Tag Archives: Murray & Roberts Cementation

Japie du Plessis to lead Murray & Roberts Cementation

Underground mining contractor, Murray & Roberts Cementation, has named Japie du Plessis as Managing Director Designate, taking up the MD position on March 1, 2023.

Du Plessis will succeed the current MD, Mike Wells, who retires at the end of February next year.

Wells’ retirement will mark the end of a career in mining spanning 39 years. After studying Mining Engineering at Wits and graduating in 1981, he spent the first 10 years of his career working for the gold division of Anglo American at the Elandsrand (now Kusasalethu), TauTona and President Brand gold mines.

He joined Cementation Africa in 1994, a company which was subsequently acquired by Murray & Roberts in 2005 and merged with its existing mining contracting arm, RUC, to form Murray & Roberts Cementation.

His move to Cementation brought him into project work and in particular the sinking of the 3-km deep, 9-m diameter twin shafts of the South Deep gold mine, representing, at the time, the biggest shaft sinking contract ever agreed anywhere in the world. The project extended over nine years from start to finish, with Wells acting as Project Manager for part of this period, which he regards as one of the highlights of his career.

While engaged on the project, Wells was involved in devising and constructing a concrete plug to seal off a major water intersection encountered during shaft sinking. A technical paper he wrote in on the methodology adopted earned him the Association of Mine Managers Gold Medal for the best paper of the year in 1997.

After successively serving as Senior Projects Manager, Project Executive and Technical Director, Wells was appointed MD of Murray & Roberts Cementation in 2017. Over his tenure, the company has gone from strength to strength, confirming its status as one of the world’s leading mining contracting organisations, it said. A particular achievement that he takes great pride in is the company’s safety record – it has now gone eight years without a single fatality and recently celebrated six million fatality-free shifts.

In du Plessis, Murray & Roberts Cementation has found a successor to Wells with a similar depth of technical and management expertise, it says.

A Mechanical Engineer, he has spent most of his career in mining. His first assignment after graduating was at Anglo American Platinum’s Amandebult mine, where he worked his way up to the position of section engineer. He then left for a two-year stint with a sugar company in Mpumalanga before joining Murray & Roberts Cementation in 2008. He has been with the company ever since.

Contracts he has been involved with over the years he has been with Murray & Roberts Cementation include Paardekraal 2 shaft and Impala 20 shaft, both in the platinum sector, the Wessels manganese mine, the Booysendal platinum mine and the Cullinan diamond mine. Positions he has occupied include Site Engineer, Contracts Engineer, Senior Project Manager, Engineering Manager and Project Executive.

Over the past seven years, he has had special responsibility for the Venetia Underground Project (VUP) of De Beers, one of Murray & Roberts Cementation’s flagship contracts.

Du Plessis was selected by a panel within Murray & Roberts Cementation that considered both external and internal candidates.

“He was by far the best qualified for the position,” Wells said. “His experience is second to none and he has mining contracting in his DNA. The fact that he is an internal candidate is a further advantage as he has a thorough understanding of how the company works and the culture that drives it.”

Looking ahead, Du Plessis says one of his prime objectives will be to extend the company’s African footprint as the majority of its work is currently in South Africa (although it does have raiseboring contracts in progress in Zambia, Tanzania and Burkina Faso). He will also work to ensure that it stays at the forefront of the move by the mining industry towards ‘green’ mining, digitalisation and automation.

Murray & Roberts Cementation is the African arm of Murray & Roberts’ global mining platform, which also includes operations in the Americas and Australia. The platform is headed by Mike da Costa, who is based in Perth in Australia.

Murray & Roberts Cementation’s safety performance heralded

South Africa-based Murray & Roberts Cementation says it has just achieved six million fatality-free shifts, while also picking up a raft of awards at the recent Murray & Roberts Group CE Safety Recognition Awards.

These acknowledgements are especially significant for a mining-related business, Trevor Schultz, Risk Executive at Murray & Roberts Cementation, says. Schultz highlights that the Murray & Roberts mining group had reduced its lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) from 1.25 to 0.93 – taking it below the challenging score of 1.

Last month, the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa (AMMSA) recognised Murray & Roberts Cementation for reaching six million shifts without a fatality. The certificate was handed over to Managing Director, Mike Wells, and Project Executive Kethu Mokgatlha at an AMMSA meeting in Rustenburg.

At the Murray & Roberts in-house safety awards for the global group, Murray & Roberts Cementation received three prizes in the Zero Harm Projects category. The first was for outstanding safety performance at its Northam Grout Plant Project in North West province, after 18 injury-free years. The other two projects recognised were its Khutala Colliery Project in Mpumalanga, and the Murray & Roberts Training Academy in Gauteng.

In the same ceremony, the company also received a Special Recognition award for individuals, teams or companies with outstanding contributions to safety performance.

Schultz says a key aspect of the company’s safety success has been its consistency and ongoing effort.

“It is important that we focus on applying and adapting our plans – and sticking with the agreed framework,” he says. “There are obviously realignments, when necessary, but we follow the plan and build momentum that way.”

He emphasises that Murray & Roberts Cementation accepts mining is a hazardous environment, but that safety is a managed outcome and all injuries are preventable. In the company’s view, Zero Harm is not a slogan but a value.

“Safety management is about empowering people to manage risk,” Schultz says. “Within the group’s safety framework, we have developed an integrated management system to drive safety.”

Among the ways the business continuously improves its safety impact is to record and classify incidents and ‘near misses’ in terms of their potential severity. These are presented at group level in a constructive engagement that highlights the lessons learnt. Such lessons are fed back into the group to inform strategies where working conditions may be similar.

“The lessons we draw from incidents really take our safety awareness to the next level,” Schultz says. “We also tap into the Minerals Council South Africa, to learn from incidents reported and analysed by our peers in the sector.”

(Pictured from left, Murray & Roberts Cementation Project Executive, Kethu Mokgatlha, and Managing Director, Mike Wells, receiving the certificate of recognition from AMMSA for reaching six million fatality free shifts)

Murray & Roberts Mining Platform order book returns to pre-pandemic levels

The Mining Platform of Murray & Roberts, a leading mining contracting business, is fast putting the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic behind it and its order book has now recovered to pre-pandemic levels, according to Mike da Costa.

“Our order book was eroded in the immediate aftermath of the global economic shutdown caused by the pandemic, but has now recovered nicely,” da Costa, who is CEO of the Mining Platform, said. “It now totals R22.2 billion ($1.44 billion) which is sharply up on the R17.9 billion of a year ago. Future prospects also look good as there is a significant pipeline of new projects that we’re bidding on.”

The Murray & Roberts Mining Platform consists of three regional businesses. These are Murray & Roberts Cementation, headquartered in Johannesburg but with branches in Kitwe in Zambia and Accra in Ghana; Cementation Americas (which incorporates Cementation USA), based in Salt Lake City, which handles the Americas; and RUC Cementation, which operates out of Perth in Australia and works throughout Australasia and Southeast Asia.

“We’re active in virtually every major mining jurisdiction,” da Costa says. “Notable mines and projects where we are currently working include the Venetia Underground Project in South Africa, the Jansen potash project in Canada, the Kennecott Utah Copper Keystone project in the US, the Oyu Tolgoi copper/gold mine in Mongolia, the Grasberg copper/gold mine in Indonesia and the Tanami gold mine in Australia.”

Mike da Costa, CEO of the Murray & Roberts Mining Platform

The Mining Platform, which in Murray & Roberts’ 2021 financial year generated revenues totalling approximately R9.5 billion, offers services spanning every aspect of underground mining, including feasibility studies, specialist engineering, vertical and decline shaft construction, mine development, specialist mining services such as raise boring and grouting, and contract mining.

Murray & Roberts Cementation, the African arm of the global Mining Platform, has been noted for its technical capabilities and, in particular, its shaft-sinking expertise, over the decades. It has played a vital role in the development of South Africa’s deep level gold mining industry and is currently turning over approximately R3.5 billion a year, with aims to lift this to R4.5 billion, the company says.

Commenting on the current performance of Murray & Roberts Cementation, its Managing Director, Mike Wells, says the bulk of its work is in South Africa.

“Historically, we’ve worked all over Africa but at the moment our African presence – outside of South Africa – is largely confined to some raiseboring contracts we have in Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Tanzania, as well as a contract at the Navachab gold mine in Namibia where the client is developing a trial underground mine. In South Africa, however, we are extremely busy. We’ve definitely put the impact of the pandemic behind us.”

Wells says a particular highlight for Murray & Roberts Cementation at the moment is the coal sector.

“We’re working at New Clydesdale colliery through our Boipelo joint venture,” he notes. “We’re also at Matla 1, where we are doing stonework to re-establish the mine in a new location. Another opportunity in the coal sector is to do stonework by the method of road heading and we’re actively pursuing work of this type.”

Murray & Roberts Cementation’s flagship contract is the Venetia Underground Project, where the company’s work on the sinking and equipping of the two vertical shafts the project requires is now well advanced, with the shaft sinking phase nearing completion. Although Murray & Roberts Cementation’s current scope of work runs through to about 2024, Wells believes there is a reasonable prospect of the company remaining active at the mine for years to come, given the scale of the VUP.

In the PGM field, Murray & Roberts Cementation has worked for several years on various aspects of the giant Platreef project, near Mokopane (pictured above), and is just starting its latest contract at the site, which will see it carrying out development for the initial Phase 1 mine. An interesting feature here is that the contract will see Murray & Roberts Cementation using a battery-powered mining fleet – owned by the client, Ivanplats – for the first time.

Murray & Roberts Cementation is working at the New Clydesdale colliery through its Boipelo joint venture

Moving to safety, Wells labelled Murray & Roberts Cementation’s safety record as ‘outstanding’.

“We notched up five million fatality-free shifts just over a year ago, which was a major milestone, and we should hit the 6 million mark shortly,” he said. “We’ve now been fatality free for around six-and-half years, which is a truly exceptional run. We attribute our success to our Major Accident Prevention program, as well as the excellent training we provide at our world-class Training Academy at our Bentley Park premises, near Carletonville.”

The task of bringing new business into Murray & Roberts Cementation is the responsibility of Allan Widlake, New Business Director, who says there is plenty of scope for the company to grow both in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

“Clients across the board are starting to put out new tenders and projects that were previously on hold,” he states. “This is particularly the case in South Africa, but we’re encouraged by developments in other parts of Africa. In Zambia, for example, there are definitely some opportunities emerging on the Copperbelt.”

Widlake says Murray & Roberts Cementation is differentiated from most other players in the market by the breadth of its offering, its procurement ability, its balance sheet, its HR skills, its safety record and the training facilities at Bentley Park.

“Our Training Academy is a huge asset and is particularly important now that localisation of employment opportunities is a requirement on virtually all contracts,” he said. “We can take people with no mining experience and bring them up to an impressive level of competence very quickly by putting them through Bentley Park.”

Moving back to the global perspective, da Costa says the relatively recent acquisition by Murray & Roberts of Terra Nova Technologies in the US and Insig Technologies in Australia will significantly expand the Mining Platform’s capabilities.
San Diego-based Terra Nova has given the platform a strong foothold in the materials handling market. The company designs, supplies and commissions overland conveyors, crushing/conveying systems, mobile stacking systems and in-pit crushing and conveying systems.

“Terra Nova is a perfect fit for Murray & Roberts’ Mining Platform and gives us the capability of delivering, for example, conveying systems of up to 12 000 t/h capacity,” da Costa said. “Its biggest market is North America but it is also active in South America and has an office in Santiago in Chile. It has, in fact, just won a major contract in Chile. Our intention is to grow the business by leveraging our global footprint.”

Commenting on the Insig acquisition, da Costa says it takes Murray & Roberts into high-tech territory, as the company specialises in developing IoT (Internet of Things) systems and remote control solutions in the mining field.

“We’ve been working on a digital strategy for the Mining Platform for some time now and the acquisition of Insig is central to our digital journey,” concludes da Costa. “We will be using Insig’s systems in house initially but will ultimately market them to the wider mining industry. We see them as being vital in our move to increase efficiencies, cut costs and increase safety through digitisation.”

Murray & Roberts’ da Costa heralds positive impact of TNT, Insig on mining platform

The global mining platform of Murray & Roberts has significantly extended its capabilities over the past several years with two key acquisitions in the US and Australia, Mike da Costa, CEO of the platform, says.

The two companies in which majority interests have been acquired are San Diego, USA-based Terra Nova Technologies, a materials handling specialist, and Australia-based start-up Insig Technologies, which develops and provides digital solutions in the mining field.

Terra Nova designs, supplies and commissions overland conveyors, crushing/conveying systems, mobile stacking systems and in-pit crushing and conveying systems. It has delivered around 75 projects in more than 15 countries, according to Murray & Roberts.

“Terra Nova is a perfect fit for M&R’s mining platform and gives us the capability of delivering, for example, conveying systems of up to 12 000 t/h capacity,” da Costa says. “Its biggest market is North America but it is also active in South America and has an office in Santiago, in Chile. It has, in fact, just won a major contract in Chile.

Our intention is to grow the business by leveraging our global footprint. We will soon establish an Australian arm and we could also bring the company’s services to the African market.”

Commenting on the Insig Technologies acquisition, da Costa says the company is playing a key role in the mining platform’s move towards greater digitalisation of its operations.

“We’ve been working on a digital strategy for the mining platform for some time now and the acquisition of Insig is central to our digital journey,” he says. “Insig’s speciality is extracting data from underground mining environments in real time and then using this data to optimise operations. The company also has in-depth capability in the remote control of machines. We will be using its systems in house initially but will eventually market them to the wider mining industry.”

Interestingly, Insig is playing a key role in developing an energy-saving solution at an Australian mine where our Australian company is working. “Basically, we’re looking at capturing the energy that would normally be wasted in a hoisting shaft and storing it in batteries,” da Costa explains.

Insig Chief Technology Officer, Giacomo Alampi; Toran Filippi – Manager Operations Technology; Peter Ellery, Growth Executive; and Brett Hartmann – Manager Digital & Technology at Murray & Roberts, went into detail about this project in a discussion with IM earlier this year.

The Murray & Roberts mining platform consists of three regional businesses. These are Murray & Roberts Cementation, headquartered in Johannesburg but with branches in Kitwe in Zambia and Accra in Ghana; Cementation Americas (which incorporates Cementation USA), based in Salt Lake City, which handles the Americas; and RUC Cementation, which operates out of Perth in Australia and works throughout Australasia and South-east Asia.

Murray & Roberts Cementation taps VR, simulators, operational mock-ups to raise training bar

Virtual reality, simulation and mock-ups are among the range of learning platforms the Murray & Roberts Cementation Training Academy (MRTA) is using to raise the bar in training operators of mechanised equipment.

The impact of these enhanced training techniques is not just improved safety and productivity in mining operations, but also a business cost awareness, according to Tony Pretorius, Education, Training and Development (ETD) Executive at Murray & Roberts Cementation.

“Our unique approach to training mechanised operators takes the process well beyond the regulated requirements,” Pretorius said.

After covering the psycho-motor skills, induction, legal and technical skills, and the relevant standards and procedures of the mine, MRTA takes an innovative approach to the more practical elements of the training. For instance, learners are placed in a virtual environment to assess the condition of equipment, followed by videos showing how this equipment operates in the workplace and how it is to be inspected.

“They then progress to the use of simulators, where we can monitor three main areas of proficiency: health and safety, machine appreciation and productivity enhancement,” Pretorius said. “The academy’s selection of simulators for this purpose includes the Sandvik DD321 drill rig, the Sandvik DD311 bolter, the Sandvik 514 and Sandvik 517 LHDs.”

He noted that a compact, mobile and immersive virtual reality drill rig simulator has also been introduced, allowing learners to experience a range of tasks. These include accurate indexing according to surveyed positions, different face conditions and various drill and blast patterns. It also simulates emergency triggers and highlights where the operator’s drilling behaviour is sub-standard, showing the consequences of this for boom and drilling consumables.

“Operators can also receive feedback simulations, where the cost of consumables and operational disruptions are explained,” Pretorius said.

The learners can then be introduced to the mock-up environment at MRTA, where they can have the real experience of machine operation in a confined space. Here, they are required to demonstrate applied capability in emergency preparedness, machine inspections and brake tests as well as machine set-up and operations.

“What is important for all operators to understand is how their behaviour impacts on mine costs and productivity,” Pretorius said. “This is one of the key areas where our interventions distinguish us in the training space.”

He said only after this intensive preparation are the learners placed in a workplace where they can progress to the required applied competency levels in a safe manner.

Murray & Roberts Cementation achieves major safety milestone

The year has started strongly for mining services specialist Murray & Roberts Cementation, with a safety achievement of five million fatality-free shifts.

According to Mike Wells, Managing Director of Murray & Roberts Cementation, this landmark has been reached as part of a concerted corporate journey towards Zero Harm.

“This exciting milestone, which we reached in early January 2021, is the result of years of commitment by every member of the company – through multiple initiatives and programs,” Wells said. “This has included our unrelenting focus on the Major Accident Prevention program, as well as stringent risk assessments and the verification of critical controls in the field.”

Perhaps the greatest outcome of these efforts, he highlighted, is that the company’s safety leadership has succeeded in motivating and inspiring all employees in fully internalising safety principles. This has entrenched the belief that Zero Harm can indeed be achieved, with each employee returning home safely every day.

“We have seen a vital attitudinal change over the years, where success has bred more success and all our people take ownership of their safe work practices – both personally and collectively,” Wells said. “This builds a resilient safety culture, which has included a crucial commitment to doing work right the first time.”

Underpinning much of the success in safe working practices has been the increased investment in effective training strategies at the Murray & Roberts Training Academy at Bentley Park near Carletonville, South Africa. Here, the latest technologies and methods – supported by realistic mock-ups of mining environments – ensure workers are fully prepared for all working conditions.

“Our mining customers today regard the commitment to fatality-free operations as a given – not only for themselves but for their service providers,” Wells said. “We are proud to be able to demonstrate our success as part of the broader progress in this field by the whole mining sector.”

Over the years during which the five million fatality-free shifts have been achieved, Murray & Roberts Cementation has conducted a diverse range of projects across sub-Saharan Africa, including large shaft sinking contracts. Employee numbers over this time have averaged about 4,000, Wells said.

Booyco Electronics to provide Otjikoto gold mine with ‘true collision avoidance system’

Proximity detection specialist Booyco Electronics says it is equipping 19 mechanised mining machines with its latest Booyco CXS proximity detection solution to enhance safety during the development phase of underground operations at B2Gold’s Otjikoto gold mine, in Namibia.

According to Anton Lourens, Booyco Electronics CEO, the order was placed by Murray & Roberts Cementation, one of the contractors establishing the underground stoping horizon for the Wolfshag zone at Otjikoto mine.

The contract also includes sensing devices for 120 underground personnel on the operation, which will be included in the employee’s cap lamp to provide an alarm.

“Our equipment will help achieve the highest level of safety by mitigating the risk of collisions between pedestrians and vehicles, and between vehicles, on this project,” Lourens says. “The installation of our CXS units is in line with the commitment by the mine and the contractor to zero harm in the workplace.”

The Cementation Lewcor JV contract will take 28 months. Lewcor Mining is a Namibian company with extensive mining experience in that country. The contract includes a decline of 5 m wide by 5.5 m high being driven to the orebody from a portal in one of Otjikoto’s depleted open pits. The operation will be highly mechanised, with equipment including drill rigs, dump trucks, LHDs and utility vehicles, as well as shotcreting and ancillary equipment.

Lourens highlights that Booyco Electronics’ latest generation CXS system is a comprehensive and integrated proximity detection solution, taking a step beyond being just a warning system to become a “true collision avoidance system”.

He added: “The CXS system on this project will deliver Level 7 and Level 8 capability in terms of the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Roundtable (EMESRT) and can also accommodate Level 9. Although there is not yet a legal requirement for collision avoidance systems in Namibia, our customer and the mine adopt a global best practice approach to all aspects of safety in mining operations.”

With the mine’s location more than 300 km north of Windhoek, it is important the equipment is robust and reliable to ensure maximum uptime, according to Lourens.

“To ensure that the equipment performs optimally, we have trained the customers’ artisans on how to look after it,” he said. “A qualified serviceman from Booyco Electronics will also visit the site regularly to audit performance, assess the equipment and conduct any necessary maintenance.”

Booyco Electronics’ home-grown technology has seen wide take-up in underground operations – both hard rock and coal – as well as in the open-cast environment, plants and warehouses, the company says. It now has a footprint of over 100 mining customers in South Africa, with this Namibia project part of a gradual expansion into other countries in Southern Africa.

Lourens says the use of collision avoidance systems is likely to keep increasing, as more miners adopt the EMESRT guidelines.

He concluded: “The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is also an important stakeholder in this process. The ICMM highlights that transport and mobile equipment accidents were highest cause of fatalities at their members’ operations in 2018, accounting for 30% of fatalities.”

Murray & Roberts Cementation adds trackless mining machinery to training options

Murray & Roberts Cementation has further enhanced its training facilities in South Africa to develop scarce skills in modern underground mining.

The well-known Murray & Roberts Training Academy (MRTA) at Bentley Park near Carletonville, in Gauteng, now boasts a specialised Engineering Training Centre for trackless mining machinery (TMM).

According to Tony Pretorius, Education, Training and Development (ETD) Executive at Murray & Roberts Cementation, the centre will raise skills levels among operators, service staff, artisans and apprentices.

“As mining becomes more mechanised locally, it is vital that the mining sector keeps up with the technical demands to maintain and repair advanced underground machinery,” Pretorius said. “There are simply not enough suitably trained and experienced artisans to keep the growing number of TMMs well maintained and fully operational.”

He highlights that there is considerable value in upskilling TMM operators to better understand and correctly operate their machines, for instance. This could take some of the pressure off artisans while also ensuring more uptime between equipment servicing.

“Mines aim to raise productivity levels with mechanised mining machinery, and this comes with greater technical demands on mine production and support staff,” he says. “This training will equip artisans with specific skills in mechanised engineering, which are not currently part of the syllabus for conventional trades.”

The centre – which was constructed during the national COVID-19 lockdown at a cost of R1.8 million ($109,074) – includes a workshop, wash bay and refuelling bay with all the necessary tools and infrastructure. It offers training suitable for people undergoing a trade or having completed a trade, introducing them into the wider mechanised mining equipment engineering space, according to the company.

Pretorius notes that many people remain unemployed after completing their trades at an accredited trade centre; this new centre enhances their employability while filling an important need in the mining industry’s technology trajectory.

“Here at Bentley Park, we have workplace approval with the Mining Qualifications Authority, authorising us to offer practical training to those undergoing trade training who need workplace experience,” he says. “Our mechanised mining equipment engineering centre can address the workplace learning element of their trade certificate – phase two and phase four of their training.”

The focus is on underground mechanised equipment such as load haul dumpers (LHDs), roof bolters, drill rigs and utility vehicles. The training incorporates the MRTA’s leading-edge blended training methodologies including e-learning, virtual reality, simulation and workshop practical hands-on training.

“This gives our learners the knowledge, understanding and skills required in mechanised mining equipment engineering,” he says. “In addition to our own employees, we also provide training for the mining sector broadly, and can customise training for mining companies.”

The centre has already enrolled 19 apprentices in the mechanised mining equipment engineering training, and expects considerable interest from the mining industry as a whole. The MRTA is also working closely with the Mining Qualifications Authority to make the training available to qualified work-seekers.

MacLean Engineering up to the Africa mining challenge

MacLean Engineering’s investment in Africa is paying off, with multiple production support vehicle sales recently secured on the back of an increased presence in South Africa.

Having last month bolstered its largest single fleet in Africa to 11 vehicles at the Kibali gold mine, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the company is now busy assembling equipment for delivery at an underground mine in Namibia, while making manufacturing and delivery plans for a successful tender for five units that will head to a underground gold mine in Mali.

John-Paul Theunissen, MacLean’s General Manager for Africa, says recent sales could be put down to the company boosting its manufacturing and service capacity on the continent close to two years ago.

“We are now manufacturing for Africa out of South Africa,” he told IM. “Towards the end of 2018/beginning of 2019, we commissioned another 900 sq.m of manufacturing space at our South Africa facility. This means we now have 1,000 sq.m of workshop and assembly space.”

The Free State facility, the first international branch MacLean set up back in the 1990s, also offers maintenance and service support.

These attributes, plus the ability to access MacLean engineers across the globe for equipment troubleshooting, have allowed Africa-based mining companies to get comfortable with the Canada-based brand, according to Theunissen.

“We have really started to build momentum in Africa, increasing the level of service and support closer to home,” he said.

“It is this local aspect that really sells fleets, as opposed to individual machines.”

MacLean now has 1,000 sq.m of workshop and assembly space, Theunissen says

This increased local offering has arrived at just the right time.

While the stricter lockdown measures in South Africa have been lifted – the country has moved from Level 5 to Level 3, allowing mines to return to full capacity (with COVID-safe procedures in place) – companies procuring equipment for Africa are conscious intercontinental deliveries could face upheaval again if a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 hits.

Some mining companies influenced by recent lockdowns are also making longer-term pledges to adjust their supply chains to take advantage of local expertise, at the same time reducing potential risks that come with buying machines and solutions from overseas suppliers.

This recently enlarged presence in Africa could see MacLean benefit from such moves.

Recent orders

The latest orders Theunissen mentioned could reflect this reality.

In securing a contract to supply three MacLean 3-Series Cassette Trucks (CS3) and four cassettes to the Murray & Roberts Cementation and Lewcor Mining joint venture set to establish the underground stoping horizon at the Wolfshag zone at B2Gold’s Otjikoto mine, in Namibia, the company achieved several ‘firsts’, he said.

“It’s a new customer, Murray & Roberts; a new country, Namibia; and a new miner, B2Gold,” he said.

These units will be assembled in South Africa – another MacLean first – and are due to be delivered to the mine by the end of the last quarter of the year, according to Theunissen.

And, as mentioned before, the company recently bolstered the fleet at the Barrick Gold/AngloGold Ashanti majority owned Kibali gold mine in the DRC.

The latest piece of equipment for the mine – which arrived at the end of July – was one of the company’s personnel carriers.

This adds to the three EC3 Emulsion Chargers, a WS3 Water Sprayer, a FL3 Fuel Lube Truck, and a BT3 Boom Truck – all from MacLean’s trusted Mine-Mate™ Series – that Byrnecut, the original mining contractor at Kibali, brought in from 2013 onwards.

When the Kibali mining model changed to ‘owner-operator’ under the management of Randgold (now Barrick), the fleet got bigger, with the miner adding four new rigs: another EC3, another BT3, an SL3 Scissor Lift with pipe handler attachment, and a TM2 Mobile Concrete Mixer.

MacLean says its expanding presence at Kibali, from the development phase all the way back in 2013 up to achieving record production numbers in 2019 and 2020, illustrates the “MacLean Advantage in action”.

It explained: “MacLean’s dedicated team in South Africa has worked closely with mine management and operators to provide the training, maintenance and support needed to keep Kibali running smoothly. With operations forecast to continue at Kibali through 2036, MacLean looks forward to providing dependable support for years to come.”

Tech take-up

Mines like Kibali – one of the most technologically advanced in Africa – are gradually becoming more and more automated in an effort to increase productivity and safety.

Already one of the world’s most highly automated underground gold mines, Kibali’s backbone is Sandvik’s AutoMine Multi Fleet system, supervised on surface by a single operator. This system, in a world first, 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, Barrick says. A similar system is used in the production levels to feed the ore passes, according to the company.

While MacLean’s production support vehicles often interact with these autonomous loaders, for the time being they are still manned by operators.

This is set to change into the future, according to Theunissen.

“The Advanced Vehicle Technology Team (AVT) in Canada is moving into the automation space,” he said. “We’re looking to integrate our own digitalised systems into those of OEMs such as Sandvik and Epiroc to ensure fully interoperable autonomous operation.”

Within the AVT, the Advanced Vehicle Technology group embedded at the MacLean Research and Demonstration Facility, in Sudbury, Ontario (pictured below), has over 20 engineering staff working on remotely controlled to fully autonomous vehicle operation, using radar, LiDAR, and vehicle monitoring technology, according to MacLean.

This team has already come up with vehicle telemetry hardware and software, and virtual reality training tools. It is also transitioning to a cloud-based platform for documentation, parts ordering, and training content called Documoto.

The Advanced Vehicle Technology group is embedded at the MacLean Research and Demonstration Facility, in Sudbury, Ontario (photo: James Hodgins)

While these technology developments will, in the future, underwrite the company’s transition to offering machines capable of fully autonomous operation, MacLean is already at the front of the pack when it comes to facilitating the industry’s electrification movement.

In Canada, it has more than 30 battery electric mining vehicles (BEVs) working underground – at 10 mine sites, across four provinces, with more than 50,000 operating hours amassed.

While Africa as a whole might not yet have the energy infrastructure in place to fully leverage these ‘green’ BEVs – many mines remain off grid and reliant on diesel power – Theunissen has seen grid-connected miners in South Africa show interest in taking on these machines.

“In South Africa there is already appetite for BEVs,” he said. “We see it coming through in the RFIs (request for information) we get on projects.”

MacLean has an advantage over some of its competitors when it comes to converting these RFIs into sales.

Not only has it got thousands of operating hours under its belt, it also has engineers in place that can calculate the total cost of ownership savings a specific mine will achieve should they bring BEVs into their fleets. Due to the increase in upfront cost currently seen when comparing diesel- with battery-powered vehicles, this type of analysis is crucial to securing orders.

“We can show them how the machine will fit into the mining cycle and provide in-house calculations on ventilation and mine design savings,” Theunissen said. “This helps assist end users when it comes to long-term decision making for the mine.”

For countries in Africa to get on board the electrification train like those mines in Canada have, Theunissen thinks governments will need to introduce incentives for mines to change their energy inputs and adopt BEVs.

Should this happen, MacLean will be equipped both within the continent and internationally to take on that challenge.

M&R Cementation ready to make shaft sinking transition at Palabora copper mine

The sinking of the 1,200-m deep ventilation shaft at Palabora Copper, in South Africa, is proceeding apace, notwithstanding the COVID-19 shutdown and restrictions, contractor Murray & Roberts Cementation reports.

Work began on the 8.5 m diameter shaft early in 2019, with pre-sinking recently reaching a depth of 50 m and the changeover from pre-sink to main sink almost complete, according to Murray & Roberts Cementation Project Executive Mine Development, Graham Chamberlain.

Part of the development of Palabora Copper’s new LIFT II underground block cave mining area, the shaft will be developed to a final blind sink depth of 1,190 m, with a drop raise to its final depth. Completion is expected in the September quarter of 2022, Murray & Roberts Cementation says.

“We were required by the client and national lockdown regulations to pause our work schedule, but operations resumed as planned when restrictions were relaxed,” Chamberlain said. “The priority is to ensure that safe working conditions are maintained, and the COVID-19 infections are avoided.”

The project is using automated machinery at the shaft bottom, removing employees from high-risk contact areas. Modern, high-penetration rate hydraulic drills are deployed on robotic arms nested on the shaft sinking stage. This allows operators to conduct drilling at any position in the shaft without physically being in contact with the drills, the company says.

“We shorten our cycle times with the use of explosive delivery pods containing sensitised emulsion,” Chamberlain said. “Electronic systems deliver real-time data on blast holes numbers, volumes and pressures, improving blasting efficiency and quality.”

To reduce potential disruption from the intersection of poor ground conditions, Murray & Roberts Cementation takes the shaft lining to the bottom of the shaft during sinking. In the past, industry practice tended to carry this lining to about 20 m from the bottom.

“Our lining approach is applied with the use of a modified version of the traditional shuttering, and our specialised concrete mixes which we design for this specific purpose,” Chamberlain explained. “The mixes are prepared and delivered by our on-site batch plant.”

Chamberlain adds that the company’s focus on Zero Harm and a rigorous safety regime continues to deliver a high level of safety on the project.