Master Drilling is readying its Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB) technology for a contract at Anglo American Platinum’s Mogalakwena mine in South Africa.
The company, which revealed the news during its interim results presentation, said on-boarding for this project deployment was underway, with the start of “decline excavation” due by the end of the year.
Anglo American Platinum said in its own interim results recently that it was working on feasibility studies on the future of Mogalakwena, with completion of these studies expected at the end of 2021. Decisions on the pathway forward are expected shortly after this, however, one of the current key milestones at the asset includes progressing an underground exploration decline.
Master Drilling Executive Director, Koos Jordaan, said during the presentation that the contract with Anglo American Platinum is for a “turnkey operation” with Master Drilling providing capabilities in terms of construction, logistics and project management, in addition to its normal excavation services.
The MTB is a modular horizontal cutting machine equipped with full-face cutter head with disc cutters adapted from traditional tunnel boring machines. Unlike these traditional machines, it is designed to work both on inclines and declines, with the ability to navigate around corners and construct 5.5 m diameter decline access tunnels.
One MTB unit was previously scheduled to carry out a 1.4 km project at Northam Platinum’s Eland platinum group metals operation in South Africa, however this was cancelled in March 2020 due to the pandemic. This deployment followed testing of an MTB unit in soft rock at a quarry just outside of Rome, Italy, in 2018.
Alongside news of this latest MTB deployment, Master Drilling said in its results that it was studying the potential to deploy two of these MTB units in tandem for twin-decline access as part of the technology’s second-generation developments.
“We can already see the benefit of utilising two of these machines to do a twin-decline access to an orebody,” Jordaan said.
Looking to vertical developments, Master Drilling reported that it had received shareholder funding approval from the Industrial Development Corporation for the latest work on its Shaft Boring System (SBS), designed to sink 4.5 m diameter shafts in hard rock down to 1,500 m depths.
The company has since said it will introduce a “smaller scope system” as part of its introduction to the industry.
While busy on the latest slimmed down design of the SBS, Master Drilling has signed a letter of intent with a prospective South Africa project that could see a machine start sinking activities in the first half of 2022, Jordaan said.
Outside of these developments, Master Drilling reported on several contract awards across the globe, including a three-year raiseboring extension with AngloGold Ashanti in Brazil, a joint venture agreement with Besalco Construction to work on Codelco’s Chuquicamata copper mine, an executed contract with Glencore’s Raglan mine in Canada, an agreement with Zimplats in Zimbabwe and a “long-term contract” on the Khoemacau copper-silver project in Botswana.