Tech keeps MDG going despite Covid-19 pandemic

EXPANDED HORIZONS The mobile tunnel borer (pictured above) has expanded Master Drilling Group’s offering into rapid horizontal blind hole development using mechanised methods without blasting

EXPANDED HORIZONS The mobile tunnel borer (pictured above) has expanded Master Drilling Group’s offering into rapid horizontal blind hole development using mechanised methods without blasting

29th January 2021

By: Mamaili Mamaila



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South Africa-based drilling company Master Drilling Group (MDG) has always been keen to get involved in the digitalisation aspect of technology advancement in the mining industry, with 2020 having shown how important this aspect is, and for the organisation to have an adaptive culture.

The company’s in-house digital innovation team can “compare with the best in the world”, with the focus being on information sharing, collaboration, automation and remote drilling, as well as researching and testing world-class hard rock cutting technologies.

The most important key performance indicators are safety, speed and productivity and achieving all at reasonable prices, the company adds.

MDG plans to establish a dedicated unit or company under the group that can provide technology solutions that are bespoke to the mining and contract mining industry.

With its footprint and sharing of resources, the company believes that it can achieve this effectively and efficiently, with an announcement expected in the first half of 2021.

MDG highlights that technology remains a key differentiator for the company, as it can support clients with solutions that address changing conditions and future trends.

Consequently, MDG’s new technologies include the low-profile (LP) slot borer used in sub-level caving mining, and the mobile tunnel borer (MTB) that drilled its first tunnel bore hole for platinum mining company Northam Platinum’s Eland platinum mine, in Brits, in the North West. Some parameters were not tested with the MTB as this was not possible given the impact of Covid-19 on the industry.

The MTB has expanded MDG’s offering into rapid horizontal blind hole development using mechanised methods without blasting. This is in line with the company’s vision to migrate the mining industry to a mechanised, blast-free environment that allows for more productive time on the face, less impact on the surrounding rock and much safer working conditions.

There is significant interest from clients, as the benefits are vast, and it prefers to engage with clients during the planning phases to ensure it can advise where technology can be used to optimise a mine’s vertical and or horizontal development.

Unfortunately, adoption is still slow for some of the technologies and this may be ascribed to the low-risk appetite of some clients in partnering with a contracting company on a proof-of-concept study. However, the other side of the spectrum is also true in that some clients are keen to bring mining into the future and it continues to see technology teams reaching out to MDG for assistance.

The company is excited about its LP slot drilling machine. This machine can be used for slots up to one meter but with an optimal size of 750 mm up to 25 m. The mobility and advance rate of the LP100 are attractive factors, as the technology used to achieve these benefits is vital for the client to reach an optimal productive state.

Indaba and Industry

MDG has expanded its presence, services and exposure through expansion into new markets. Such expansion has included securing new work in West Africa, Australia, Russia, Europe and North America, while an 18-month civil construction contract had been secured in France.

Through research, MDG has identified which commodities are doing well and are expected to continue their performance in the short to medium term. As a result, it is staying close to the miners who are responsible for mining such commodities and it retains or establishes a presence in relevant countries.

The company has also considered markets, such as those of Russia, that were traditionally “not on its horizon”. It won work with Norilsk Nickel and started with the project in late 2020.

The company explains that the Russian and Kazakhstan markets are large and have significant minerals that will be attractive in future. However, these markets, in some cases, have been slow to adopt new technology, and MDG has been able to demonstrate how technology can be used to assist productivity and safety through the right partnerships.

The company has faced different challenges in different markets, and it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. A challenge in most of the more mature mining markets, such as those of Canada and Australia, is the cost of labour and logistical challenges, which can be exacerbated by the vastness of these countries. Hence, machines need to be as automated and robust as possible to reduce breakdowns and headcount per machine.

MDG will continue to aggressively pursue opportunities in these markets, with MDG stating that its experience in these countries has indicated that it has the technical skills and know-how to compete and be a technology leader in these markets.

Further MDG’s management team will attend the 2021 Investing in African Mining Indaba conference, which will take place virtually on February 2 and 3.

The company notes that such events allow for critical insights to be shared by peers worldwide. Through this platform, the industry better understands the global structure of the mining industry by considering the major producers, the supply and demand of commodities, price trends and the evolution of mine developments.

The company is especially looking forward to the session on how African mining can harness technology and automation amid a pandemic to help grow business; this session will be held on the first day of the Indaba.

The main talking points will be establishing a way forward after Covid-19 and what the next steps for labour and industry are; the opportunities that the pandemic presents for new technology testing and adoption; and updates on the African Union Agenda 2063 – a blueprint to support the continent’s accelerated growth and technology transformation as well as driving the benefits of a digitalised economy more especially.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor


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