Spectro Scientific

Sandvik: Mechanized mining makes sense for Africa`s platinum industry - Case Study

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Courtesy of Spectro Scientific

According to equipment supplier Sandvik Mining, mechanized mining's exponential growth dispels the myth that new techniques are not proving profitable on the African continent. In the last decade, according to the company, production volumes of southern African platinum mines rose from 2 million metric tons (mt) in 2000 to 35 million mt just 10 years later, Based on current mine development plans, output is projected to increase further to 80 million mt/y by 2020.

Sandvik refers to some highly publicized incidents where technology failed to deliver comparable yields to manual operations on certain shafts, and dissidents soon began proclaiming the failure altogether of mechanization in the sector. When examining the facts, that isn't really the case, noted Sandvik: Five of the eight major underground platinum mines in the region that are profitable are mechanized, including Zimplats, Mimosa, Mototolo, Bathopele and Two Rivers.

'To claim that mechanization cannot work in narrow platinum mines is not true,' said Rod Pickering for Sandvik Mining. 'Risks are inherent in both processes, but merely following a one-size-fits-all approach is more dangerous. Even despite the difficulty of extracting platinum in the narrow confines of platinum mines, we believe human hands do not always have to carry out the 'dirty work' in order to be profitable.'

Having worked in a broad cross-section of mines, both mechanized and 'traditional,' Pickering believes that the answer to mining profitably is to do what is correct at a specific mine and individual shaft. In the future, with price pressures mounting, he said skillful mining will be required to extract the maximum efficiency out of each ton of ore mined. As orebodies are found at greater depths, mining operations will become more difficult and dangerous, forcing mine operators to adopt smarter approaches.

Pickering said, 'We are already beginning to push the boundaries of human endurance underground in our platinum mines. Rock drill operators' lives are not easy underground and the nature of the work is arduous and difficult. A rock drill weighs 23 kg and the thrust leg weighs 10 kg. This is connected to a pneumatic hose and a water hose and has to be manhandled into place and operated by a single person. As a result, operators are commanding far higher salaries that will in turn threaten the future sustainability of some traditionally operated mines.

'The challenge to prove the efficiency of mechanized mining is to begin using different measures to underpin the success or failure of mines or operations within a mine,' he continued. 'A good example when measuring productivity of manually operated mines over mechanized mines has been the use of formulas relating to the cost per ton of ore removed from the mine. Modern mine managers, however, prefer measuring the cost per ounce extracted, as precision mechanized mining techniques are able to exclude unnecessary rock in favor of mining only rich deposits of ore.'

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