African company one of biggest underground mining contractors

ORRIE FENN Murray & Roberts Underground Mining Platform CEO

Photo by Duane Daws

ALLAN WIDLAKE Murray & Roberts Cementation new business director

Photo by Duane Daws

VENETIA MODEL What the Venetia underground diamond mine will look like when complete.

Photo by Duane Daws

2nd February 2017

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor


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The predominantly Africa-based Murray & Roberts Cementation has served the mining industry for more than a century.

Along with Cementation Canada, Cementation USA and RUC Cementation Australia, the Murray & Roberts Underground Mining Platform ranks among the biggest underground mining contracting businesses in the world.

The latest results of the JSE-listed 17 000-employee Murray & Roberts group bear testimony to the continued resilient financial performance of its underground mining platform, which delivers mining projects globally that have unique engineering challenges.

Mine access expertise is among the many renowned offerings of Murray & Roberts Cementation, which is also synonymous with contract mining.

The company, headquartered in Bedfordview, west of Johannesburg, offers a range of services, from feasibility study and design work to mine development and operation.

The group’s businesses in various geographies facilitate the sharing of information, methodologies and skillsets across a broad spectrum of activities, including vertical and decline shaft development, mine haulage and tunnel development, underground chamber excavation and support, underground construction and equipment installation, and shaft refurbishment.

In this Investing in African Mining Indaba Preview interview, Murray & Roberts underground mining platform CEO Dr Orrie Fenn and Murray & Roberts Cementation new business director Allan Widlake outlined to Mining Weekly:
• the impressive array of projects that the company is undertaking for a range of blue-chip clients;
• the innovation that the company is introducing to improve the way mining is carried out globally;
• the training it is providing for the mining industry at its fully accredited training academy in the Carletonville area; and
• the immense cost-and-timeline benefit the company is able to offer from its prodigious database of mine access project information gathered over many decades.

Next month, Murray & Roberts Cementation will once again be active at the Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, where its executives will showcase its activities and innovations.

One exciting innovation that is bound to be a talking point is a new method of shaft sinking that has the potential to more than double the instantaneous advance rates while providing an inherently safer working environment.

In this endeavour, Murray & Roberts Cementation is working in close collaboration with an original-equipment manufacturer (OEM), which has successfully trialled its technology in a soft-rock environment and is now looking to deploy it in a hard-rock environment.

“This could be a very important turning point,” Widlake commented to Mining Weekly.

Projects for Blue Chip Clients

Among the many prestigious projects that Murray & Roberts Cementation is involved in the building of an underground mine below the existing openpit mine at Venetia, in Limpopo, where Anglo American company De Beers is investing $2-billion.

As a result of its access to its global businesses, Murray & Roberts Cementation has been able to bring in trainers from Canada to transfer certain specialised expertise in sinking vertical shafts, as well as operators from Australia to transfer know-how around decline development.

Venetia’s vertical shaft is being sunk to a depth of 1 080 m below surface and the decline to a depth of 540 m, the level at which the operation will change from being an opencast mine to becoming an underground mine capable of producing 100-million carats, the same volume that the opencast mine will have produced from its start in 1992 to the transitioning date in 2022.

Currently, 40% of the work delivered by the underground mining platform is from the Africa-based businesses and the balance from the international businesses.

The mining platform’s order book as at the end of June totalled R14.2-billion.

Contract Mining

As a contract miner at Northam Platinum’s fully mechanised Booysendal platinum mine on the eastern limb of the Bushveld Complex, Murray & Roberts Cementation is mining the upper group two reef and the Merensky reef using the bord-and-pillar method of mining.

The company will also use this method when it begins fully mechanised contract mining at the new Kalagadi manganese mine, in the Northern Cape.

In Africa, it is engaged in projects in Zambia, where it built and commissioned the Synclinorium shaft for the Nkana division of the Mopani copper mine for Glencore, the large London-listed diversified mining company.

Also being done for Glencore is the construction of the new 1 500-m-deep shaft at Mopani’s Mufulira copper mine.

This shaft is being raisebored in 500 m segments, one above the other, with the development of the third 500 m leg under way and the equipping of the first 1 000 m complete.

Training Academy

One of the challenges of the Southern Africa mining industry is skills acquisition and retention.

To meet this challenge, Murray & Roberts Cementation is applying the latest elearning techniques at its well-resourced, world-class training academy, which is an institution that trains personnel for not only itself and its clients, but also external companies.

Four vertical shaft mock-ups have been built at a cost of R20-million at the academy to transfer shaft sinking skills together with facilities where an array of simulators are providing training in the safe and productive operation of underground drill rigs, loaders and trucks.

With a capacity to accommodate up to 400 people a day, trainees are being prepared for the move to mechanisation, as well as specialised activities like raiseboring, which is well established and widely used for ventilation and rock transfer systems.

Full-Face Boring

Using mature tunnel boring machine (TBM) technology to bore vertically and in close collaboration with an OEM, Murray & Roberts Cementation is at the crux of introducing a new shaft-sinking method that it will be offering the mining industry.

All the related technology is proven and the proposed new full-face boring method is expected to at least double the speed of advance to 6 m/d from the 3 m/d, which is currently regarded as exceptionally good in a conventional drill-and-blast environment.

The designs are essentially complete, using standard TBM componentry.

Earnings Growth

In the 12 months to June 30, the operating profit of the underground mining platform of the Murray & Roberts group rose to R506-million from R411-million in the previous corresponding period.

Revenue in the 12 months rose to R8.8-billion from the R7.5-billion of the previous corresponding period, while the operating margin improved by 1% to 6%.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter


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