Soft-ground digging, drilling, blasting and raiseboring are being combined for the first time to sink a new shaft for a manganese mine in South Africa.

This method of shaftsinking will enhance safety and improve productivity of the shaftsinking process, says mining infrastructure construction and services company Murray & Roberts Cementation business development director Allan Widlake.

“This combination of technologies has significant potential and we have to look at the possibility of boring shafts in the future, as opposed to using drill and blast methodologies,” he explains.

The company is also exploring the possibility of using techniques from the civil engineering industry, which it is currently applying in a civil infrastructure project in Hong Kong, in South African shaftsinking projects. This involves the use of drilling techniques in blind sunk shafts, which have a significantly lower capital outlay, and in shallow shafts of up to 500m in coal, gold and platinum industries, he says.

Industry perspective

From a contracting perspective, the industry has had an upswing in the number of major enquiries from the market place for shafts for major underground mines. These are currently either being tendered or are under adjudication.

Enquiries are typically being received from the southern African region up to Zambia. This appears to be in response to the current strengthening of global commodities and there seems to be a sense of urgency from mining houses, both junior and major, to bring projects to fruition, says Widlake.

Clients, consultants and contractors continue to be faced with a lack of skills and the industry must continue to develop new skills to ensure that the pool of skills is being fed continuously, he says.

“Our training centre, in Carltonville, develops specialist skills for shaftsinking and other contracts,” states Widlake.

One of the changes to the training centre will be the upgrading of the shaftsinking sections, in particular the mock ups, to develop new training lesson plans, to match the technology being brought in from Canada.

“Such is our belief and commitment to the new methodologies, that training will be done on a phased approach to ensure that the appropriate skills sets are in place to support new projects as these arrive,” he adds.

Meanwhile, in terms of safety, Widlake believes a new safety methodology, which will use new technologies, is needed to ensure safer work environments and reduce accidents or fatalities.

“The South African mining industry has been using specific safety methodologies for a long time. These need to be replaced by new methods and systems that are yet to be embraced in this country, which we have been using successfully in other mining regions. These will not only enhance safety on projects but also enable greater productivity,” he believes.

Resistance to change remains a challenge but should be embraced because these technologies are well proven in other regions, such as Canada and Australia, says Widlake.

He adds that the company has case studies and projects where alternate safety technologies were in use and interested parties can discuss production achievements with current clients on those mines.

Murray & Roberts Cementation is part of the greater Murray & Roberts Group, a South African engineering, contracting and construction services company.

Murray & Roberts Cementation undertakes shaft sinking, contract mining, raisedrilling, shaft-boring technology and mining services.