Mining students from the Wits School of Mining Engineering, with the support of Gold Fields, are building South Africa’s capacity to apply mechanised mining methods and supporting technologies in deep-level gold mines, according to the institution.
In a three-year partnership, supported by a R6-million ($425,056) Gold Fields grant in 2017, a range of research projects are underway at both post-graduate and under-graduate level in the Wits School. This work tackles challenges and opportunities at Gold Fields’ South Deep mine – the country’s largest and deepest underground mechanised gold mine.
Gold Fields is currently restructing operations at South Deep, saying it needs to reduce mining areas, lower overhead costs and use fewer machines more productively to ensure the mine’s future.
The school said: “Wits and Gold Fields have recognised South Africa lacks sufficient skills and expertise to run deep-level mechanised operations. The school has been a pioneer in conducting research and developing solutions in the field of digital technology and mechanised mining systems in partnership with the Wits Mining Institute.”
According to the Head of the School, Professor Cuthbert Musingwini, young researchers play an important role in finding economically viable strategies to mine South Africa’s deep deposits.
“These partnerships between academia and industry can make our deep-level mines more safe and sustainable, continuing their vital contribution to the economy,” Professor Musingwini said.
Gold Fields CEO, Nick Holland, emphasised the school’s long history of research-intensive higher education – as well as its association with the digital technology-focused Wits Mining Institute – making it the natural partner for Gold Fields’ vision for South Deep. “Deep-level mining in South Africa will only be sustainable in the long run if it’s done in a mechanised manner. The School of Mining’s new focus on deep-level, mechanised mining research points the way,” Holland said.
Several of the post-graduate applied research projects are well advanced, covering topics that have the potential to positively impact South Deep across safety, productivity and cost improvement fronts as the mine continues its production ramp-up, according to the school.
Focus areas for the various projects at South Deep, which will lead to Masters Degrees for the post-graduate students, cover the following areas:
- Assessment of the local ground support and corrosion life cycle to improve long term cost-effectiveness by Rachidi Dineo;
- Analysis and optimisation of the ore flow system from stope to mill by Matsobane Nong;
- Research to increase the effectiveness of backfill in the mining value chain by Mosebudi Matlou, and;
- Multiple point simulation for reducing uncertainty in ore body modelling by Isaac Mabala.
A project to assess opportunities to facilitate cost-effective communications right to the mining face, to complete the “connected mine”, has also recently been initiated, the school said.
Other on-going research at postgraduate level, linked to achieving improved safety and productivity in deep-level mining, is being carried out under Professor Rudrajit Mitra, the School’s Chair of Rock Engineering. The chair received significant financial support under a previous Gold Fields sponsorship agreement.
Six undergraduate research projects have so far been conducted by third and fourth year students as part of the vacation work degree requirement. In one project, the research investigated ways to ameliorate seismicity and rock burst damage underground, while another was a techno-economic assessment of backfill barricades used in ultra-deep-level gold mining.
The Wits University Gold Fields steering committee overseeing the work comprises Professors Musingwini and Mitra, Professor Fred Cawood from the Wits Mining Institute, Tim Rowland, Gold Fields VP GeoSciences & Planning and Chair of the committee, Johan Sliep, South Deep’s Head of Technical & Production Intelligence Systems, and Andrew Whibley, Gold Fields VP Technology & Innovation.