Tag Archives: shaft boring system

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 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 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 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.