Tag Archives: Tasmania

Orica’s WebGen wireless initiation system helps unlock reserves at BMTJV Renison tin mine

The Bluestone Mines Tasmania Joint venture (BMTJV) says it has become the first company in the Tasmania mining sector to demonstrate Orica’s fully wireless initiating system, WebGen™.

Since early 2021, BMTJV, the owner of the Renison tin mine, has been in consultation with Orica to implement the WebGen wireless blasting technology.

The first WebGen blast was successfully loaded in the Central Federal Basset (CFB_1458_5990_F4) section of the mine on June 13, 2022, with the first wireless blast in Tasmania successfully fired at BMTJV over the mine’s leaky feeder system on June 19.

Some 107 WebGen primers were loaded into BP4 (Block Panel 4) and “slept” for 14 days while BP3 was charged and fired, the company explained. Due to the geometry of the blast – and it being a high seismicity area – for B4 to be mined conventionally, a further 60 m of development would have been required to recover this ore.

The Orica WebGen system includes an i-kon™ plugin detonator, a Pentex™ W booster and a DRX™, which is a digital receiver comprising a multi-directional antenna and a battery that serves as the in-hole power source.

The Encoder Controller individually programs each wireless primer with its own unique encrypted codes. This encoder contributes to the inherent safety of the system, and programs each wireless primer with two codes, BMTJV explained. The first code is a unique group identity number for exclusive use at each mine and assigned to specified groups of primers which will sleep, wake and fire together. The second code is a ‘delay time’ specific to the wireless primer and blast design.

Mark Recklies, Chief Operating Officer – BMJTV, said: “WebGen has now been used to support continual safety improvements and deliver savings across the working mine.”

EnviroGold Global to reprocess Hellyer Gold Mines tailings in Tasmania

EnviroGold Global has executed a binding definitive agreement with Hellyer Gold Mines Pty Ltd to reprocess the tailings owned by HGM at its namesake mine in Tasmania, Australia.

The execution of the transaction cements a major growth catalyst for EnviroGold Global, paving the way for finalisation of project financing negotiations and materially advancing the company’s accelerated pathway towards commercial production of precious metals (gold and silver), clean energy metals and battery metals (copper, lead, zinc) in 2022, it said.

The Definitive Agreement provides for a multi-stage tailings reprocessing project wherein EnviroGold Global will add its mineral processing technology to the currently operational and permitted Hellyer Gold Mine. EnviroGold Global and HGM believe this partnership will result in operational synergies and, in conjunction with EnviroGold Global’s independently validated, proprietary metallurgical solution for the Hellyer VMS tailings, will drive significantly increased metal recovery rates for the gold, silver, zinc, lead and copper contained in the Hellyer tailings.

EnviroGold Global CEO, Dr Mark Thorpe, said: “The execution of the definitive agreement with HGM is a testament to the quality of our world-class team and the commitment of HGM’s management and team to establish a working partnership for success. It represents the achievement of a strategic milestone for EnviroGold Global on our journey to producing precious, critical, and strategic metals at seven major projects by 2025.

“We are pleased to continue to deliver on our commitments to our shareholders and stakeholders while establishing circular-economy leadership through the production of Metals Without Mining. We look forward to announcing the execution of additional major growth catalysts in the near-term including finalisation of project financing negotiations for the Hellyer Tailings Project, establishment of a strategic operating partnership with a global EPCM company, publishing the Buchans Tailings Project resource estimate and advancing the development of our global tailings reprocessing project portfolio.”

Hellyer is owned by NQ Minerals, with the company having a plan to increase its financial year production to 1.5 Mt of tailings reprocessing in 2022, from the estimated 1.4 Mt in 2021.

TOMRA Mining’s ore sorting solution helps Renison tin mine do ‘more with less’

TOMRA Mining and its X-ray Transmission (XRT) technology has, the company says, provided an effective solution for the extreme conditions at the Bluestone Mines Tasmania JV (BMTJV) Renison tin mine in Tasmania, Australia, with sensor-based ore sorting solution unlocking significant value and delivering environmental benefits.

The Renison mine is 50% owned by Metals X through the BMTJV, and is the only major tin mine in production in Australia with a mining rate of close to 1 Mt/y, according to TOMRA. While slated capacity is 1 Mt/y, the concentrator is restricted to 750,000 t/y.

The mine’s extreme humidity and highly acidic processing water (pH around 4.5) create unique challenges for the sorting process, the equipment and waste management, according to TOMRA.

A complex flowsheet

The underground mine operates a primary crushing system before the material is transported to the surface through a shaft. Once there, it enters the pre-concentration plant, where it undergoes a three-stage crushing, screening and cleaning process. The particles are split into two fractions – 10-25 mm and 25-60 mm – which are fed into two TOMRA XRT sorters. The output consists of two streams: the product, which is transferred to the wet plant, and the waste, which is fed into a TOMRA EM sorter to separate acid-forming sulphides from this waste stream.

In the wet plant, the product goes through primary grinding followed by bulk sulphide flotation. The tailings are processed downstream to concentrate the cassiterite tin mineral through gravity concentration; gravity tails are further treated via desliming and tin flotation. The combined concentrates are fed to a leaching circuit to remove carbonate minerals. After a final wash stage, the concentrate is de-watered and dispatched.

BMTJV approached TOMRA to address two key requirements at the plant. The first was the need to upgrade the tin feed to the plant, as Ben Wraith, Principal Project Metallurgist at BMTJV (pictured below), explained: “The Renison tin operation wanted to achieve economies of scale, putting more tonnes through the front end of the plant without upgrading the back end downstream – we wanted to do more with less.”

The second requirement was to address the environmental issue of removing acid-forming sulphides from the waste.

Following site visits and extensive discussions with BMTJV’s teams, TOMRA proposed a solution that addressed the tin feed quality with two COM Tertiary XRT 1200 sorters and the waste issue with a COM Tertiary EM 1200 sorter. A team from BMTJV visited the TOMRA Test Center in Sydney, Australia, where they observed what the XRT sorter operating at capacity is capable of.

Gavin Rech, Technical Manager at TOMRA, said: “Our XRT stands out for the high spatial and density resolution and its ability to do contrast sorting, identifying fine high-density tin inclusions in the ore with an accuracy that has no equal on the market. On top of that, it can separate it from the acid-forming sulphides, so that we have the ability of pulling the tin into the first product and sending the rest to the EM sorter.”

Gavin Rech, Technical Manager at TOMRA

The two COM Tertiary XRT 1200 sorters went into operation in 2018. Initially, BMTJV’s strategy focused on low reject grades, devoting less focus to achieving the mass reject rate and overall process plant throughput. However, the specific conditions at the Renison mine affected the results achieved. The large variance in run of mine (ROM) particle size distribution resulted in insufficient stability in the feed to the circuit. In addition, the extremely wet conditions in west Tasmania and consequent high ambient moisture content, combined with the high moisture of the ore delivered from underground, further affected the sorting process.

In 2019, a new investigation was conducted into the ore sorting performance and led to a change of direction, where the operation shifted away from targeting low reject grades, towards sorting as aggressively as possible, according to Wraith, moving from a “tin recovery-based” operating strategy to a “mass reduction” one.

“We are getting 20-25% mass reduction, so 75-80% of the materials are going into the wet plant, and we are still achieving 97-98% tin recovery overall across the crushing circuit,” he said. “Pre-concentration didn’t materially impact overall recovery because the tin in the material that is rejected as waste is extremely fine grained and a proportion is associated with sulphides, so it wouldn’t have been fully recovered in the downstream wet plant and would have been lost to tailings.”

This approach, he said, is best for Bluestone’s application as it provides the ability to process 15-20% more tin units without having to upgrade the downstream concentrator.

Wraith added: “Operating the sorting circuit has slightly increased our overall processing cost, but this is more than offset by the large increase in ROM throughput by 15-20% and, thus, tin production, so the unit cost per tonne of tin produced is reduced by almost 10%. We’ve broken multiple production records in the last year in tin units, and this gives us confidence in what we can achieve because the machine performs over and over again if you treat it right and if you prepare your feed correctly.”

TOMRA XRT success leads to upgrade decision

In view of the results achieved with the two TOMRA XRT sorters, BMTJV decided to upgrade the ore sorting circuit with two new, recently launched XRT models with stainless steel internal parts and advanced features such as the TOMRA ACT user interface and the TOMRA Insight cloud-based platform, according to TOMRA.

“The decision to buy new machines was easy,” Wraith said. “The stainless steel will assist prolonging the TOMRA sorter’s life by protecting the unit from our high-moisture and corrosive environment. The more ergonomic design will help our maintenance teams, which is particularly important for machinery operating in these harsh conditions.”

Wraith said the use of TOMRA Insight, the ore sorting company’s subscription-based service that relays and analyses machine data, will “enhance everybody’s understanding and experience of the machines”.

He added: “It will be more of an analytical platform for our metallurgy and maintenance staff, providing ample opportunity to gain valuable information that can be analysed and optimised over time. The one feature I am personally interested in is the particle size monitoring through the machines, which will enhance our overall circuit performance because we have an integrated circuit with the crushing and screening plant. Feed preparation is key to maintain a consistent performance – knowing how well you’re preparing your feed in a live fashion can only end up with a better result.”

TOMRA will also be able to log into the machine and check the daily reports generated by TOMRA Insight, so its technical teams will be prepared ahead of site visits for maintenance or optimisation.

Wraith concluded: “TOMRA has been working with the site maintenance team to tailor solutions to our operating environment, which has been invaluable. TOMRA supported me through site visits, which included equipment inspections, site-based training of our personnel, and an openness to continually improving the technology and finetune it to our site-specific requirements. They assisted the site with troubleshooting, optimisation, discussing the nuts and bolts of the issues as they arose, and finding a solution that works.”

Elphinstone sells 50th underground motor grader

Elphinstone has announced the sale of its 50th underground motor grader, designed and manufactured at the company’s facilities in Burnie, Tasmania.

In 2017, Elphinstone identified an opportunity to expand its range of underground support vehicles by introducing the UG20K and UG20M haul road maintenance machines, based on the Caterpillar 120K and 120M surface grader platforms, with custom modifications designed for underground conditions.

The first Elphinstone underground grader was developed from a Caterpillar 12G in 1978.

The role of the underground grader, Elphinstone says, is to prepare and maintain haul and access roads with adequate drainage throughout the tunnel network. Quality haul road maintenance ensures all production, support and light vehicles can move freely in a safe and controlled manner with optimal efficiency. The added benefit is increased production equipment tyre and component life and speed on grade.

Elphinstone graders are currently operating in Argentina, Canada, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Tanzania and USA.

TERRATEC to debut TRC3000C Raise Boring Machine in India

TERRATEC has successfully completed the factory acceptance testing of a custom TR3000C Raise Boring Machine (RBM) at its workshop in Tasmania, Australia, with the machine destined for a customer in India.

After extensive research and analysis, TERRATEC was chosen to supply this first large raiseborer to India, the company said.

“This is an important milestone that the Indian mining industry has been looking forward to for many years,” Managing Director of TERRATEC India, Gulshan Gill, said. “To see simultaneous increases in safety and productivity through the use of raiseboring machines for the excavation of vertical ventilation shafts is for many a dream come true.”

TERRATEC says it is already the leading tunnel boring machine manufacturer in India, with the expansion into raiseboring an obvious next step.

Manufactured at TERRATEC’s workshop in Tasmania, the TR3000C Raise Boring Machine is a highly robust piece of equipment, designed for ease of operation and maintenance, providing a high level of reliability, according to the company. The unit has a nominal boring size of 3 m in diameter and 400 m in depth and has a standard pilot hole diameter of 311 mm.

The machine has been designed in a modular form that makes disassembly of the major components for inspection, transport, or repair easy to achieve, the company claimed.

The “Derrick Configuration” includes a powerful near-ground loading pipe loader that results in a very low profile in relation to drill string length, TERRATEC said. Rotation is powered by a hollow shaft hydraulic motor, affording protection to the drill string when operating at near maximum capacity, as well as unrestricted flow of flushing water through the drive train into the drill pipe.

Custom features incorporated on this machine include an upgraded proprietary gearbox design, which allows for some flexibility in alignment when raiseboring and adding drill pipe.

Dip angle adjustment (0-30° from vertical) is powered from the hydraulic power pack and can be achieved using the layback cylinders on the diesel-powered crawler/erector assembly, according to the company.

TERRATEC has numerous Raise Boring Machines around the world in Australia, China, India and many countries in both North and South America. These include the company’s range of Raise Boring Machines, Down-Reaming Drills and Box Holing Rigs, as well as combination of those in the form of Universal Boring Machines.

Tasmania drill core library receives investment boost

The Tasmania Government says it is expanding its geotechnical testing capabilities, with a A$2.4 million ($1.9 million) upgrade to its Mineral Resources Tasmania Core Library at Mornington.

The upgrade, expected to be completed by the middle of the year, will help the Australian island state both retain and grow its natural resources work, Guy Barnett, Minister for Resources in the Tasmania Government, expects.

Local construction company Fairbrother has been awarded the contract to upgrade the library, which will combine laboratory facilities, currently spread across two sites, and provide an upgraded and expanded state-of-the-art facility for geoscientific and analytical functions, which will better serve both government and industry needs, Barnett said. It will also provide an up-to-date interface for Mineral Resources Tasmania’s engagement with industry.

“This is a significant investment in a sector that supports more than 5,100 direct job, contributes more than 51% of our state’s exports, and produces product with a value of more than A$2 billion each year,” he said. “When our resources sector is strong, our economy thrives, and that is why we are making a significant investment into the scientific capability available right here in Tasmania.”

This is the first major upgrade since the library was first opened some 30 years ago, according to Barnett. The Core Library already stores more than 770 km of drill core and around 70,000 rock samples from across the state.

“This facility is a vital resource for our mining, exploration, research and education, and broader industrial sectors, and the upgrade will make it more efficient, effective and accessible to industry,” Barnett added. “This upgrade will play a significant role in realising our mineral potential and supports our collaborative efforts in working with industry through our existing scientific and exploration support packages.”

GFG Alliance, South32 and Anglo American complete TEMCO transaction

GFG Alliance says it has finalised the purchase of the hydro energy-powered Tasmanian Electro Metallurgical Company (TEMCO) smelter in Bell Bay in northern Tasmania, Australia.

After entering a binding sale and purchase agreement with South32 and Anglo American in August, today’s finalisation sees TEMCO join LIBERTY Steel Group as part of the GFG Alliance family, it said.

The smelter, in Tasmania, Australia, was run by the Samancor Manganese joint venture, owned 60% by South32 and 40% by Anglo American.

GFG Alliance Executive Chairman, Sanjeev Gupta, said the acquisition not only secured the jobs of the smelter’s 250 workers but would also play a key role in enhancing LIBERTY’s drive to be self-sufficient in the supply chain.

“When we entered into the agreement in August, I flagged that our investment in key inputs such as ferromanganese and silicomanganese would generate supply chain value to ensure a sustainable and globally competitive steel manufacturing sector,” Gupta said. “This acquisition is an upstream integration for Whyalla and all our steel plants globally.

“The Bell Bay precinct and nearby George Town is a long-standing industrial community with a proud heritage, and we are committed to seeing this facility continue to play an important role in the future of the Australian steel industry.”

The TEMCO facility, which is powered by Hydro Tasmania, has four submerged arc furnaces, including a sinter plant, and has the capacity to produce around 150,000 t/y of high carbon ferromanganese and 120,000 t/y of silicomanganese used in the production of steel, the company said.

“GFG Alliance already produces the lowest carbon aluminium in the world in both the UK and France and I’m proud to add one of the world’s greenest ferro alloy producers to our portfolio,” Gupta said. “Our goal is to be carbon neutral by 2030 and I am proud to invest in a state like Tasmania, which has a plentiful supply of renewable energy resources.”

Fortescue considers investment in Tasmania ‘green hydrogen’ plant

Fortescue Metals Group has confirmed it is investigating the development of a green ammonia plant in Bell Bay, Tasmania, that could have a 250 MW green hydrogen capacity.

The plant, which has been announced as a successful participant in the Tasmanian Government’s Renewable Hydrogen Industry Development Funding program, would be constructed at the Bell Bay Industrial Precinct, with green ammonia production capacity of 250,000 tonnes per year for domestic and international export.

“It has the capacity to be one of the world’s largest green hydrogen plants, powered entirely by Tasmanian renewable energy,” the company said, adding that the project is targeted for an investment decision by the Fortescue Board in 2021.

Fortescue Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Gaines (left), said: “Working with our wholly-owned subsidiary, Fortescue Future Industries, we are assessing clean energy opportunities locally and internationally to capitalise on the important role that green hydrogen will play to ensure the world can meet the Paris 2050 targets.

“Subject to detailed feasibility analysis, the Tasmania project will be an important step in demonstrating our intention to position Australia at the forefront of the establishment of a bulk export market for green hydrogen.

“Fortescue has a successful track record of identifying and assessing opportunities and by building on our expertise and supply chain capabilities, we will ensure that the financial and project execution discipline that Fortescue is renowned for is applied to projects developed by Fortescue Future Industries.”

She concluded: “Partnering with the Tasmanian Government to harness the abundant renewable energy in Tasmania, we see potential to create a significant new green industry.”

The project supports Fortescue’s operational target to be “net zero” by 2040 and builds on the company’s investment in green hydrogen production and technologies.

This includes a partnership with the CSIRO for the development of new hydrogen technologies; a A$32 million ($23 million) hydrogen mobility project at Christmas Creek; a partnership with ATCO Australia to build and operate the first combined green hydrogen production and refuelling facility in Western Australia; and a memorandum of understanding with Hyundai Motor Co and CSIRO to advance renewable hydrogen technology for domestic transport.

Venture Minerals takes ‘one-stop shop’ approach at Riley with Qube agreement

Venture Minerals has awarded bulk material handling services company, Qube, with preferred road haulage tenderer status for the Riley iron mine, in Tasmania, Australia.

Alongside this, Venture has also engaged Qube to provide the necessary Burnie Port Services to complete the logistics solution of delivering iron ore from Riley to on board the ship.

Venture said: “Securing Qube as the complete ore transport provider for the Riley iron ore mine will increase the efficiencies for one of the project’s key cost centres as the company progresses towards becoming the next Australian iron ore producer.”

Recently, Venture Minerals commenced dry screening operations at Riley as part of the ramp-up phase of the project. Full production is expected to occur upon successful commissioning of the wet processing plant, which is subject to financing, the company said.

At a $90/t 62% iron ore price, an August 2019 feasibility study on the project returned a post-tax cash surplus of A$31 million ($23 million) over the two-year production life of the mine.

Andrew Radonjic, Venture Minerals’ Managing Director, said: “Venture is fortunate to be working with Australia’s leading provider of bulk material handling services to provide a complete logistics solution in delivering Riley iron ore from the mine gate to the port and then on board ship. This one-stop shop approach will increase efficiencies and reduce costs which is all important when mining bulk commodities.”

He added: “Qube is a professional logistics company with modern, well managed vehicles and trained, professional drivers. Qube’s safety record was also an important part of our selection criteria and their real-time monitoring of vehicle movements is impressive.”

Titeline mining its underground diamond drilling niche

In looking to retain the mantle of Australia’s safest drilling company while expanding into the underground mining sector, Titeline Drilling has found support from some of the biggest miners in the world.

The company has long been viewed as a leading surface mineral exploration drilling contractor but, as David D’Astoli, CEO of Titeline, explained, this type of work is subject to cyclical exploration budgets.

“The rationale for moving into the underground market was to try to get some ‘lumpiness’ out of our income stream,” he told IM. “As you know, with exploration, it can be pretty up and down. With the underground side, our work is a lot closer to the production side of the business; we’re doing grade control and resource development work in long dated (four to five years) contracts.”

Titeline was looking for consistency and resilience even in market downturns.

To enact this change, the company employed a new General Manager of Underground, Greg Wythes.

Wythes, who had a background in underground drilling in Australia having worked at the likes of Newcrest Mining’s Cadia and Rio Tinto’s (now CMOC’s) majority-owned Northparkes mine, was aware of the pain points the industry was feeling and sought about creating a unique value proposition for the new underground contracting division.

The contract the company bid on – and consequently won – for MMG’s Rosebery mine in Tasmania, Australia, provided just that.

MMG, in a blog post, explained that brief.

“When Rosebery was looking to award the contract for underground drilling services in 2017, all tendering companies were asked to supply a hands-free solution for drill rod handling, in-line with our vision for an injury-free workplace,” the company said.

“The successful company, Titeline, was the only tender that presented a viable solution to hands-free drill rod loading and unloading.”

Titeline – having fitted Boart Longyear rod handlers to their drills that “present the rod in an ergonomic position so the drill assistant can get it and stack it away”, D’Astoli says – knew such a solution could be developed, in theory, but had to search for the right suppliers and solutions to prove it could work in a real-world underground environment.

The Boart Longyear rod handler, along with a rig able to move and set up quickly, drill from +90 to -90 degrees and to depths of 1,500 m, immediately proved productive at Rosebery.

“The brief was to ensure the drills on site were performing before starting their hand-free proposal, and, within six months of commencing their contract, Titeline’s in-house designed drill rigs outperformed the previous contractor,” MMG said.

Yet, the company needed to automate the rod handling process further to fulfil the brief.

This is where the potential of robots came into view.

“These robots were already in the manufacturing industry – which aren’t exactly pristine environments – and were able to operate without an issue,” D’Astoli said. “They were also being employed on sea walls where they were constantly doused with sea water and continued to operate.”

Robot technicians were happy to provide conservative estimates of only having to service these robots every six months in the underground environment, according to D’Astoli. This provided the peace of mind that maintenance issues were not going to knock productivity off-line.

It cemented a relationship with a robotics company in Melbourne, Victoria, not too far away from its Ballarat base, and gave the company the robot drilling brief.

Boart Longyear provided access to the drill rig interface, the DCI control panel.

This year-and-a-half long process led to the development of a world first for underground diamond drilling: a drill and ancillary rod buggy carrier able to drill unattended and perform an autonomous rod trip (pulling the drill string out of the drill holes and then running it back in).

Able to work in confined environments, and drill 360° on azimuth and from -90 degrees to + 90 degrees in dip, the solution was presented to a global audience at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual exploration event earlier this year.

Meanwhile, MMG and Titeline had started commissioning the first rig at Rosebery, and one of the world’s biggest gold miners was putting the rigs through their paces.

Titeline, which already has an existing grade control and resource definition contract at Newmont’s Tanami gold mine, in the Northern Territory, has provided six rigs to the miner, two of which are equipped with the new drill and ancillary rod buggy carrier. More of these robotic rigs will be arriving at the operation by the end of the year.

Modifications to these rigs continue to take place, but the three currently in place at Rosebery and Tanami are very much “producing”, D’Astoli explained.

“We have been making some changes to the programming, to the safety circuit, the laser circuit, etc, but they’ve been performing well,” he said. “We’ve even drilled a few hundred metre shifts with one of the robot rigs.”

He provided some colour to this performance: “The rod pulling process is at least as quick as it is with the Boart Longyear rod handler and is a lot more consistent as you are taking the human element out of it.

“The existing rigs across the underground industry, whether they have total manual handling or are using the Boart Longyear rod handler, still need a drill assistant or driller in there plucking the rod out of the rod handler and putting it away. That can get tiring.”

Accidents can happen when this tiredness occurs.

“The robot will, in the end, always be that bit quicker, as it is consistent over a longer period of time and never gets tired,” D’Astoli added.

Shift change opportunities

The automation elements on these drill rigs are not only removing personnel from the danger zones, they are also providing a productivity boost.

D’Astoli feels the value driver comes with being able to drill throughout shift changes and other times where manual drilling would normally have stopped.

“One of the biggest impediments to production in the underground environment is how many hours you can drill in a 12-hour day,” he said. “Quite often it is a lot less than you think. That can be due to ventilation issues, water issues, dewatering issues, heat, etc.

“The biggest improvement from a productivity point of view available to us is being able to drill and pull rods between shift changes, crib breaks and those types of things. Or, if the ventilation system goes down, personnel will move away from the area, and allow the drill to drill autonomously. That is where the productivity gains are going to come from.

“All of this leads to being able to drill more hours over a shift.”

The company is not finished automating, though, with D’Astoli saying it intends to further leverage this robotised drilling and rod pulling ability.

“With Wi-Fi in the mines, it is at the point where you could be able to take that to the next level and have someone sitting on the surface controlling the rig,” D’Astoli said.

“Or, you might have a similar application to the way semi-autonomous underground boggers (LHDs) work in a block cave mine, where the operators are in a controlled environment and one operator might be operating three boggers at a time.”

That is some way ahead.

For the time being, the company is focused on switching out all of the manual rigs it has delivered to Rosebery and Tanami with the semi-autonomous ones.

Each new rig is a large undertaking for the company, with the learnings from Rosebery to Tanami – and vice versa – reflected in every build.

This is where being aligned with major companies such as Newmont and MMG comes in handy.

“MMG have been very understanding of the process we are going through,” D’Astoli said. “They came and visited us in Ballarat, pre-COVID-19, to see how we were getting along. Newmont have been exactly the same; very supportive giving us the time and space to deliver.”

Major attraction

While the PDAC debut excited lots of attention, D’Astoli is keen to foster the relationship with these two companies further, in addition to aligning with other major companies – and major mines – in the future.

“They’re the ones that probably own the bigger, lower-cost mines, which is where we want to be,” he said. “It is those orebodies that demand the amount of drilling where it makes sense to automate as much of the process as possible,” D’Astoli said.

“When you set up these long-term contracts to deploy such technology, you want to make sure the mine has a long life ahead of it and the owner is not going to be chopping and changing the budget from year to year.”

Asked whether the wider industry is willing to pay for such innovation, D’Astoli was resolute in his answer.

“For a company really focused on safety, they are not going to be knocked out by the price of this solution,” he said.

Surface safety

This is not all Titeline is interested in at the moment.

Titeline has to this point in its underground automation journey been helped along the way by Chile-based Exploration Drill Masters (EDM).

EDM, which Titeline owns 50% of, has been fabricating the frames and other components for these new rigs before they head to Australia for final assembly.

But the Santiago-based company is working on a new development of its own.

Its patent-pending EDM rod-feeder system for handling drill pipe has been used across the globe as an add-on to existing fleets, many of them being used on Titeline rigs.

D’Astoli says operators can park this solution up behind any top drive drill rig in Australia and remove 90% of the manual handling risks that come with the handling of diamond drill pipe to and from the drill string.

The EDM Mark I has already achieved this, but Mark II will further improve this solution, providing a bridge between manual handling and full hands-free solutions, he says.

“The national fleet in Australia mainly consists of top drive drill rigs and there is no real hands-free solution on the market that does not currently affect the productivity of these rigs in the majority of applications,” he said.

“The EDM Mark II rod feeder fills the gap while a new, hands-free solution is being developed.”