSTRIES

Rock varies from the softest type — overburden — to the harder, chert or flint.

“In 2004 I decided to manufacture my own drill bit here in Richmond. We have a unique technology. We purchased high- tech equipment, set it all up, and designed our own matrixes. My focus was to create a quality product because with a quality product, we could get well into the market,” he says.

The diamond bits the company produces range in size up to about 40 centimetres — the largest being designed for an experimental project in a uranium mine.

“We started with seven employees and in 2009 we bought this property and built this building, and now we have 75 employees,” he says.

The mining exploration industry is notoriously cyclical, dependent on the ups and downs of the economy, and last year was a down year.

“It was a bit slow but we kept all our employees and didn’t lay anybody off. Now it’s picking up,” he says.

“The employees have been a big plus in growing this company and we’re focused on giving back by providing full benefits, pensions and bonuses. We also give back to our community,” he says.

Last year the company donated about $ 50,000 to a number of causes from the Richmond General Hospital to churches and temples, while employees also helped out coaching sports teams and providing other volunteer activities.

“We want to keep contributing to the community and increasing what we do because it’s part of our corporate philosophy,” Gaunder says.