Leading international mining contracting company, Murray & Roberts Cementation has announced a combination of new and innovative mining technologies in the shaft sinking and mine development cycle. These technologies are aimed at increasing productivity and improving safety in the different focus areas within Murray & Roberts, and include an innovative drill rig that will reduce the number of people required at the shaft bottom, thereby lowering the risk of employees’ exposure to falling objects or debris.

"Also, from a productivity point of view we believe we will be able to sink the shaft faster," adds Murray & Roberts Cementation technical director Tim Wakefield, who explains that the innovative development is currently in a detailed design phase following its six-month development phase.

"We are integrating a lot of proven technologies in an innovative way, and have drawn on Canadian experience with hydraulic drilling and applied this to shaft sinking," explains Wakefield. According to Wakefield, the drill is essentially a new type of shaft jumbo drill rig and its development is linked closely to a client working in conjunction with Murray & Roberts Cementation on the project. "More often than not, the outcome of these types of projects are better done in conjunction with a client," says Wakefield.

In addition, Murray & Roberts Cementation has made significant contribution to mining innovations using its V-Mole technology, developed to ensure optimum accuracy on pilot hole drilling in raise boring and shaft boring contracts. "This technology has been taken a step further and we are now looking at blind shaft sinking," adds Wakefield.

According to him, the long-term project is being seriously considered and involves the application of a combination of tunnel boring and raise boring techniques for shaft sinking operations. "Most of the technologies for blind shaft sinking exist, albeit not in a single package," he adds, explaining that one of the tricks in the innovation process, used by Murray & Roberts, is to identify innovations which do not fit into a system, then package these or combine them in such a way as to offer operational benefits.

In addition, the company has contributed to innovation in shaft sinking through the mechanisation of the blow over process at the Impala Platinum no. 20 shaft contract. The mechanisation of the process, traditionally done using pneumatic hoses with operators, has enhanced safety, lowered the risk of injury and resulted in greater productivity.

In terms of vertical shaft sinking, Wakefield explains that the company is actively involved in examining the way blast holes are charged to speed up the entire operation with alternative packaging of the explosives. "These combinations of new and innovative mining technologies in the shaft sinking cycle will give huge productivity increases and major safety benefits," he emphasises.

According to Wakefield, one of the main drivers of innovation is the industry’s skill shortage. "People are entering the market with potential and no experience, and these people appear more able to innovate than established and experienced individuals who are set in their ways," he adds. He explains that the shortage of experienced individuals does sometimes foster innovation because challenges need to be viewed in a different light leading to creativity and, ultimately, innovation. "Being innovative is all about leadership and leadership needs to recognise, support and drive further innovation," concludes Wakefield.