Mining solutions provider United Mining Services (UMS) suggests placing significant emphasis on the operational maintenance of a mine shaft, as this can ultimately optimise the functionality of the mine, negating the potential financial and time-based losses that occur when shafts are not properly maintained.
The UMS team notes that extensive evaluations and profit forecasts are put in place by the mine owners prior to its construction and during the mine’s productive phase to assess the profitability of the mine and whether capital costs would best be used elsewhere.
UMS is contracted by mine houses to carry out proactive audits and examinations of the mine shaft infrastructure to assess which areas require maintenance.
Even when a mine is put on care and maintenance, certain structures need to be maintained, especially in instances where a company decides to reopen a mine, as this will ensure that the mine is functional when operations restart, says UMS business services group executive Guenther Hellhoff.
UMS Shaft Sinkers division GM Takalani Randima explains that “when a company starts its mining operations, it focuses on getting a return on its initial investment, which largely depends on the commodity price and its future projections. If the commodity price is no longer favourable or viable, it can place that mine and its operations on care and maintenance”.
She cites the ballooning gold price over the last year as an example, adding that as the price increased, gold mines sought to ramp up production, “mining as much as they could” to generate so-called super profits.
Randima adds that depleted orebodies is the reason why some “gold mines are closed currently”.
She says there are also interesting trends in platinum mining: “Palladium is performing well, and while mining companies intended to put their mines on care and maintenance, the performance of this specific commodity changed their decisions.”
Randima adds that mines can also be placed on care and maintenance when the company’s margins are slim, directly hindering profitability. “The mine, therefore, is not closing because it is not viable, but is rather restructuring.”
UMS and its group executive for project technical services, James Keir believe that the most effective time to implement the audits of mine shaft infrastructure is when the mine is operational, in the stages leading up to and during peak production.
He explains that a multitude of components and working parts form the shaft infrastructure and that the entire system works as a whole to carry out the successful operational tasks of the mine.
“A mine shaft is designed within the parameters of specific criteria. Regular inspections must be conducted to ensure that such criteria are still being met. If a shaft is operating outside that criteria, corrective measures need to be implemented,” says Keir.
He adds that the primary reason for regular inspections is to ensure that the conditions for which the shaft was designed are still optimal.
The primary aim of UMS is for mining houses to save on capital costs and downtime when conducting maintenance procedures on the critical components of mine shaft infrastructure. It is for this reason that UMS COO Murray Macnab emphasises the importance of preventive maintenance.
“At UMS, we aim to offer mines a team of experts who assess the mine’s infrastructure and provide an accurate estimate of the cost and the time it would take to restore the mine and shaft back to optimal working conditions,” he adds.
UMS also has an optimal service offering that provides several benefits for clients. “In many instances, a mining house will need to consult with a contractor and a design consultant to carry out a project. This creates an interface, which could ultimately lead to miscommunication,” says Keir.
“We try to position ourselves to enable clients to approach and work with us to create the optimal solution whether it is care and maintenance or refurbishment. We provide improved efficiencies by providing all services under one roof.”
This results in reduced interfaces and more precise communication channels, which, in turn, enables UMS to design, supply and install optimal solutions and carry out the entire process of a project from concept to implementation and beyond, he concludes.