Tag Archives: Master Drilling

Master Drilling talks up MTB 2.0 as it progresses work on Shaft Boring System

Master Drilling Group’s annual results presentation provided a few eye-opening updates on the company’s mechanised mine development fronts, with Director, Koos Jordaan, highlighting a potential first deployment of the company’s Shaft Boring System (SBS) at Royal Bafokeng Platinum’s Styldrift mine in South Africa.

A raiseboring specialist that has diversified into other complementary areas over the last decade, Master Drilling has consistently devoted capital towards its technology developments.

During the 2021 annual results presentation, Jordaan confirmed that the company had started tunnelling work on an exploration decline at Anglo American Platinum’s Mogalakwena PGM mine in South Africa, using its Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB), as well as highlighted the ongoing development of a next-generation design that would cater to the industry need to safely and quickly establish twin declines for mine access.

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.

Having initially been tested in a quarry in Italy in soft rock, it then made the trip back to South Africa to carry out a 1.4 km project at Northam Platinum’s Eland platinum group metals operation in South Africa, in harder rock. This project was terminated in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, however, the company announced it had signed an agreement with Anglo American Platinum to deploy the MTB at Mogalakwena as part of a turnkey contract to sink an exploration decline.

On the development of MTB 2.0, Jordaan said: “We are already working on the second-gen MTB being confident that the concept provides competitive value versus the past as well as other current developments.”

He said the company envisioned future projects using two MTBs simultaneously to establish traditional twin declines for access to underground mines for fast access from “A-to-B” and a quick turnaround to steady-state mining operations.

The company is also carrying out early-stage work with Element Six and the De Beers Group on cut and break technology which, when applied in tandem with the use of the MTB, could enable even more continuous cutting applications.

Element Six, as a company, was established to harness the unique properties of synthetic diamond (polycrystalline diamond or PCD) and tungsten carbide to deliver supermaterials that improve the efficiency, performance and reliability of industrial tools and technology. One of the obvious applications was in hard-rock cutting where OEMs have trialled PCD materials.

Jordaan said the company could leverage cut and break technology with MTBs to create flat floors and breakaways, allowing the circular MTB to continue cutting the face without stoppages.

Looking at vertical developments, Jordaan also provided an update on the SBS.

This machine was initially billed as a blind shaft boring system able to sink 4.5-m diameter shafts in hard-rock down to 1,500 m depth.

Last year, Jordaan said it planned on introducing a “smaller scope system” as part of its introduction to the industry, adding that it had 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.

In the most recent update, he said the letter of intent was with Royal Bafokeng Platinum’s Styldrift mine.

“We are now building the SBS and working towards hopefully converting the letter of intent from RB Platinum to a contract award; we already engaged with them in investigation and readiness work should approval be granted,” he said.

The first SBS being built is a 4.1-m-diameter scope machine with a capability of sinking shafts up to 1,500 m depth, according to Jordaan, who explained that this “smaller shaft scope” was part of a plan to lower the machine’s implementation cost.

“But we are already engaged with opportunities regarding a larger scope of service,” he clarified. “The cost benefit of this method drastically increases as the scope increases versus conventional sinking.”

Aside from the MTB and SBS projects, Jordaan said the company was working on the LP100 development project for its raiseboring division. This is a highly mobile and high-capacity articulated wheel carrier to carry out up and down slots, as well as smaller raiseboring holes, remotely, he explained. At the same time as this the company is looking at developing electric track carriers for its raisebores that, when applied, would come with a much lower carbon footprint.

This came on top of plans for a new box hole boring machine, two new core drilling rigs – one for underground and one for surface – and an experimental rock cutter machine it is working on with African Rainbow Minerals in South Africa.

Master Drilling posts record annual profit as non-explosive tech gains traction

Master Drilling Group Limited, a provider of drilling services to the mining, civil engineering and building construction sectors, has reported a strong set of annual results for the year to December 31, 2021, as well as making progress in several key technology areas.

In the period in question, the company made significant gains across key regions, including the award of its first project in Spain to shotcrete a 560 m ventilation shaft, boosting its joint venture work under the Master Drilling Besalco Consortium with Codelco in Chile and making plans to employ its North American entity on a project in Saudi Arabia.

On top of this, the company’s technology team made strides with its Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB), confirming that a project to sink an exploration decline at Anglo American’s Mogalakwena PGM operation in South Africa was scheduled to move into the tunnelling phase this quarter. The company has previously said it would sink one of two exploration declines for Mogalakwena using the MTB, a modular horizontal cutting machine equipped with full-face cutter head with disc cutters adapted from traditional tunnel boring machines.

At the same time, in order to spread its risk and lighten funding requirements, the company says it has entered into a joint venture called Master Sinkers with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) with a view to pursuing promising business cases involving blind sinking shafts. The company has previously been working on a Shaft Boring System (SBS), designed to sink 4.5 m diameter shafts in hard rock down to 1,500 m depths, to carry out this process.

In the results, Master Drilling said Master Sinkers has now signed letter of intent with a client to blind bore a ventilation shaft, with investigative work on scoping and detailed design and procurement of resources for the shafts having commenced.

On this project specifically, the company said: “The project is progressing well and by the second half of 2022, we hope to commission the service and start executing on the project. We are positioning ourselves as a specialised mining contractor, as opposed to a mainstream one.”

The company added on these technology developments: “Non-explosives mining is still an uncharted area and we are looking to provide solutions for clients that are not bound by the requirement of explosives approvals, while at the same time shielding personnel against hazards by offering the flexibility to operate remotely. We have engaged with four different clients where we are able to develop these technologies and provide bespoke solutions that cater to their specific needs. By doing so, we hope to build relationships with these clients in a phased approach, thereby ensuring gradual progress and minimising large exposure or risk. All these projects are progressing well. These technologies all relate to providing a safer, higher productivity, cost-competitive and efficient solution.”

This technology progress was made against a backdrop of increased revenues and profitability, with revenue coming in at a record $178.1 million – up 40% from 2020 – and operating profit growing 126% to a record $27.8 million.

“These represent record results, achieved despite difficult global market and operating conditions,” the company said. “Cost savings initiatives implemented to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic assisted in this.”

Master Drilling’s Mobile Tunnel Borer heads to Anglo’s Mogalakwena mine

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.

IM witnessed the main cutting mechanism of what was previously billed as being a 45-m long, 450-t machine at the back end of 2019.

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.

Master Drilling increases mine digitisation network with investment in A&R Group

Master Drilling Group Ltd has announced an initial 25% investment in A&R Group as the drilling company continues to diversify its services and address its clients’ demand for increased mechanisation and digitisation.

Over the years A&R Engineering & Mining Supplies has become a leading operator in the underground rail-bound and trackless equipment hardware environment in terms of management systems and focusing on safety solutions, Master Drilling said. The digitisation by installation of thousands of intelligent devices across various mining operations has resulted in various spin-offs that include measurement of productivity; missing person location; and pedestrian, vehicle and other asset tracking.

The core offering of Lamproom Solutions & Consulting, part of the A&R Group, is the Comprehensive Mine Management System (CMMS). This software currently manages in excess of 100,000 cap lamps on a daily basis over a wide geographical area, Master Drilling said.

The ongoing need and drive for intelligent management information is constantly driven by the end user and this service is provided by Moxie Digital whose area of expertise is centred around providing reporting and data visualisation as well as 24/7 software support for the CMMS.

Since acquiring a stake in Embedded IQ (EIQ), a Johannesburg-based R&D business, over a decade ago, A&R Group has developed proximity avoidance hardware for underground rail-bound and trackless vehicles to facilitate safe and efficient mining. Equipment and systems supplied by the group track the movements of more than 50,000 people and machines underground in South Africa daily and, through specialised hardware, allow missing personnel to be located. The group’s competitive position is maintained by prioritising safety through innovation tailored for South African mines, according to Master Drilling.

Danie Pretorius, Master Drilling CEO, said: “Technological innovation remains a priority for Master Drilling as we continue to support our clients to optimise their operations, move down the cost curve and increase safety. Investing in A&R is synergistic for Master Drilling and aligned with our strategy to diversify our services and invest in businesses that help us meet our clients’ demand for increased mechanisation and digitisation. Other opportunities with low capital requirements and short return cycles are currently under consideration.”

Giel Oberholster, Managing Director of the A&R Group, added: “We are delighted to have Master Drilling become a shareholder of reference in A&R and look forward to leveraging the solidified relationships that have been established with mining houses. While A&R is currently focused on providing its services and hardware to South African clients, with a focus on Tier 1 and Tier 2 underground miners, we believe that there is a clear opportunity to broaden our reach across different markets that Master Drilling operates in globally.”

As Master Drilling’s strategy is geared towards developing the opportunities that innovation and technology present within the mining industry, further diversification into hardware selling and support, software licensing and data analytics has become one of the ways that the company has differentiated itself from its competitors, it said.

Master Drilling continues diversification plan in uncertain market

Master Drilling Group continued to add to its client and service base over the course of 2020, with bright spots reported in exploration drilling and the West Africa gold sector.

Its 2020 financials were hit by COVID-19, with revenue dropping 17% year-on-year to $123.1 million and operating profit declining to $12.3 million, from $24.1 million in 2019.

Danie Pretorius, CEO of Master Drilling, said: “Master Drilling’s overall performance for the year was weighed down by the weak global economic growth environment entering 2020, which was compounded by the material impact of COVID-19, across the 23 countries in which we operate, from a human, financial and operational perspective.

“Although the group experienced a significant decline in revenue in the South American operations, primarily due to government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, this was offset by regions such as India, Africa and Scandinavia which remained operational and received various stimulus packages.”

Despite a decrease in revenue, the company’s net cash generation increased 72.7% to $25.5 million as it contained capital expenditure by balancing maintenance with emerging opportunities.

In the second half of the year, Master Drilling was awarded new exploration projects and mobilised an additional fleet to service existing clients, with a considerable turnaround in drilling and exploration activity becoming more apparent and creating a healthy pipeline, it said.

Around a year ago, Master Drilling fulfilled the conditions to acquire Geoserve Exploration Drilling, increasing the South Africa-based company’s ability to offer exploration drilling, reverse circulation drilling, geotechnical investigations and grade control drilling services.

Its commitment to Africa saw the continent become the largest contributor to the group in terms of revenue and profits over the course of the year. Aggressive expansion into West Africa continued as part of the group’s diversification strategy, with a specific focus on gold, which has seen a surge in demand since 2019.

Master Drilling also continued to grow its presence in new markets, including Australia, Russia and Central Asia. It secured new contracts with a focus on raiseboring and mechanised mining services, too.

As at December 31, 2020, Master Drilling’s sales pipeline totalled $539.9 million with a stable order book of $212.8 million (2019: $142.1 million).

“In the short to medium term, the sales pipeline is expected to normalise and increase with further tactical acquisitions and joint ventures supporting performance,” it said. “Opportunities to diversify outside of the traditional drilling business into areas such as artificial intelligence will also continue.”

Although capital has been tightly managed in response to the uncertain environment, Master Drilling says technological innovation remains a key priority for the company.

Aligned to this, Master Drilling announced a 40% investment in AVA Solutions, a specialist in data-driven mining fleet management solutions, this month.

Commenting on the investment, Pretorius said: “Our recent investment in AVA is aligned with our strategy to diversify our services and invest in businesses that help us meet our clients’ demand for increased mechanisation and digitisation. Other opportunities with low capital requirements and short return cycles are currently under review.”

He concluded on the annual results: “Although the shape of recovery remains uncertain, we have seen a turnaround in the past six months across the commodities and regions that we are already exposed to. Having made significant investments in our fleet, technology and geographical diversification over the past couple of years, we are now positioned to capitalise on the predicted commodities bull run without requiring additional capital investment.”

Record hole in progress at Northam Platinum’s Zondereinde: Master Drilling

Master Drilling says it is in the process of drilling a world record hole at Northam Platinum’s Zondereinde platinum group metals mine, in the Bushveld Complex of South Africa.

The contractor has its flagship RD8-1500 raisebore rig on site at Zondereinde and is busy drilling the 4.8 m, 1,420 m deep hole at the operation, it said today.

Master Drilling said: “The project doesn’t just beat all previous drilling benchmarks, but also has very stringent accuracy requirement that requires the latest in Measurement While Drilling technology.”

While Master Drilling did not add any additional details in the news post, Northam Platinum said in its full-year results presentation for the year ending June 30, 2019, that planning and preparation for raiseboring the No.3 shaft at the Western Extension project at Zondereinde was in progress. It added, in a presentation last month, that pilot drilling for the raisebore was at 760 m.

Northam is targeting steady state platinum group metal production of 50,000 oz/y from the Western Extension, which it hopes to achieve in its 2025 financial year.

Master Drilling’s RD8 rig has been used at various mine sites across South Africa and is capable of drilling 8.5 m in diameter and over 1,500 m deep, the company said.

Master Drilling keeps advancing technology developments in face of market uncertainty

Having recorded a slight decrease in operating profit for the year ending December 31, 2019, Master Drilling pointed investors to several positive mining technology innovation developments within its latest financial results presentation.

In terms of financials, the main headlines were a 6.9% rise in revenue to $148.3 million and a slight decrease in operating profit of 5.1% to $22.4 million. The company put the latter down to “adverse global market conditions and an uncertain macro operating environment”.

Koos Jordaan, Master Drilling Executive Director, focused on the latest with the company’s Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB), Shaft Boring System (SBS) and automation, remote operation and digitisation efforts when addressing investors on the financial results webcast.

Starting with the MTB, the company confirmed the Phase 1 project it carried out for Northam Platinum at its Eland platinum group metals operation in South Africa was executed in the second half of 2019. According to Northam, this was a “performance validation project” that involved tunnelling on the 5.5 m diameter footwall conveyor decline at Eland.

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.

In Northam’s most recent annual report, it said the MTB trial would allow the company “to test and optimise both the efficacy of the machine as well as service functions that support the machine’s operation”.

At the end of February, Northam said: “The MTB trial was completed, yielding positive results, and will be applied to develop the Kukama belt decline barrel.”

This latest contract at Eland, termed the Phase 2 contract by Master Drilling, started up this quarter and will see a 1.5 km decline constructed in around 18 months, the raiseboring specialist said.

Jordaan said during the webcast that the company had experienced some delays in the start-up phase of this project, but recently it had obtained and “realised a steady build up”.

“Apart from this project, there is a lot of interest out of industry,” Jordaan said of the MTB, adding that the company was working on upfront engineering estimations for two other projects.

In addition to carrying out estimates for these projects Jordaan said an “alternative contractual business model” was under review for future MTB projects. This model is focused on the “capital nature” of employing the MTB and, Jordaan said, could “make a big difference as to the way we provide this service”.

Looking to the company’s vertical developments, Jordaan reviewed progress on the company’s SBS project.

In the second half of 2019, Master Drilling carried out an “experimental project” just outside of Fochville, in South Africa, to cut a 10 m test shaft of 4 m diameter. IM witnessed this in October, where the main cutting mechanism of what could eventually be its 45-m long, 450-t SBS was tested out in 300 Mpa rock.

When IM visited just over a week into these daily demonstrations, the machine was around 4.6 m below surface, no cutters had been replaced and Jordaan was satisfied with the machine’s performance.

In the webcast, Jordaan confirmed that the testing had seen the machine get up to “just short of a 1 m/hr instantaneous penetration”.

Such advance numbers could add considerable value to shaft sinking projects “if you consider the current complexities, safety-related issues, cost and productivity” associated with conventional sinking, he said.

Master Drilling, in order to mitigate the risks associated with bringing this mechanised technology to a largely conventional sinking industry, has split the development of the SBS into five phases.

Phase one – the testing that took place just outside Fochville – was concluded in the December quarter, while phase two to four – covering the assembly, manufacturing and commissioning of a machine and proving it to be commercially ready – had funding in place from Master Drilling’s partner, the Industrial Development Corporation.

Lastly, on the automation, remote operation and digitisation efforts, the company said it had completed several milestones during 2019.

One of these was displaying the ability to operate a raiseboring machine situated 3.5 km underground from a room on surface at the AngloGold Ashanti-owned Mponeng gold mine, in South Africa.

Jordaan said just over 20% of production was able to be completed by remote control during this project. “This helps you a lot if you have operations with high re-entry times,” Jordaan said, adding that it aids utilisation.

The company was looking to roll out this remote operation functionality across another four rigs in South America, North America, Scandinavia and India, according to Jordaan.

Looking at automation, Master Drilling has the capacity to employ semi-autonomous control on 42 rigs in its fleet. Jordaan said this has already shown to optimise the cutting cycle and provide a 20-50% productivity benefit at certain sites.

“We have also developed full autonomous control – the engineering side of it – and are waiting for the ideal project to apply and introduce it to industry,” Jordaan said.

When it comes to digitalisation, Jordaan was able to report that Master Drilling’s real-time operational reporting facility was continuing to be rolled out across all its operations. He also said additional modules were being developed around this hardware and system, which would provide even more benefits to users.

Master Drilling makes ‘horizontal integration’ move with Geoserve buy

Master Drilling has announced that it has fulfilled all the necessary conditions to acquire Geoserve Exploration Drilling, increasing the South Africa-based company’s ability to offer exploration drilling, reverse circulation drilling, geotechnical investigations and grade control drilling services.

In its 2019 financial year results, released today, it said the relevant competition commission had approved the transaction and Geoserve, a private company specialising in exploration and drilling services, would now be embedded into the company’s African segment as a wholly-owned subsidiary.

Danie Pretorius, CEO of Master Drilling, said: “The transaction will augment our expertise and global reach, as well as provide a platform for horizontal integration in the mining industry, which has been under pressure in the past few years, necessitating consolidation.”

Master Drilling paid MOGS Mining Services ZAR100 ($5.7) for the company, as well as assumed the bank overdraft facility and certain liabilities tied to Geoserve, it said. The company said a detailed purchase price allocation will be performed during 2020 and disclosed in its 2020 financial statements.

Master Drilling added: “Geoserve has a well-established footprint and pipeline that will reinforce Master Drilling’s capacity and income profile through increased exploration drilling, reverse circulation drilling, geotechnical investigations and grade control drilling services, which are all key to the broader mining sector.”

Master Drilling brings excitement to the shaft boring sector

What Master Drilling is demonstrating on a patch of land some 15 minutes’ drive outside of its Fochville, South Africa, headquarters has the potential to change the hard-rock shaft sinking industry.

That is not an exaggeration.

Interested parties – major mining companies included – are being shown how the main cutting mechanism of what could eventually be its 45-m long, 450-t Shaft Boring System (SBS) can cut through hard rock.

The 15 in patented cutter heads are progressing through 320 MPa dolorite. Started up on cue over a three-week period that began on October 14, the machine is cutting around 40-50 mm a day.

When IM visited just over a week into these daily demonstrations, the machine was around 4.6 m below surface, no cutters had been replaced and Koos Jordaan, Executive Director of Master Drilling, was satisfied with the machine’s performance.

The fact that Master Drilling is showing off this cutting innovation now should not be a surprise.

The company first discussed what was previously called the Blind Shaft Boring System concept at the 2016 Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, South Africa. At this point, the company pitched the machine as being able to add significant value to projects given the shorter time frame it would take to reach new underground mine development levels.

The machine would be able to cut and muck, as shaft reinforcement, lining and other protective measures occurred. It would be work through hard rock from 200-400 MPa and sink shafts up to 1,500 m deep.

This aim has not changed in the more than three-and-a-half years since the premiere, but the name and the design has altered somewhat

Jordaan and Nicol Goodwin, Mechanical Engineer for Master Drilling, admit they went through seven designs before settling on what they are now presenting. Past iterations may have been more radical, but today’s blueprint, which has around 95% of detailed design complete, strikes a balance “between energy, complexity and sophistication”, Jordaan explained.


Peter van Dorssen, Mining Advisor for Master Drilling, said some attendees – before seeing the machine in action – compared the concept with the V-Mole technology that is used on Herrenknecht’s Shaft Boring Enlarger (SBE).

Acting like a vertically-oriented modern hard-rock tunnel boring machine (TBM), shaft sinking with the SBE occurs in three phases – pilot hole, enlargement to pilot borehole diameter with a reamer and enlargement to final diameter of 7.5-9.5 m. The SBE was previously used to sink the Primsmulde shaft at the Endsdorf colliery in southern Germany.

While this technology reportedly performed well in the coal mine, achieving an average sinking rate of 7-7.5 m/d, it has not been tested in hard-rock conditions and, perhaps more importantly, the system cannot carry out concurrent mucking.

This means an access drift, as well as equipment, is required at the lowest part of the shaft to transport the muck to surface.

With Master Drilling’s SBS able to carry out cutting, mucking and shaft reinforcement concurrently, the comparisons tend to end there.

According to van Dorssen, Master Drilling’s newest machine can advance three times quicker than conventional sinking via drill and blast. It requires three-to-five people to operate the machine, none of which are exposed to the face. The safety considerations also extend to the changing of the disc cutters, which can be removed and replaced from behind the face.

Like the Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB) for horizontal development (currently working at Northam Platinum’s Eland PGM mine in the North West province of South Africa), the SBS will be commissioned off a launchpad. This will be constructed with minimal civils work and alleviate the need for a timely and expensive pre-sink phase.

The front end of the machine (as it descends the shaft) is made up of the pilot cutting head – in a W-shape configuration – and gearbox. The pilot cutter head accounts for some 15%of the entire rock cutting, with the wider diameter reamer section that follows accounting for the remaining 85%.

This first section can independently progress by 1.5 m when cutting is taking place in three separate 500 mm phases.

The rest of the 45-m long machine catches up following this initial cutting, which is automated by a series of lasers that ensure the machine is on the correct course and using optimal force.

This cutting station is followed by two shaft gripping stations for machine support within the shaft. Following this is an enlargement station – also equipped with cutters – that widens the pilot hole carried out by the pilot cutter head to the desired diameter, with Master Drilling saying this will range from 7.5–11.5 m.

Behind this is a main stage made up of eight separate levels. Here, personnel will be able to carry out the rock bolting, lining and other reinforcement measures required. Personnel will also be able to probe drill for geotechnical measurements off one of these levels, enabling them to anticipate the fracturability and hardness of rock, in addition to any potential water inflows, ahead of actual cutting. Personnel operating on this main stage are protected by a series of finger shields that, while guarding them from potential rockfalls, still allow for a 360° access to the shaft for services.

A series of kibbles lowered by winches and transported on a conveyance on one of the levels of this stage bring the required shotcrete and materials to allow these concurrent tasks to take place.

Kibbles will also help with the mucking process, with two 16-t capacity buckets transporting the muck from the cut section to surface through a 2.1 m opening that present in all of the machine’s stations. Master Drilling is relying on gravity to recover 85% of the volume of muck at the enlargement section, with the remaining 15% recovered using a vacuum and/or slurry system.

Jordaan remarked: “The whole idea of this mucking system is to handle material once and handle it in a simple way.”

This mucking mechanism will shift the normal shaft sinking constraint dynamic from mucking capacity to shaft lining speed, van Dorssen said.

The headgear to support these operations from surface will likely be around 35 m tall – small in comparison with other mechanised sinking setups – while the total power requirement comes in at around 10 MW, according to Goodwin.


While the demonstration in Fochville was a massive sign of intent from Master Drilling on the mechanised shaft sinking front, the company is formalising this testing process by setting itself key performance indicators.

One: it wants to hit or exceed an advance rate of 500 mm/hr – replicating an 8 m/d target that includes an envisaged two eight-hour production shifts and one eight-hour maintenance shift.

Two: it wants to test the machine’s cutting ability on both wet and dry material.

Three: it wants to push the penetration rate another 25-40% higher, alongside boosting the revolutions per minute from the 8-9 rpm it is currently operating at, to 10 rpm.

The company wants to put the machine through its paces before it moves onto another stage of its development.

Jordaan said he was hopeful of completing this testing – which constituted phase one of the SBS development – in around two months.

From there, if the reception is positive and no unforeseen complications arise, Master Drilling would look to manufacture the parts for the full 45-m long machine. In this task, the company is being helped along the way by three local engineering companies.

Phase three involves assembling and commissioning the whole machine and committing to a small excavation to test it out, while phase four is an ideal point to carry out mine site test. Phase five would see a full SBS deployment to its first major project.

Master Drilling was rightly wary of giving timelines on completing all these phases, knowing it would be reliant on securing funds for the machine build from its partner, South Africa’s Industrial Development Corp, and may need to make small changes to the machine design dependent on miner feedback from initial testing.

Yet, the company has opened the number of possible mine site testing options by designing the machine for shaft enlargement. This could see mining companies in need of extra shaft capacity sign up Master Drilling as a contractor to carry out an enlargement project, first, ahead of a much riskier blind sinking operation at a new underground mine later.

In terms of machine configuration, all that needs to change to carry out an enlargement is the cutter head, according to Goodwin.

This could prove decisive in terms of industry acceptance, allowing Master Drilling to obtain a mining customer reference much quicker than it would have if the only potential avenue was a blind sink.


When asked how the machine is likely to perform in terms of cost per metre, Jordaan said it would be competitive with drill and blast, but the real value proposition came in the form of reaching the development level and, therefore, the orebody that much quicker than the conventional method.

If, as van Dorssen said, the SBS can achieve a sink three times quicker than typical shaft sinking, miners could also be in line to receive cash flow that much faster.

In a cyclical market like mining that is an incredibly powerful value proposition.

It could reduce the risk associated with commodity prices potentially going the wrong way during development and allow a company to start paying back the capital sooner than expected.

Other companies already claim their mechanised machines can achieve such shaft advances, but these have either not yet been proven in hard-rock applications – being trialled only in potash or other softer rock – or require bottom shaft access to realise these rates.

It’s worth acknowledging that the SBS could also be used in softer rock with the expected increase in drilling speed countered by the need for further rock reinforcement.

And, whereas other OEMs will manufacture one machine per project, Master Drilling has longer-term plans for each SBS unit it manufactures. This could allow the company to charge a reduced rate to mining clients as it writes off its investment over multiple contracts.

So, once again, Master Drilling appears to be pushing the envelope on boring technologies.

In addition to the MTB, which is designed to work on 9° inclines/declines and have a 30 m turning radius – not typical tunnel boring machine traits – it has also carried out a number of firsts in the raiseboring market, with the company behind some of the widest diameter and deepest raises in the world.

With resources and expertise from across the globe to call on, it can innovate at a pace and cost many of its peers cannot compete with.

For those reasons, Master Drilling and the SBS are worth keeping an eye on.

Master Drilling lays groundwork for record breaking hole

Master Drilling is set to break a drilling world record having recently commenced collaring for a 1,420 m pilot hole at a South Africa platinum mine.

The 4.6 m diameter hole is being sunk as part of an expansion project at the mine. It will help lead to the development of a rock hoisting shaft equipped with steelwork, according to Master Drilling.

Master Drilling said it was using its RD8 raisebore rig for the project. This rig, which has been operational since 2015 and used at various mine sites across South Africa, is capable of drilling 8.5 m in diameter and over 1,500 m deep, the company added.

The current construction schedule at the mine indicates the holing of the pilot during the first week of May 2020, some eight months from the collaring date.

The previous longest pilot drilled to date was 1,180 m, according to the company.