This week there has been news of a new portal being cut by Hillgrove Resources, at their flagship Kanmantoo project in South Australia. This marks the start of another brownfields project buzzing back to life following geological review and analysis. What sets the dialog differently for this project, at a time that is always very exciting, is their use of a new tool to the underground mining industry. The very first Komatsu MC51 here down under, following its development in the US.
The MC51 is an alternative to conventional jumbo driven horizontal hard rock development, which utilises no explosives in the process. It rather uses an angled rotating drilling head that burrows and dislodges rock structures at the face. There are many clear advantages to a system that removes explosives from the overall process and allows for more precise mining. I have often wondered if a system similar to a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) could be utilised underground, and maybe this is it!
I always like to think of new concepts in situ at the face and weigh up the pros and cons – I jotted down a few below:
Expected pros of the MC51:
No use of explosives for horizontal development:
- reduced workload and handling of explosives for underground operators
- when not firing stopes, no requirement for extensive re-entry, saving time at shift change
- reduced ventilation costs and required capacity of air flow to active development headings
Precision in mining:
- ability to mine precisely to designed profile shape, reducing expected overbreak/underbreak from conventional drill and blast techniques.
- utilises CAD designs to mine as required for development
Reduction of operators at face:
- cutting device and removal conveyor removes operators from face and working around booms/and load blast holes
- teleremote controls allows for potential autonomous/remote operation from surface once developed
Expected cons of the MC51:
Requirement for other auxiliary machines:
- inability to install ground support would still mean jumbo/bolting rigs would need to be available for safe mining.
- timely removal of excavated dirt could alter conventional loader requirements and cause interactions between the two machines.
Inability to mine all required horizontal development:
- articulation and maneuverability of such a long machine would make it difficult to mine wide expanses and right angled drives.
- designed to mine 5.5mW x 5.5.mH drives, will the system have to variability to mine for example, truck loading bays or fan strips (circa 7-8mH)?
- directional control of a continuous mining machine (think drive profile and gradient) may be hard to achieve – possibly needing new methodology/engineering input.
- operators would need a new skillset for this possibly game changing system and the project mainteinance crew would need to learn how to deliver continous service of the new machine.
- parts and supply chain could be an issue during early industry adoption.
This potentially highly disruptive system is the exact reason that I started this website! To highlight and raise awareness of new ideas that can make the whole underground mining process easier and more efficient. Reading between the lines, there are three machines currently in trial across the globe, two with Vale and one down under with Hillgrove – this really will be one to watch in the medium term, as development rates and news of the trials reach the wider mining community.
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60 +/- years ago I worked in a rock phosphate mine near Deer Lodge, Montana, where an early and much smaller size, but roughly similar in operation, CHIPPING HAMMER was undergoing testing. It was air-powered and track-mounted and chipped away at sedimentary rock phosphate dipping upward in the stope at around 30 degrees. It was a temporary summer job, and I didn’t stay long enough to hear the eventual evaluation.