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Specialist develops economical solutions

An image of the commissioning of five-boom drill-rig (drill-jumbo)

FORWARD THINKING SOLUTIONS UMS refurbishes equipment with the latest electrical technology to make the machines fit for the specific application

3rd November 2023

     

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Multi-disciplinary specialist underground mining and metallurgical processing services company United Mining Services (UMS) Group has equipped its operations in preparation for the surge in demand for specialist underground mining skills.

Among other efforts, the company offers refurbished equipment that is cost effective and reduces lead time, as well as which prioritises safety while enabling increased shaft sinking capabilities.

This is in response to the growing needs of opencast mining companies as operations face an oftentimes inevitable shift to underground mining owing to depleted shallow deposits along with increasing surface environmental requirements and the call for minerals to support the transition to low-carbon energy.

The company is concentrating its efforts on making underground mining as cost effective for clients as possible while increasing productivity as quickly and safely as possible.

UMS group executive technical director Murray Macnab says UMS is capitalising on its 60 years of experience, intellectual resources and equipment to get the best economical solution for its clients.

Through combining the extensive engineering and consulting ability of the UMS engineering and the UMS contracting businesses, UMS Group can complement clients’ technical teams’ short- and long-term requirements.

He explains that, traditionally, tier one mining houses would start planning for an underground mine five to ten years in advance and commission feasibility studies five years ahead of time.

Through the engineering and consulting arms of UMS, the company has the capability to do feasibility studies for its clients within one year, as well as complete early engineering and procurement concurrently to ensure reduced timelines on long-lead time items.

Refurbished Effectiveness
UMS Group has recently invested substantially in mining equipment that can be used during a project and then be made available to the client afterwards if it fits their long-term requirements.

Macnab explains that UMS has been purchasing equipment, including several winders, from various sources including heritage shaft sinking businesses and local mining houses.

This equipment will be refurbished with the latest electrical technology.

“We have specialist expertise in mining equipment and winders, and have an internal winder division that specifies what needs to be done to the winders so that they can be modified accordingly. These teams are also available to consult and audit mine winders and mining equipment,” he says.

Macnab explains that clients are realising the benefits of using refurbished machines, as it can be more cost effective and can save them up to two years on the lead time for equipment.

“For example, for our client in Brazil, we already owned the kibble winder, amongst other equipment required to sink the shaft, and have shipped it there where it is now being used to sink the shaft. It will then be converted to the permanent man winder to save the client money and schedule,” he states.

Safety First
Macnab emphasises that the best way to save clients time and money is to increase efficiency and productivity, but never at the expense of safety.

He highlights that in the 1970s and 1980s, South Africa was setting shaft sinking advances and competing for world records, with many mining companies trying to sink over 100 m a month; however, safety was a casualty of this competition.

Macnab expresses that the mining industry has changed for the better, and safety is being prioritised; however, eliminating risks resulted in some sinking rates slowing down across all sinking companies, in some cases, being slowed by up to 30 m a month.

“Safety imperatives have resulted in a significant rethink about the viability of certain mining ventures. At UMS, safety is part of everything that we do. We are constantly exploring innovative ways to improve productivity while making sure safety is never compromised,” he says.

This means UMS is currently achieving monthly sinking advances again that are starting to be on par with sinking advances of the 80s, recently achieving 105 m in a month at one of the company’s sites.

Further, UMS is also rethinking and re-engineering innovations of the past and seeing how the company can upgrade or modify them to increase productivity and save money, while still prioritising safety.

Macnab gives the example of how UMS has changed the way cactus grabs are used to comply with, and even improve on, modern safety regulations.

Cactus grabs are the most efficient machines to load rock; however, the company has changed the sinking method to make it safer by, among other factors, completely removing mineworkers from the shaft bottom when loading.

He provides a further example of adapting old technology with the assigning of a modern specification on a mobile escape winder that was initially only suitable for shallow mines, modifying it to reach a depth of 1 500 m.

Macnab says that UMS is using one of these units at their Botswana project as an emergency escape winder, which will eventually be used in the ventilation shaft for this purpose to reach 800 m below the surface, saving the client from having to build a headgear on an emergency escape shaft.

“We are constantly innovating within UMS. This puts us in a strong position to undertake several more long-term underground projects in the future, safely, expeditiously and cost effectively,” he concludes.

Edited by Donna Slater
Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

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