South Africa-based drilling company Master Drilling, which is active in 23 countries, is aligning itself with the transitioning global requirement of opencast mines going underground.
“As the world is changing, so are the mines,” said Master Drilling technology director Koos Jordaan at the JSE-listed company’s presentation of half-year results covered by Engineering News & Mining Weekly.
“We see a requirement from the mines where opencast mines are moving underground,” Jordaan added.
Displayed during the technology overview were the curves on the hard rock –9º inclination of the declining cutting face at Northam Platinum’s Eland platinum group metals mine, on the south-eastern limit of the western limb of the Bushveld Igneous Complex.
Jordaan described the scale of the excavation as challenging and the investment only possible from mature organisations. Master Drilling’s pursuit of this form of excavation, he said, was in line with its current and historical raiseboring business.
“We’ve established a capacity through a mobile tunnel borer that is specifically designed for mining requirements. We’ve manufactured it, we’ve tested it. Unfortunately, we lost a Phase 2 contract from Eland platinum mine at the beginning of 2020, where capital to the project was deferred.
“We can really commend a client like Northam Platinum for the investment that they’ve made in technology in our company. It’s a huge commitment from an industry player and I think it will be to the benefit of the entire mining industry.
“Currently, we’ve cleared that contract. We have the machine on maintenance. We’re doing improvements and we’ll recommission it. “We’ve done proposals to various clients and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to redeploy this resource at the beginning of 2021,” Jordaan said.
On the requirement for opencast mines going underground, he said: “It’s an issue to replace the capacity or the production of those mines from an underground operation. You have cultural challenges and the transition is difficult. The mines need solutions so that this can be done with greater urgency. They need to have a strong partner to do this, so that’s one of the changes that we see and we want to align ourselves with.
Orebodies below Environmentally Sensitive Areas
“The second point is, in many cases, you have orebodies that are below environmentally sensitive areas. It’s not necessarily an issue about depth, but it’s about the orebodies needing to be reached over a long distance, and a solution is needed for that.
“Many of these projects we’re doing are in remote areas and harsh conditions. Some are in extremely cold conditions, such as in north Canada, or in deserts in isolated areas. “If clients want to invest in such mines, they can’t move there with thousands of people and all the resources that, historically, they would do with established mining development.
“It’s important for them to have high- efficiency resources and strong partners to deliver these projects. There are many challenges for our clients around environmental issues, social issues with communities, the localisation of resources, and also the governance,” said Jordaan.
He listed key aspects as including skills transfer and localisation of skills.
“How we deal with all this will be how we have a relevant future, how we will be competitive and how we will be a sustainable company.
“What is exciting is that we’ve already established a technology around some of these new technologies and it can be that, with the changes that clients and the market are going through, we’ll get an opportunity to have a successful implementation of these technologies to show to our clients.
“The lasting value that we want to create for our clients is around safety performance, quality and real capital and investment cost, and all of these issues are related to productivity. “To address this in an historical way using conventional resources is difficult and, if you move to a more industrialised process, it is something that can create very much value for our clients,” Jordaan added.
Investors and journalists heard during the presentation that technological innovation and development remained pillars for the company’s long-term success. Artificial intelligence and Big Data were reportedly driving changes around mining activities to enable cost reductions and improve safety. An example of its technological advances was the setting during the half-year of a world record by drilling a 1 382 m raisebore pilot hole at Northam’s Zondereinde underground mine, in Limpopo. Its mobile tunnel borer continues to receive keen interest.