Tag Archives: DRC

Kibali automation journey to be discussed at SME Conference

One of the most autonomous underground mines in the world, Barrick Gold’s Kibali operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) recently hit another annual production record.

The mine soared past its 2019 production guidance of 750,000 oz of gold, with 814,027 oz being delivered. This topped the previous 2018 record of 807,251 oz.

At this year’s SME MineXchange Annual Conference & Expo, in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 26, Ismali Traore, Kibali Technical Services Manager, is to reveal more about how the operation has continued to surpass expectations and how safety has become front and centre at the mine, owned 45% by Barrick, 45% by AngloGold Ashanti and 10% by SOKIMO.

In his conference abstract, Traore said, in recent years, the mine has made significant progress by implementing a fully automated production level and material handling system (MHS) at the underground mine.

This sees up to three LHDs operated simultaneously from ore passes to the crusher and multiple LHDs from the stope to the finger raises. The entire automation system is remotely operated from a control room located on surface.

In a recent presentation, the Kibali partners said the system was designed to have autonomous Sandvik LH621 LHDs work in combination with a Sanvdik AutoMine loading system (ALS). The ALS Mission Control System is incorporated with features such as traffic management, auto-loading and tipping with real time tonne-kilometres/h, and a real-time bucket weighing system that is within 3% accuracy level for each bucket trammed to the coarse ore bins (COB) at the operation.

The MHS, meanwhile, uses data obtained from the ALS to interface with SCADA via an OPC interface, according to the partners. COB levels from the SCADA system are then interfaced with ALS to manage the loading of the bins.

All information is interfaced to achieve the nameplate capacity of the hoisting system – which WorleyParsons provided the operating philosophy for and Winder Controls (member of the SIEMAG TECBERG Group) provided the winder design for – while taking into consideration the availability of the ALS to equate the total MHS availability, they said.

In its objective of becoming one of the most efficient Tier One mines globally where safety is a focal point of the operation, a significant amount of time was spent on the traffic management and human interaction with the autonomous mining equipment, Traore said.

This is something Barrick President and Chief Executive, Mark Bristow, picked up on last month, saying the mine is continuing its technological advance with the introduction of truck and drill training simulators and the integration of systems for personnel safety tracking and ventilation demand control.

Traore is to expand on the important safety protocols implemented to mitigate the risk of collision between this equipment and humans within the automated system during his presentation.

Barrick continues to adopt new technologies at Kibali gold mine

Barrick Gold says its 45%-owned Kibali gold mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is continuing its technological advances with the introduction of truck and drill training simulators and the integration of systems for personnel safety tracking and ventilation on demand.

The mine, which is owned 45% by AngloGold Ashanti and 10% by SOKIMO, surpassed its 2019 guidance of 750,000 oz in 2019, delivering 814,027 oz in another record year, Barrick said this week.

Barrick President and Chief Executive, Mark Bristow, told a media briefing that Kibali’s continuing stellar performance was a demonstration of how a modern, Tier One gold mine could be developed and operated successfully in what is one of the world’s most remote and infrastructurally under-endowed regions.

He also noted that, in line with Barrick’s policy of employing, training and advancing locals, the mine was managed by a majority Congolese team, supported by a corps of majority Congolese supervisors and personnel.

Kibali is already one of the world’s most highly automated underground gold mines, with the operation’s backbone being Sandvik’s Automine Multi Fleet system, supervised on surface by a single operator. In a world first, it allows a fleet of up to five LHDs to be operated autonomously, 750 m below the surface, within the same 6 m x 6 m production drive while using designated passing bays to maintain traffic flow, the company says. A similar system is used in the production levels to feed the ore passes, according to Barrick.

The company said it had now introduced truck and drill training simulators and integrated systems for personnel safety tracking and ventilation demand control, adding that the simulators will also be used to train operators from Barrick’s Tanzanian mines.

Bristow also said that the company was maintaining a strong focus on energy efficiency at the mine through the development of its grid stabiliser project, scheduled for commissioning in the June quarter of 2020.

He said: “This uses new battery technology to offset the need for running diesel generators as a spinning reserve and ensures we maximise the use of renewable hydro power. The installation of three new elution diesel heaters will also help improve efficiencies and control power costs. It’s worth noting that our clean energy strategy not only achieves cost and efficiency benefits but also once again reduces Kibali’s environmental footprint.”

Bristow said despite the pace of production and the size and complexity of the mine, Kibali was maintaining its solid safety and environmental records, certified by ISO 45001 and ISO 14001 accreditations.

TLT-Turbo launches new range of ‘superfans’ for mine ventilation

TLT-Turbo GmbH has redesigned its auxiliary and booster fan range to improve both efficiency and cost-effectiveness for ventilation applications in the mining industry.

The development of the new fan range concept began in early 2015, according to the company.

Following a global study to gain an understanding of the market requirements, the range was defined in mid-2017, with the fabrication of the first units taking place shortly thereafter, the global ventilation fans and systems manufacturer said.

Michael Minges, Technical Director at TLT-Turbo Africa, who headed up the fans’ designs, said: “The development of the auxiliary and booster fan range would not have been possible without the input of clients. This ensured that we focused on key market-driven requirements including energy efficiency, noise reduction, cost-effectiveness and turnaround time.

“To sell these products, we needed to ensure close customer relationships and visibility. We are striving to change the industry’s mindset on the use of such fans to ensure proper fan selection for the ventilation required. In optimising mine ventilation, efficient, high-quality auxiliary and booster fans can add as much value as surface fan installations.”

TLT-Turbo started commissioning of the first iterations of the fan range towards the end of 2017 within the Sub-Saharan market through its Africa office. From there, it based the development of the various fan sizes of the new range on market interest.

The fan range is being rolled out in phases. The preliminary testing at sites located in Sub-Saharan Africa has been launched successfully. The next phase is globalisation as the new range will be rolled out in the USA, Canada, Europe, Russia and Australia.

Following this, product supply and support will be extended to TLT-Turbo offices in South America and India. In the interim, though, Minges said these fans can be supplied to clients worldwide from TLT-Turbo Africa.

Minges said as energy efficiency is one of the main drivers of industrial equipment usage, and minimum efficiency requirements on certain equipment are often legislated, TLT-Turbo identified the need and opportunity in the market for “more efficient mining fans compared to what is currently in use”.

The new designs include several innovative additions to enhance performance in order to provide “exceptional” underground ventilation, the company said.

“The fan range was developed using the latest in engineering flow technology which allowed TLT-Turbo to improve the aerodynamics, and thus the efficiency of the fans. A unique stator design and aerodynamic fairings, all manufactured from wear-resistant composite materials, resulted in improved efficiencies and reduced noise levels.”

Meanwhile, the modularity of the fan casings allow for quick and easy assembly with interchangeable ancillary fan parts, according to the company.

“The motor mounting, in coherence with a machined impeller track, ensures low and controllable blade tip clearances for improved performance and efficiencies,” TLT-Turbo said. “Pad mount motors are used for all fan sizes and help reduce vibration levels in the axial direction of the motor significantly which leads to longer motor bearing life and lower maintenance requirements.”
Minges said all possible measures are taken to ensure the highest quality and best possible performance of every fan supplied by TLT-Turbo.

“All fans are ISO 5801 tested unless the client agrees to type testing on higher volume orders,” he said. “We ensure the client quoted performance is met before the fans leave the factory. Test certificates on both raw data and calculated performance can be provided on request.

“Fan efficiency is determined with the performance test and this quality check ensures we deliver on what we promised the client. Clients are regularly invited to witness the performance tests to sign off on acceptance. The fans also come with pressure ports that can be hooked up to a calibrated handheld measuring device to measure performance in-situ.”

In addition to performance and efficiency, ease of maintenance was also a major consideration in developing the new range.

The modularity of the product design and the interchangeable standardised parts allows for quick turnaround time on parts supply, according to the company.

“For example, we only have two blade types for the full product range and generally only one motor barrel per fan size accommodating various motor sizes and types,” Minges said.

“Standardisation on the product is the key to successfully managing maintenance and repair as it allows ample supply of spares for companies certified to do the repair work. The design track record has indicated a longer mean time between failures than previous products.”

TLT-Turbo Africa has received a number of orders for these fans since the end of 2017. These orders include South Africa clients seeking a solution for deepening a gold mine and for Kamoa Copper in the DRC as an exclusive supplier.

Minges said: “The feedback that we have received, thus far, has been that the fans are meeting our and our client’s expectations. I am proud to say that one EPC consultant used the phrase ‘superfan’ to describe the new range and indicated that he has not heard a fan of this size so quiet before.”

WEG Automation Africa overcomes logistical challenges at DRC tin mine

WEG Automation Africa has come to the rescue of a tin mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, providing a containerised substation and control room solution that circumvented the challenging logistics associated with accessing the operation.

The company, formerly Shaw Controls, put the contract win down to an innovative and fit-for-purpose design.

Tyrone Willemse, Business Development Consultant – Projects and Contracts at WEG Automation Africa, said the substations are each housed in a 6-m-high cube container, with a total of 14 units supplied, comprising MV rooms and LV rooms.

Willemse says: “The unit’s dimensions and robustness had to allow for a long journey, including along a very difficult 200 km road to reach the mine site.”

He added: “Every part of the process plant has its own designated MCC (motor control centre) that provides electrical power and control for areas including the primary crushing circuit, the plant feed, regrind mill, tailings thickener, and the product dewatering and handling circuits.”

In addition to meeting safety compliance regulations, the design includes three-way locking systems, LED lighting, fire detection systems and a safety interlock to the fire system for air conditioners. Backup power supply is provided to all the exit lighting, according to WEG. To ensure easy cable entry, meanwhile, glanding plates were carefully located not to overlap with the container’s support beams.

“Working in close collaboration with the engineering house, careful planning could be done upfront to ensure that nothing was overlooked,” Willemse said.

“In the design, full consideration was given to the placement of elements like platforms, walkways, doors, viewing windows and air conditioning units. We also took responsibility for the logistics of getting everything to site.”

Willemse highlighted that this turnkey solution demonstrated WEG Automation Africa’s containerised substation design and engineering capability, as well as its full local manufacturing capacity, which he said, lifted the company above other MCC manufacturers or assemblers.

The containerised solution comes with a full data pack, quality control documentation and an operation and maintenance manual in accordance with ISO9001.

“With our expertise, capacity and experience of working in Africa, we were able to reduce the risk and turnaround time by tackling the entire contract in-house,” Willemse said. “The extensive testing and cold commissioning enabled by our modus operandi and facilities also gave the mine peace of mind that the unit would function as required when it arrived on site.”

GR Engineering to lead Manono lithium-tin DFS in DRC

GR Engineering Services (GRES) is to act as engineer for the definitive feasibility study on AVZ Minerals’ 60%-owned Manono lithium and tin project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Australia-listed developer said.

GRES, based in Perth, Western Australia, is an engineering group with significant experience in study management and the engineering design and construction of resource projects in Western Australia and globally, both as EPCM and EPC contractor, AVZ said.

Manono, meanwhile, was recently the subject of a scoping study. This study showed a 5Mt/y project could produce around 1.1 Mt/y of concentrate at a minimum of 5.8% Li2O concentrate.

AVZ said: “The GRES team nominated for this engagement have appropriate experience in Africa, including in the DRC, where GRES recently provided operational support and optimisation studies at the Kipoi copper project (Tiger Resources).

AVZ’s Managing Director, Nigel Ferguson, said: “The appointment of GRES as the DFS engineer is a significant milestone for the Manono project as its work is highly regarded by leading financiers and lending institutions.”

Other DFS work streams are continuing to schedule including the metallurgical test work, AVZ noted. A 1 t sub-sample of the bulk sample has been sent to ALS Minerals in Perth for comminution testwork, with results from this expected soon.

The dewatering program for the Roche Dure pit has commenced. Approval to dewater the Roche Dure and M’Pete open pits was given to AVZ’s DRC management company, Dathcom Mining SAS, in mid-May by the Mines Environmental Protection, a section of the DRC Department of Mines. The approval was contingent on the building of a silt settlement pond and a water treatment facility into the existing dewatering channel, which has since been completed.

Ivanhoe’s Kakula copper mine takes shape in the DRC

Development is speeding up at Ivanhoe Mines’ majority-owned Kamoa-Kakula copper project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the first access drives approaching Kakula’s initial high-grade ore and earthworks for the surface processing plant having now commenced, the Toronto listed company says.

Mining OEMs will be getting excited too, with tenders for long-lead mining and processing equipment now issued and orders expected to be placed shortly, Ivanhoe said.

In February, Ivanhoe unveiled a prefeasibility study for a 6 Mt/y mine at Kakula, which envisaged an average annual production rate of 291,000 t of copper at a mine-site cash cost of $0.46/Ib ($1,014/t) of copper and total cash cost of $1.11/lb copper for the first 10 years of operations. Annual copper production would step up to 360,000 t by year four, the company said. This came with an initial capital cost of $1.1 billion and would result in an after-tax net present value (8% discount) of $5.4 billion factoring in an average copper price of $3.10/lb. In addition to this, the company unveiled an updated preliminary economic assessment combining both Kakula and Kamoa into an 18 Mt/y operation.

Shortly after this, various stakeholders advanced money for the project, getting Ivanhoe, as the operator, and Zijn Mining, as a partner, to the point where they were both able to fully fund their share of capital costs required to bring the mine into commercial production.

In the latest update on the project, Ivanhoe said “excellent progress” was being made on the construction of the 6 Mt/y Kakula copper mine. Initial copper concentrate production from the Kakula mine currently is scheduled for the September quarter of 2021, with the initial, five-year, detailed mine design now finalised and production scheduling in progress.

The full, detailed mine design will be included in the independent definitive feasibility study that is expected to be published early next year.

Approximately 2,500 employees and contractors now are working at the project as Ivanhoe advances construction of the project’s initial mine at the Kakula deposit.

A total of 647 m of underground development was completed last month, some 100 m more than achieved in April. Lower-grade development ore is being stockpiled on surface near the site of the concentrator plant, which will be used for plant commissioning.

“Mine access drives 1 and 2 (interconnected, parallel tunnels that will provide access to ore zones) are approximately 200 m from Kakula’s initial high-grade mining area, and these priority drives are expected to intersect the higher-grade ore in late July or early August this year,” Ivanhoe said.

The underground development work at Kakula is being performed by mining crews operating large-capacity, semi-autonomous mining equipment, such as jumbo drilling rigs and 50-t trucks (shown above).

The Kakula mine access is via twin declines on the northern side (which have been completed) and a single decline on the south side of the deposit (under development). One of the northern declines will be the mine’s primary access way, while the other will be for the ore conveyor haulage system. The southern ventilation decline will serve as a secondary access and will facilitate the acceleration of critical, early mine development.

From the bottom of the northern and southern declines, a pair of perimeter drifts will be driven to the east and west extremities of the deposit and will serve as the primary accesses to the production areas. These drifts also will be used as the primary intake and exhaust ventilation circuits and will connect with the intake and exhaust ventilation shafts. Underground access to the first raise bore ventilation shaft has been reached, Ivanhoe said. The pilot hole for the 177-m raise bore has been completed, and reaming of the 5.5-m diameter ventilation shaft is expected to be completed next month, according to the company.

The primary ore handling system will include perimeter conveyor drifts and load-out points along the north side of the deposit. The perimeter conveyor drifts will terminate at the main conveyor decline. Connection drifts between the north and south perimeter drifts will provide access and ventilation to the planned mining areas.

Around 99% of the deposit will be mined using the drift-and-fill method, which was chosen to maximise the overall extraction of Kakula ore, Ivanhoe said.

The tailings will flow through a series of cyclones at the backfill plant, and approximately 55% of the tailings will be sent back underground into the mined-out workings as paste backfill. The remaining 45% of the tailings will be pumped to a small tailings storage facility that is being designed by a team of international engineers to meet global best practices for safety, Ivanhoe said.

“The detailed design for the truck-tipping area, where underground ore will feed onto the conveyor system for transportation to surface, and the conveyor system for the main declines, has been completed and component manufacture is underway,” the company added.

Three underground mining crews are working at Kakula. Once Ventilation Shaft 1 is completed and fans have been installed, an additional three crews will be mobilised to accelerate mine development, which is scheduled for October 2019.

Development of an additional access and ventilation decline on the southern side of the Kakula orebody is progressing well and has advanced more than 200 m, Ivanhoe noted. A surface piling rig machine has been mobilised to prepare for the raise bore civil construction for Ventilation Shaft 2.

The DRA Global detailed engineering work on the project includes the engineering and design associated with all underground mining infrastructure, the concentrator plant and all supporting surface infrastructure. This engineering work is running in parallel with an independent definitive feasibility study that is expected to be completed early next year.

“An agreed, detailed budget, and construction and implementation plan is being finalised with Ivanhoe’s joint-venture partner Zijin Mining,” Ivanhoe said. “The project also will be further optimised and adjusted based on the development progress of the project and on the results of the definitive feasibility study.”

On May 22, the project’s construction team commenced breaking ground for the surface processing plant, marking the start of the concentrator construction. The Kakula concentrator will be constructed in a phased approach with two 3 Mt/y modules, as the mining operations ramp up to a full ore-throughput rate of 6 Mt/y. Kakula is expected to produce a very-high-grade copper concentrate in excess of 55% copper, with extremely low arsenic levels, according to Ivanhoe.

The processing plant flow diagrams, process control descriptions, and processing equipment lists have been completed and piping and instrumentation diagrams are being finalised, the company noted. “Tenders for long-lead items such as cone crushers, ball mills, thickeners, high-pressure grinding rolls, flotation cells, regrind mills, concentrate filter and low entrainment flotation cells, have been issued to the market and bids have been received. The Kamoa-Kakula project team in conjunction with DRA is in the process of adjudicating the tenders. Orders are expected to be placed shortly.”

In addition, the tender for the plant civil works has been issued. All bids have been received and are under adjudication. Tenders for smaller equipment for the processing plant such as agitators and samplers have been issued to the market.

Earlier this month, the Kamoa-Kakula project achieved a total of more than 14.5 million work hours free of lost-time injuries – it has been approximately seven years since the last lost-time injury occurred at the project. “This outstanding achievement reflects the dedication to a safety-focused culture of the entire Kamoa-Kakula exploration and development teams,” Ivanhoe said.

Ivanhoe also provided an update on the upgrading work at the Mwadingusha hydropower plant, which it said was progressing well. This project is important to the Kamoa-Kakula project as it is providing clean hydro-electricity to the site from the national grid.

“Construction activities at the Mwadingusha hydropower station are progressing well and Ivanhoe expects that the full upgrading and modernisation of the hydropower plant and its six generators to be completed in late 2020,” Ivanhoe said. “This upgrading work is pursuant to an agreement with the DRC’s state-owned power company, La Société Nationale d’Electricité (SNEL), and is in exchange for a guaranteed 100 MW of electricity – more than enough power for the Kakula mine. The Kamoa-Kakula project has been receiving hydroelectric-generated power from the national grid since late 2016.”

“This installation of modern power generating equipment at Mwadingusha is an important step in helping to secure long-term, sustainable and clean electricity for the Congolese people and for the development of the Kakula mine.”

The upgrading work at Mwadingusha is being conducted by engineering firm Stucky of Lausanne, Switzerland, under the direction of Ivanhoe and Zijin Mining, in conjunction with SNEL.

Work is underway on a 220-kV electrical substation at the Kakula mine that will allow the mine and processing plant to be fully powered from the national power grid. Two new Sumec generators also have been installed at Kakula to provide power to the mine in the event of any power interruptions in the national grid.

Glencore and Umicore sign up to cobalt hydroxide supply pact

As part of a new agreement with Umicore, Glencore has agreed to supply cobalt hydroxide from its KCC and Mutanda operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Umicore’s battery materials value chain.

Umicore has assessed each of these operations as fully compliant with its sustainable procurement framework for cobalt, which excludes artisanally-mined cobalt from its supply chain, as well as any form of child labour, the companies said.

The cobalt units will be shipped to Umicore’s cobalt refineries globally, including the Kokkola refinery (Finland), which Umicore said last week it would acquire from Freeport Cobalt for a total consideration of $150 million. The Kokkola transaction is expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

Glencore produced 42,200 t of cobalt in 2018, the majority of which came from its 65%-owned KCC operation and Mutanda.

“The agreement guarantees Umicore’s security of supply for a substantial part of its longer-term cobalt needs for its expanding global battery materials value chain,” the companies said. “The agreement also provides Glencore long-term market access for its cobalt raw materials in line with Umicore’s growing cathode materials sales.”

Marc Grynberg, CEO of Umicore, said: “Our partnership with Glencore and the acquisition of the Kokkola refinery which has just been announced demonstrate our ability to execute our growth strategy for cathode materials with consistency. The agreement also reconfirms our strong commitment to promote a sustainable battery materials value chain globally.

“I am convinced that our battery cell and automotive customers will value our commitment to support their growth.”

Nico Paraskevas, Head of Marketing, Copper & Cobalt, Glencore, said: “We are pleased to enter into this long-term partnership with Umicore in the fast growing electric vehicle market which further endorses Glencore’s important role in supplying the materials that enable the energy and mobility transition.”

DRA Global moves from PFS to basic engineering at Kakula copper project

DRA Global has been awarded the contract for basic engineering services on the Kakula mine portion of the wider Kamoa-Kakula project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The contract scope includes the basic engineering and design associated with all underground mining infrastructure, the concentrator plant and all supporting surface infrastructure.

Kamoa Copper SA, a joint venture between Ivanhoe Mines, Zijin Mining Group and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, will develop the new copper mine, which is expected to yield an estimated 6 Mt/y in its first phase alone.

The Kakula deposit has been independently ranked as the world’s largest, undeveloped, high yield, high-grade copper discovery, according to DRA, with a resource measuring 174 Mt at an average grade of 5.62% Cu.

DRA’s project delivery relationship with Ivanhoe Mines started on the high-grade platinum-group metals, nickel and copper Platreef project in South Africa. “It was on this project that DRA demonstrated its experienced capability in project delivery which proved to be a key differentiator for the organisation on Kakula,” DRA said.

DRA was contracted to complete the prefeasibility study (PFS) for Kamoa Copper SA, in 2017. In October 2018, DRA was further awarded the contract to deliver a complete basic engineering package. Work began in October and is estimated to conclude by mid-2019.

In addition to the basic engineering, DRA offers continued support on the early works, which includes equipping the main declines with dewatering and conveyor systems, ventilation shafts and associated surface infrastructure.

Alistair Hodgkinson, DRA Executive Vice President, Projects, said: “The team working on this project has gone above and beyond to meet deadlines and exceed client expectations ultimately to ensure that this signature project starts producing as soon as possible.”

Earlier this month, Ivanhoe Mines revealed the prefeasibility study for an initial 6 Mt/y copper mine at Kakula, in addition to an updated preliminary economic assessment combining both Kakula and Kamoa into an 18 Mt/y operation.

Barrick’s Loulo gold operation readies for introduction of off-grid solar hybrid plant

Barrick Gold is to install a 24 MW off-grid solar hybrid plant to support its existing 63 MW thermal power station at the Loulo mine in Mali as it looks to cut costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the operation.

The renewable energy project is part of Barrick’s wider strategy of moving away from thermal power in Africa, where lack of infrastructure means many mines rely on self-generated diesel energy, making this their largest cost item, the company said.

“Utilising hydropower in the Democratic Republic of Congo, grid power in Côte d’Ivoire, and heavy-fuel baseload generators in Mali, Barrick has already cut its energy costs significantly, and the continuing roll-out of renewable energy sources will ensure that its future needs are met in the most cost-efficient and environmentally friendly manner,” Barrick said.

The solar feasibility study at Loulo forecasted that the photovoltaic plant will replace 50,000 MWh/y of thermal generation, saving 10 million litres/y of fuel and reducing CO² emissions by 42,000 t over the same period. The introduction of the solar component is also expected to cut the complex’s energy cost by around 2 cents/kWh.

Construction of the project—which meets Barrick’s investment criteria of generating at least a 20% internal rate of return—will start later this year. The plant is scheduled for commissioning in late 2020.

“The plant will use the latest weather prediction models, which will enable the power management system to switch between thermal and solar without compromising the micro-grid,” Barrick said.

Barrick’s 80%-owned Loulo-Gounkoto operation is expected to produce 520,000-570,000 oz of gold in 2019 at all-in sustaining costs of $810-850/oz.

Barrick working with Sandvik on autonomous and manned equipment interaction

Barrick Gold says it is advancing autonomous production systems and projects as it looks to become the global leader in mining efficiency.

President and CEO Mark Bristow said in the company’s 2018 financial results that to achieve its goal of being the world’s most valued gold company, in a rapidly evolving environment where the industry’s shift to developing countries will continue, Barrick will have to be at the leading edge of automation.

“Kibali, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is currently at the forefront, with its mission control system which manages the underground ore handling logistics without human intervention from the surface, but across Barrick there are many automated operations and developments which are now being unified in a group strategy,” he said.

These include, Barrick said, underground drills that can be run from surface during shift changes; automated underground and open-pit haulage trucks; fully-autonomous backfill systems; remote-controlled open-pit drills; and autonomous drilling of development and production blastholes by multiple units controlled by a single remote operator.

Glenn Heard, Senior Vice President Mining, said ongoing projects currently cover five main areas: underground development and production drilling, production and haulage, and open-pit haulage and production.

“At present, all our systems have barriers which prevent human access to the autonomous operating zones. Our next big step will be to create a situation where autonomous and manned units can work together seamlessly within the same active areas, and we’re working with Sandvik and other providers to achieve this,” he said.