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While the platinum majors continue to face economic and fi nancial diffi culties, the junior sector is thriving, particularly on the Bushveld Complex’s Western Limb. The development of TSX-listed Platinum Group Metals’ (PTM) Maseve project is advancing rapidly, which can be largely attributed to the ‘perfect’ working relationship between itself, the OEM and the developer, writes Laura Cornish.

The shallow, high-grade US$506 million (R4.68 billion) Maseve project, commonly referred to as the Western Bushveld Joint Venture (WBJV) Project 1, may be only one of a few new platinum mines under construction, but is developing with such speed that it will undoubtedly emerge as the fi rst new producing platinum mine in the area – delivered by a junior. Th e project’s mining right application was granted in April 2012 and the 275 000 ozpa 4E PGM project’s construction has been advancing ever since. First production through the North twin decline system is scheduled to ramp-up through 2015, with a targeted full 20-month ramp-up to 160 000 tpm run-of-mine (ROM) nameplate capacity. Based on current resource and reserve figures, the mine’s lifespan (for both Merensky and UG2 ore) is 22 years.

Top development rates
PTM project manager Pran Maharaj and Sandvik trans4mine operations manager, Andre O Smit, believe the development rates achieved at Maseve are the best in the South African industry. Although the slow six-month ramp-up period for the North decline development was scheduled to allow for orientation, site establishment came perilously close to resulting in overall project delays. Today, however, Maharaj is “ecstatic” about the development rates being achieved. “The quality of the performance is reflected in the rates being achieved. While the industry average is generally between 75 and 80 m/month, if not lower, underground mining developer JIC Mining Services is achieving in excess of 100 m/month using the Sandvik fleet,” Maharaj notes. Sandvik Mining and Construction RSA (Sandvik) is providing the necessary primary underground equipment for the mine’s decline development as well as maintaining the fleet through an ‘Asset Reliability’ team of 14 people on-site who ensure the machines are available and at peak performance at all times.

“We chose a mechanisation development plan and knew only one OEM that could supply the equipment and services needed to achieve our underground advancement targets. Sandvik drilling machines were our first choice as they are high in quality and user-friendly, for both operators and maintainers. The machines are delivering to our expectations, particularly the double boomer DD321,” explains Maharaj. PTM COO Peter Busse reiterates Maharaj’s sentiment, indicating that the Sandvik employees on-site have integrated well with the company and are critical “in terms of meshing with our vision and what we want. Right from the feasibility stage, we wanted a 100 m/month system decline development advancement rate. The Sandvik team has really supported us, believed in our vision and have become an integral part of our current and future success,” Busse emphasises.

“Construction of the 21 m deep North boxcut started in May 2011 and was completed in October the same year. Development of the twin North decline system (at a minus nine degrees dip) commenced directly after, which reached 1 000 m in March this year. The first reef drive lateral development is planned to start in April 2013 and Phase 2 shaft infrastructure equipping is now under way.” DRA Projects is the EPCM contractor for the surface infrastructure, plant design and build, and value engineering for the mine plan is being done on an ongoing basis by various specialist consultants.

Development of the South twin decline commenced in February this year and decline development is targeted to reach 1000 m towards the middle of 2015. “In addition to the equipment, we have further provided PTM with invaluable human resources such as Garry Brooks from our trans4mine advisory services division, who advises the on-site team on the fasttracked implementation of best practices, enabling the company to confidently assure the market that it is meeting its delivery requirements,” says O Smit.

“Brooks and Sandvik’s senior accounts manager, Kobus Labuschagne, are part of the key people, among a few others, who have been integral in setting us on a path to our success in achieving exceptional development rates. We are one team on-site, Sandvik, JIC, DRA and PTM,” Busse highlights.

O Smit continues: “The trans4mine operational coaches have only one goal, and that is to ensure that our customers meet the production and safety targets promised to them from the Sandvik fleet on-site through a collaborative approach. It requires buy-in from all  stakeholders on-site, from machine operators right through to management level. This is exactly what has happened at the Maseve project, making the project such a great example of what a common vision among people can achieve.” A lot of praise must be given to the main contractor, JIC Mining Services, Busse states. Headed up by the company’s COO, Neels Sutherland, “they have managed to integrate PTM’s vision so successfully that even the relationship with the unions, such as NUM’s branch secretary Elizabeth Saka and branch chairperson, Alfred Twane, onsite is the best observed by the trans4mine team to date.” Ultimately, both Sutherland and O Smit agree that a lot of the success lies behind the “unique” way mine owner PTM has and continues to operate on site. The company sets targets to be achieved, such as decline development rates, which in no uncertain terms are expected to be met.

“But it is also equally involved in working with us on site in all day to day operations, engaging with the main contractor as one of its own team members, enabling them to get on with the job of achieving the 100 m system advance. It’s a very mature approach and one that certainly delivers results.” Busse also believes that mining companies that show confidence in their contractors by encouraging them to make decisions at the face, reap significant benefits. “These are the people with substantial experience. Our contractors bring brain power to the project and we utilise it to our benefit.” Both Sandvik and JIC are committed to making sound decisions and will ensure development remains two years ahead of production requirements to provide sufficient mining flexibility. “Our performance delivery was key to raising the second round of finance we needed to continue with the completion of the project construction. Sandvik and JIC’s performance and unified teamwork can largely be attributed to our ability in achieving this,” Busse highlights.

The Maseve project
Unlike its neighbours, the Maseve project is a shallow operation, meaning the most cost-effective and fastest development method (decline development) is being implemented. “Two identical twin declines are necessary to ensure we extract the most flexibility and value from the ore body. In essence, we will have two separate mines being developed, which have immediate access to good grade ore sections,” explains Busse. Concentrator construction is also under way – activity on-site started in January 2013 and will be commissioned in Q4, 2014. Plant EPCM contractor DRA Minerals Processing is responsible for its construction. The majority of all major equipment items needed has been ordered already.

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