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Murray & Roberts Cementation Showcases its MechAnised Mining Skills at Booysendal UG2 North Mine
Friday, 1 May 2015
Murray & Roberts Cementation has cemented its superior mechanised contract mining skills set and experience having recently been awarded a three year contract extension at Northam Platinum’s Booysendal division.
Murray & Roberts Cementation is no stranger to the Bushveld Complex Eastern Limb. The company was awarded its first contract with Booysendal division, which is located about 40 km from Mashishing, in early 2010 to develop its UG2 North underground mine.
A unique aspect of the project is the concept of a reverse decline which connects the concentrator plant and other mine infrastructure situated on a plateau with the on-reef declines that access the underground mine and outcrop on the side of the valley. This design has enabled Northam to minimise the mine footprint in the picturesque valley in which the mine has been established.
Five years later, the company’s position on site has been secured for an additional three years as it fulfils the role of mining development and stoping on contract to the end of 2017. Considering this is one of Murray & Roberts Cementation’s larger contract mining projects, it is significant for the company and showcases the service value it is providing to Northam Platinum and its second PGM mine.
According to Booysendal general manager Willie Theron, Murray & Roberts Cementation has (since January 2015) made significant underground mining advancements and developed 12 400 m, stoped 224 000 m², and surpassed 2.7 Mt of stoping.
October this year is expected to represent another milestone achievement for the company as it reaches steady-state production – 187 500 tpm. At this rate, the Booysendal UG North mine will deliver its annual 160 000 ozpa PGM production target. “We are on track to achieve this production rate from October this year,” says Braam Blom, project executive at Murray & Roberts Cementation.
All underground mining utilises a mechanised bord and pillar mining methodology and a 122 unit fleet of Sandvik and Aard LHDs, drill rigs, mechanised bolters, hybrid bolters, etc. Until recently, a surface workshop has provided all equipment maintenance needs but a new underground workshop was commissioned in April 2015 and will deliver enormous time and cost saving benefits.
Theron is particularly proud of the mine’s mechanised methodology and believes this approach holds massive potential for the operation’s growth potential as well. It is currently underway with a feasibility study to establish a Merensky North mine utilising contract mechanised mining as well.
Unlike platinum mines on the Western Limb, which are focused primarily on the higher grade Merensky reef, Theron says the UG2 reef is the focus on the Eastern Limb, “and it lends itself to mechanised mining. The UG2 package is 180 cm (on average) whereas the Merensky package is about 80 cm.”
Blom is pleased with Murray & Roberts Cementation’s project delivery at the mine to date. Not only is it one of the company’s larger contracts but also entails full management of the mine – including staff employment and training as well as machine operation and maintenance. It has also embraced its female population and brags two of the youngest, women section leaders underground.
By year end the company will oversee 1 500 workers, 1 200 of those will be direct employees of Murray & Roberts Cementation, and the remainder sub-contractors.
“Our original contract and contract extensions have gone extremely well under (sometimes) very difficult conditions,” says Blom. “We are proud of our safety track record, which we attribute largely to the mechanised/trackless mining method, the vehicle and pedestrian detection system and our commitment to constant safety awareness.”
The development phase of the UG2 North mine has seen rates of about 500/550 mpm. “We are now transitioning from a phase of capital infrastructure to working infrastructure. Our last major capital development will be in 2015, after which the average rate drops to about 50 mpm. The bulk of growth will be on-reef after that and ensuring we make our monthly targets,” explains Ruaan Greef, Murray & Roberts Cementation senior engineer.
While the average grade is about 2.6 g/t, an increase in stoping, decrease in development and correctly cut package should see the grade settle at about 3 g/t. “Getting the correct ratios between waste and development is essential on site and between Northam and Murray & Roberts Cementation, we must ensure this is achieved,” Theron notes.
Murray & Roberts Cementation, as part of the larger Murray & Roberts Group, prioritises safety on every project or contract and at Booysendal UG2 North mine this is no exception.
‘Are you switched on?’ is a Murray & Roberts Cementation safety initiative which sees all personnel on site, from management level through to mineworker, wear a whistle which is visible at all times when they enter the Booysendal property. “Putting the whistle on puts us in the right safety frame of mind and enables us to alert our colleagues and co-workers to safety-compromising situations.”
Theron explains that Northam selected the contract mining approach to diversify its risk. “Our contract mining adjudication process was based on certain criteria. Murray & Roberts Cementation were not necessarily the cheapest contractor, but they had and do still have vast experience in mechanised mining. This was critical in our decision making process,” says Theron.
Theron says the two companies have established a joint relationship of openness and fairness. “I would go to war with the Murray & Roberts Cementation employees working at Booysendal.”
“When we initially started at Booysendal, our primary objective was to deliver a 160 000 ozpa UG2 mining operation and while we are approaching this, our objectives have evolved and our expectations have grown. We will soon target a monthly production rate of >200 000 tpm which would equate to just below 180 000 ozpa. But I believe the potential volumes from the UG2 and Merensky mines are closer to 250 000 ozpa within the next four to five years,” Theron reveals. This could increase the size of Murray & Roberts Cementation’s current contract on site.
Northam Platinum is current underway with a feasibility study, to determine the viability of developing and mining Booysendal’s Merensky reef. Murray & Roberts Cementation has also been contracted to mine a bulk sample as part of the study. “We are extremely positive that this is just the start of a new mine,” Theron reveals.
In addition to developing a new Merensky mine, Booysendal division intends to increase its overall PGM output significantly beyond that and will do so having acquired the Everest mine from Aquarius Platinum South Africa. The ore body lies adjacent to Booysendal and its infrastructure (primarily concentrator and equipment) will allow Northam to ramp-up production quickly. “As an operating asset it also provides synergies to exploit our larger Booysendal South and Central properties.
Everest or Booysendal South as it is to be re-named has the potential (with a 230 000 to 250 000 tpm concentrator) to produce 250 000 ozpa of PGMS as well. This means that by 2020, the Booysendal mining division could be producing 500 000 ozpa.
Following the Competition Commission’s approval, Northam will pay R400 million which places the full ownership of the property, infrastructure, equipment, plant, 30 MVA power supply, etc. in its hands. The final R50 million is payable on transfer of the mining right to Booysendal.
“We are already assessing some of the equipment on site and hope that within the next 18 months to be generating sufficient tonnages to validate re-starting the plant which has a chrome spiral plant which operated for only a few months before it was shutdown.”
Aquarius had also progressed quite far with an opencast study on their mining property which Northam will continue evaluating as part of their organic growth strategies.