The final batch of 28 newly manufactured advanced drilling rigs under a R2-billion multiyear contract with mining services group Rosond is making its way to Anglo American-controlled Kumba Iron Ore in the Northern Cape, with expectations that the new range will be fully operational early in 2021.
Rosond started rolling out the rigs to Kumba’s Kolomela and Sishen mines in 2020 after officially securing the tender to develop and implement a five-year next-generation drilling contract in 2019, as Kumba modernises its geoscience operations.
The project will also extend to Kumba’s greenfield project to extend the life-of-mine of its operations.
While Covid-19-related lockdowns and restrictions hampered manufacturing somewhat, particularly as the company’s manufacturing partner is based in Italy, one of the first countries to be hit the hardest by the pandemic, Rosond is on track for the delivery of the final two rigs in December after managing to compress a year’s worth of work into six months.
“I am happy to say that, although not all the machines will be operational by the end of the year, all of them will have left our workshops. The last two will be leaving this week and we have fully deployed all the machines onto site. We are excited to start 2021 with getting them all operational,” Rosond MD Ricardo Ribeiro told Mining Weekly.
The fleet, manufactured in conjunction with the undisclosed Italian manufacturer, comprises mostly advanced exploration drill rigs, to be used for core, percussion and reverse circulation drilling.
The drills offer heightened safety, as a sizeable amount of the manual work is automated, and eliminates the substantial physical strength required for the handling of rods and heavy equipment that have to be loaded and offloaded onto the drill rig.
The operators are housed in a climate-controlled, airconditioned control room, providing a better working environment, which should assist with fatigue management, facilitate enhanced concentration and increase productivity.
The machines have been developed to transform the way drilling is done, bringing together automation, software and data analytics and machine learning to create a new-age drilling rig as Rosond starts transitioning itself into a drilling technology company, said Ribeiro.
“Our software system, our telemetry system and our data collection, along with the development of machine learning and artificial intelligence, is something that we are really looking into [as we] really believe that it is going to be a game changer in the future,” he told Mining Weekly, noting the conversion was much like one from an analogue system to a digital system.
However, the opportunity lies in the substantial amount of data that will be available for analysis.
“We are going to have 28 drill rigs with telemetry systems within an 80 km radius for one contract, so you know the data collection that we will be having for those machines is immense.
“Automation and machines get developed, and get better, but the software and the digital platform that we are bringing into this industry might, we really believe, be a world first,” he said, noting that Rosond has been involved in the research and development of the next-generation drill rigs for more than five years.
As new technology changes the way mines undertake drilling activities, the advancements have also enabled the deployment of a newly trained all-female drilling team at Kumba.
An all-female drilling crew is believed to be unique and a first for South African mining, as jobs for drilling operators were historically reserved for men, owing to the physical strength and stamina required for lifting heavy drill rods during long shifts.
“It is safer, owing to less manual intervention into the operation of the drill rig, which reduces the chance of operators being injured on the job.”
Recruiting and training such a crew was the aim of Rosond’s agreement with Kumba and part of Rosond’s long-term vision for gender equality.
“I think that for us, as Rosond, Anglo American and Kumba Iron Ore, to be able to deploy what we believe are the most highly technical machine exploration drill rigs in the world, it is a good story to tell,” Ribeiro concluded.