In June 2013, the University of Pretoria (UP) established a Rock Engineering Chair (Chair) in the UP’s Mining Engineering Department. The initial aim was to conduct research on specific rock engineering issues, in an attempt to provide a safer working environment in deep level hard rock mines. To facilitate this research, Harmony Gold Mining Co Ltd provided financial support required for the initial research period between 2014 and 2016.
Navin Singh, the mining and minerals resources manager of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) noted that “the technical challenges to mines have become even more severe, compounded by economic constraints and the increasing cost of labour”. These concerns highlight the need for renewed research in the mining industry as expressed in the creation of a Mining Resilience Research Centre (MRRC) at the University of Pretoria. The MRRC is an active participant in the South African Mining Extraction Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) strategy managed by the CSIR.
Universities, the industry and government work collaboratively to research critical issues within the mining industry – collectively called SAMERDI. The aim is to develop technological solutions to improve safety and productivity to reduce costs and extend the life of mines and their benefit to communities. In the process, mechanisation and non-explosive face advance methods are two of the thematic areas highlighted for research. In both these areas of research, the increase in advance rates to improve productivity are critical. The impact of substantial advance rates (continuous mining) on the safety of personnel within the working places, due to the perceived impact of seismic activity, could be significant.
Peter Steenkamp, chief executive officer of Harmony, noted that “The importance of this work in the current and future hard rock mining environment in the South African mining industry – and to ensure safer, deep level mining – has propelled Harmony to extend their financial support for this research to the end of 2019 by five million Rand (R5 million). This support will allow the research to calibrate the developed software with actual underground closure and seismic behaviour at selected Harmony operations”.