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Underground mining contractor JIC Mining Services is proving that the outsourced contractor model remains as successful as ever. Its decline development rates at Platinum Group Metals’ (PTM) Maseve project is perfect evidence of this, writes Laura Cornish.

A host of new platinum mines, owned largely by juniors, may be emerging on the Bushveld Complex’s Western Limb horizon – all in varying stages of development. Its rapid underground decline development programme allowed Maseve to be at the production forefront.

Neighbouring Royal Bafokeng Platinum’s Styldrift development project and 26% co-owner Wesizwe’s Bakubung project, the 275 000 ozpa 4E PGM Maseve project could be considered the most attractive. It is shallow, therefore lending itself to declines rather than vertical shafts. In terms of the project’s current development status, the construction of its two twin decline systems (North and South) remains a priority and will represent a major milestone in the mine’s overall progression, thanks to its ‘impressive’ advancement rates.

In June 2011, JIC Mining Services (JIC) was awarded the contract to develop the twin 1 000 m underground decline tunnels into the centre of the deposit using mechanised mining methods. Despite a slow start-up, the company is currently achieving excellent ‘above-industry standard’ advancement rates. JIC’s CEO, Jacques Roux, highlights that there were a lot of inexperienced people at the start,meaning a substantial amount of upfront training was required.

“Coupled with the PTM’s ‘world-class requirements’, we had to align ourselves with PTM’s vision and come together as a unified team to achieve the desired output. We accepted the challenge and with the establishment of a close working partnership with PTM and mechanised OEM Sandvik, we are meeting and often exceeding the advancement rate requirements. “Right from the start, we embarked on travelling side by side with PTM on its journey towards production. We wasted no time adjusting our mining system to ensure the twin decline development reached its daily development targets, which included moving from three eight-hour shifts to two 12-hour shifts per day. Th is alone reduced a significant amount of downtime during shift change,” explains Roux.

Due to the perfect alignment established between PTM, JIC and Sandvik, the companies have been achieving PTM’s 100 m/month system advance consistently ever since – considered to be at least 20 m/ month faster than the South African industry average. “In addition to our commitment and underground mining expertise, the Sandvik mechanised machines have also contributed substantially towards our success,” he continues. Having recently completed development on the North declines, JIC has commenced with lateral reef development, targeting 80 m/month, as well as development on the South declines. “The client empowers us regularly and believes in us because we accepted the challenge to make this work, which has only encouraged us to deliver further.”

“Achieving such impressive advancement rates can also be attributed to the time and energy we have spent on improving our advancement rate per blast, which we increased from about 2.7 to 3.4 m. We average three blasts per day.” Achieving such rates is new ground for JIC and the company intends to continue delivering to the same standards moving forward. Th e biggest challenge is to duplicate the successes achieved for the North declines at the South declines, which will comprise a new JIC team.

“We have and continue to learn invaluable lessons on-site and have overcome signifi cant challenges. This contract has become one of the most important contracts within the JIC stable,” Roux pronounces. “JIC’s ultimate aim is to transition from developer to miner at Maseve.”

Following the award of the JIC contract, PTM president Michael Jones announced: “We are pleased to award this contract to JIC. Following a competitive tender process, it clearly was the right choice on many factors including price, skills and experience. JIC has a good safety record at all its operations and has invested in an accredited training facility locally. Th e estimated primary underground development cost based on the JIC bid is below our feasibility study estimate. We have been able to utilise the actual contract pricing for primary decline development, power and water delivery and initial civil site work to add confidence to our feasibility model for banking discussions. As a result of the positive PGM outlook, attractive margins on the project and ongoing project implementation, banking interest has been strong.”

JIC is currently operating as one of the largest underground mining contractors at Royal Bafokeng Plat’s BRPM, immediately adjacent to Maseve, and operates as an underground mining contractor on another three platinum mines, one chrome mine and one uranium mine in South Africa, employing approximately 5 000 people. The company employs about 150 people on the PTM site, of which 40% are from the local area. Th is number is expected to more than double as the project grows.

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