Tag Archives: Master Drilling

Master Drilling continues down technology path amid global uncertainty

Master Drilling Group included details of its remote drilling technology, commissioning of the Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB) and the first phase of its shaft boring system development within its latest financial results release.

Reporting “reasonable results” for the six months ended June 30, 2019, which included a 3.8% year-on-year increase in revenue to $70 million and a 5.6% jump in headline earnings per share, the company’s CEO, Danie Pretorius, said Master Drilling had worked hard on stabilising new operations and growing its presence in new territories.

“In the face of continued uncertainty and volatility, which has inevitably impacted on business performance, we have remained committed to our strategic journey of diversifying our presence across geographies, commodities and sectors,” he said, adding that the company saw new business opportunities in Russia and Australia.

Even with only a slight increase in earnings and revenue, Master Drillings new business pipeline encompassing all geographies remained “solid” at $297.1 million, the company said. Its order book totalled $198.6 million at the end of the period.

Pretorius added: “While political and economic factors continue to shape our operating environment, at Master Drilling we continue to spearhead technological development, stabilise our global footprint and explore new business opportunities. As a result, the business remains stable and well positioned to benefit from an improved global economic climate.”

Master Drilling, one of the largest rock boring and drilling services providers in the world, spends the bulk of its capital spend on capacity expansion, some of which has begun to yield positive results, such as remote drilling technology, the company said.

“Having completed testing of this (remote drilling) technology in South Africa, Master Drilling has successfully implemented it in Mexico and Peru,” the company said. The test in South Africa took place 3 km underground at AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng gold mine, the world’s deepest gold mine. This saw a raisebore machine operated remotely.

Meanwhile, the commissioning of the MTB at Northam Platinum’s Eland mine, in South Africa, is currently underway, with underground drilling having already commenced, the company said. This follows testing at a quarry just outside of Rome, Italy, last year.

The first phase of the company’s shaft boring system – a new shaft sinking system (reported on in the annual shaft sinking feature in IM September 2019) – is also in the process of commissioning, the company said.

“This bears testament to Master Drilling’s unwavering commitment to technology development and testing, which will continue to be a key focus during the remainder of 2019,” the company concluded.

Northam Platinum to trial Master Drilling’s Mobile Tunnel Borer

Northam Platinum is reported to have signed a deal with Master Drilling to trial the Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB) technology the JSE-listed equipment company has been working on.

According to Mining Weekly Online, the MTB will be tested at the mining company’s Eland mine, in South Africa, as part of a “R93-million ($6.6 million) shared risk-and-reward contract” with Master Drilling.

Just last month, Master Drilling hinted such an announcement would soon be forthcoming, remarking in its 2018 financial results that the one MTB unit it had constructed was being shipped to South Africa to take part in a pilot project. It has since confirmed that the MTB will head to Eland.

Mining Weekly Online said much of the tunnel boring equipment arrived in Durban last week and is expected to become operational at the mine, near Brits, in June.

The MTB to be used by Northam was previously cutting soft rock in a quarry just outside of Rome, Italy. IM visited the quarry last year.

The unit IM saw was made up of four track-mounted units containing various parts – the cutter head and bolting section is up front, followed by the transformer and 300 m capacity water and electrical reels on the third unit, and a 14 m³ capacity storage bunker and discharge system on the fourth unit.

The full-face cutter head had 17” disc cutters, which are conventional from a tunnel boring perspective but are made up of five separate segments. This cutter head, like the majority of the 240-300 t MTB, was designed to be broken down for transport.

The equipment, which unlike other TBMs is designed to go around corners, was developed by Italy-based Seli Technologies, which Master Drilling, through a joint venture with Ghella SpA, recently acquired.

The MTB comes with 5.5 m diameter cutter head or 4.5 m diameter cutter head. The former is for declines, portals, haulages, inclines, ramps, ring roads, etc, with the latter allowing for excavation of drives and contact tunnels.

Master Drilling is aiming for an advance rate of 6-9 m/d in 200-250 MPa rock, but is not discounting the possibility of a higher rate should the additional mucking transport systems behind the 23 m (4.5 m diameter MTB) or 31 m (5.5 diameter MTB) machines be able to keep up.

At Eland, the equipment has reportedly been contracted for six months to see if it can operate effectively. The targeted advance of more than 100 m/mth in mine, which is only 200 m below surface, is roughly three times the conventional capability, Mining Weekly Online said.

There is also potential for a similar machine being deployed at the company’s Booysendal operation, according to the publication.

Rock boring and remote drilling technologies highlighted in Master Drilling results

Master Drilling might have faced a tough macroeconomic operating environment than previously expected in 2018, but the company was able to make progress on several fronts.

The company’s revenues increased 14.2% year-on-year to $138.7 million in 2018, while its headline earnings per share decreased 7.8% to $0.107.

Master Drilling CEO, Danie Pretorius, said notwithstanding the difficult trading conditions, the company “remained steadfast in the pursuit and implementation” of its strategy, “laying the foundation for future growth through the continued development of new, ground-breaking technologies, the expansion of our global footprint and by nurturing our client and business relationships”.

The company exited the year with an order book of $203.6 million and a pipeline of $578.6 million.

In terms of the company’s “ground-breaking technologies”, the company said it made progress on three fronts:

On the former, Master Drilling said, following testing at a quarry in Italy, the MTB was being shipped back to South Africa to take part in a pilot project.

It said testing of the Blind Shaft Boring system technology was also underway.

And, on the remote drilling applications, it had this to say:

“Recently, Master Drilling introduced Remote Drilling, which has been successfully commissioned at AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng mine, considered the world’s deepest mine.

“Remote drilling enables operation of an automated drill rig from a remote location. Master Drilling’s remote raise bore machine is currently working 3 km underground at Mponeng mine which is being operated from the contractor’s site office on surface.”

The Master Drilling remote system is a proprietary ‘plug and play’ control and display module that connects to the drill rig’s local control module through the mine’s underground and shaft communication network, it said.

“By removing all personnel from the dangerous underground environment, this self-driven mechanism has proven to improve production time and confirms that autonomous drilling technology is at the core of safer mining operations,” it said.

Master Drilling aims for new status as mining TBM specialist

Master Drilling, through subsidiary Master Tunnelling, is not trying to re-invent the wheel with its mobile tunnel borer (MTB) concept, but that doesn’t mean to say the application of such technology will not have a big impact on the underground mining space.

The company, up until recently thought of as a raiseboring specialist, is up against stiff competition in the horizontal mechanised cutting sector. It has Epiroc and its Mobile Miner, Sandvik and the MX650, Caterpillar and the RH55 and Komatsu (Joy) and its DynaMiner to contend with, all of which have been trialled in underground mines.

But, the South Africa-based company is hoping its contracting model, tunnelling partner, modular design and operational flexibility will put its MTB in the lead.

Mining companies on a global basis have been looking for a mechanised, continuous alternative to the labour intensive drill and blast batch process for decades.

Several companies have tried to cater to this need, but no one technology has provided the ‘silver bullet’ as of yet.

Still, the drive to get personnel out from harm’s way, the need to improve tunnelling quality with an increasing number of block cave developments and decrease the payback period for what can sometimes be multi-billion dollar investments has resulted in the latest slate of horizontal cutting machines.

Master Tunnelling has partnered with Italy-based tunnelling expert Seli Technologies to launch its new product and IM recently visited a quarry site just outside of Rome where the first MTB is being assembled and tested.

On site, Koos Jordaan, Executive Director of Master Drilling, talked IM and a host of other interested visitors from mining companies through the machine specifics.

“To reduce risk, we stuck to proven cutting technology,” Jordaan said, pointing to the cutter head design in a schematic within one of the quarry’s temporary offices. “The concept is not so radical, it is more incremental based on tunnel boring.”

The full-face cutter head is made up of 17” disc cutters, which are conventional from a TBM perspective, but are made up of five separate segments. This cutter head, like the majority of the 240-300 t MTB, is designed to be broken down for transport.

The MTB is made up of four track-mounted units containing various parts – the cutter head and bolting section is up front, followed by the transformer and 300 m capacity water and electrical reels on the third unit, and a 14 m3 capacity storage bunker and discharge system on the fourth unit.

The units are also equipped with conveyors that transport the mucked material along the machine.

These can be individually broken down and potentially shipped in 10-12 20-foot containers, according to Jordaan.

This modularity should enable Master Tunnelling to access existing mines with decline infrastructure and to start tunnelling from an underground location, as well as to work on such infrastructure from the surface.

The full-face cutter head is capable of a 1 m advance stroke and can cut rock in excess of 300 MPa compressive strength. It can also be remotely controlled by an operator, reducing exposure to the face.

The MTB comes with 5.5 m diameter cutter head or 4.5 m diameter cutter head. The former is for declines, portals, haulages, inclines, ramps, ring roads, etc, with the latter allowing for excavation of drives and contact tunnels.

Master Tunnelling is aiming for an advance rate of 6-9 m/d in 200-250 MPa rock, but is not discounting the possibility of a higher rate should the additional mucking transport systems behind the 23 m (4.5 m diameter MTB) or 31 m (5.5 diameter MTB) machines be able to keep up.

Jordaan admits going past the 300 MPa threshold was likely to lead to advance rates dropping off by as much as a third, but is adamant the machine has the capability to cut through such rock.

All of this cutting takes substantial amounts of power, which the four hydraulic motors have in abundance. The MTB has 1,300 kW of installed power and a 1,600 kVA on-board transformer that more than covers the machine’s requirements.

Behind the cutter head, hydraulically-powered side grippers ensure the machine can thrust forward and start cutting, while there is a finger shield that both protects workers and allows for a support drill to install cable bolts for ground support.

Master Tunnelling envisages at least three personnel being required for full continuous operation in most setups.

Driving on a flat roadway

As Master Tunnelling points out, “a round profile tunnel is not ideally suited for vehicles that require a flat driving surface, such as most trackless mining equipment.”

This is where a articulating tail conveyor at the end of the fourth tracked unit – containing the 14 m3 storage bunker – evenly distributes 3-5% of the cut material. This should provide the sort of flat driving surface trucks will need to come in and pick up the material.

Master Tunnelling has some form here, too. Its Master Drilling parent company carried out a horizontal raisebore drive of 180 m length and 4.5 m diameter in a kimberlite pipe at Petra Diamonds’ Cullinan mine in South Africa recently. A flat driving surface was created by using a similar solution to the one the company has devised for the MTB.

There are also a few other features worth flagging.

The MTB is able to operate on a 12° incline/decline, has a 30 m turning radius and can be dismantled and brought back to surface after a project is complete.

The latter is different from the bulk of conventional TBMs where, after use, they are buried underground never to be used again.

Master Tunnelling is also taking safety seriously with the MTB. Not only is it shielding bolting operators from potentially hazardous situations above their heads all the way from the cutting face, it is also installing gas detection, proximity detection and fire suppression systems on the units. An operational monitoring system, meanwhile, ensures the full-face cutter head is advancing as planned and the accompanying units are tracking as they should be.

Master Tunnelling anticipates a four-hour maintenance period for the MTBs every 24 hours based on a three, eight-hour shift pattern. During this time, the disc cutters can be replaced and the dust suppression and collection system can be checked.

The company also envisages this time being used for drilling a 30-50 m probe hole in advance of the MTB. This would be drilled through an opening in the cutter head and provide integral information about the water and gas levels of the approaching rock.

The MTB doesn’t do away with drilling and blasting altogether. To initiate cutting, the machine requires a rounded profile side wall to grip and thrust to take it forward. This requires a starter frame to be installed in advance of the drive, which can be put in position with a 15 t capacity wheel loader with appropriate manipulator attachment.

The frame requires a starting chamber 6.5 m high, 8 m wide and 12 m deep excavated by conventional drilling, blasting and scaling.

In an undercut level for block caving, this preliminary batch phase would only form a “small part of the excavation required”, Master Tunnelling says.

In addition to considering the setup requirements for the MTB to start operation, it is also worthwhile to look at what will follow the machine in terms of loading and hauling the excavated material.

This is where the bunker backup unit positioned at the end of the four tracked units proves useful, acting as a storage facility to allow truck changeover to take place behind the MTB when one truck is fully loaded and another truck comes in. This allows for continuous operation of the MTB incorporating a batch haulage system.

On long, straight advances there is also the possibility of using mobile conveyors for haulage, however the company thinks there will be less of these applications given the MTB’s major strengths are developing tunnels with a curvature or on a decline/incline.

Contractor advantages

In the battle for a market leading, horizontal, mechanised cutting technology, Master Tunnelling has a few advantages over its much bigger rivals in the mining space.

One: it is a contractor, meaning it is not asking customers to invest in this capital-intensive equipment. Instead, it will be contracted by the client to provide the MTB and associated equipment required for logistics and material handling.

Two: It has a partner in Seli Technologies that has carried out more than 1,000 km of tunnelling excavations and has been involved in mining work before (it excavated an 8 km long, 4.2 m diameter tunnel for Anglo American at Los Bronces, in Chile, back in 2009).

Three: It is offering something that is modular, can be broken down and assembled underground, and can be relocated from one project to the next.

Also, Master Tunnelling is offering the ability to turn around corners and keep tunnelling with the MTB, which could be particularly useful when tracking complex, or faulting mineralisation. It could also come in handy should the MTB encounter particularly hard to bore rock.

The concept phase of the MTB only started in April 2017 and only one MTB has so far been manufactured. So, for the right partner, there is the chance to get in early and to advise on their customised requirements.

Master Tunnelling is clearly thinking to the future in this regard, with the bulk of the MTB hardware being ‘automation-ready’.

Even though the set up at the quarry in Italy is to test basic functionality – cutting 10-20 MPa rock for 50 m and carrying out a 30 m turn – it has provided interested parties a chance to consider what the machine could do for their own operations.

Once it has optimised the setup time and demonstrated what it can do in some fairly competent rock underground, the wider mining community may start to further appreciate the MTB and what Master Tunnelling is offering.

Master Drilling edges closer to launch of MTB and BSB technologies

The worldwide launch of Master Drilling’s Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB) machine (pictured) is moving closer, with unveiling and commissioning set to take place next month, the company said in its latest financial results.

On top of this, the company’s Blind Shaft Boring (BSB) technology is expected to be launched in the March quarter of 2019.

This news comes amid a “satisfactory” set of financial results for the company in the six months to the end of June, where revenue increased 11.3% year-on-year to $67.4 million, operating profit rose 6% to $12.9 million and headline earnings per share decreased 10.6% to $0.059.

“The macroeconomic environment remained challenging across a number of markets during the first half of the year but our ability to report stable profitability amid tough conditions suggests that Master Drilling’s strategy does not only position the business for future growth but also supports the business throughout the economic cycle,” Danie Pretorius, CEO of Master Drilling, said.

Master Drilling said the addition of a new machine and the acquisition of the remaining shareholding in Sweden-based Bergteamet Raiseboring Europe AB drove the increase in revenue, but the strength in emerging market currencies proved challenging, with the South Africa rand accounting for a large portion of the company’s costs.

The company, however, thinks the latter will be short lived.

“Given the recent weakening of emerging market currencies, we anticipate that the adverse effect of the stronger South African rand on our business in H1 2018 will reverse in H2 2018 which, given the strength of the pipeline and new enquiries, should bode well for Master Drilling,” Master Drilling said.

Master Drilling also has some interesting technology launches on the horizon, which could provide further sales opportunities.

In February, Master Drilling announced the launch of the MTB machine for continuous mining without blasting.

The MTB can bore out an excavation of 4.5 m and/or 5.5 m in diameter at a rate that far exceeds conventional tunnel construction methods, delivering various infrastructure solutions such as for declines, ramps, haulages and contact tunnels in hard rock with compressive strengths in excess of 300 MPa (more information can be found in IM‘s May issue).

Its modular construction makes it also possible to retrofit to existing operations and major mining companies have expressed interest in deploying Master Drilling’s first MTB once commissioned.

In addition to this, the company said progress continued on the BSB technology, with a launch date of the March quarter planned.

The BSB is a mechanised system for boring a vertical shaft to a depth of 2,000 m with finished diameters ranging from 10 m to 13 m. No underground access is required for the BSB to start boring operations as a shaft sinking method.