Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen mine is an open-pit iron ore mine, 14 km in length, located in the Northern Cape, producing a leading-quality lump ore and a premium fine ore. The company now intends to extend the life cycle of the successful operation, which currently has 13 years left on its roster. By Inside Mining Editor, Mpinane Senkhane

Kumba’s flagship project Sishen mine is located just outside of Kathu in the Northern Cape of South Africa. Mining at Sishen is carried out as part of Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore operation and Sishen is one of the largest open-pit mines producing iron ore in the world. The mine accounts for the majority of Kumba’s iron ore production – together with the Kolomela project just a few kilometres away from Sishen. The mining operation at Sishen dates back to 1953, with the first ore from the mine exported in 1976, and in excess of 900 million tonnes of iron ore produced over 60 years of the mine’s operation.

‘This is Sishen’ – Kumba

As it stands, Sishen currently produces about 31 million tonnes a year, and with a 13-year life of mine left the Sishen team is now exploring possible extension. During a media visit to Sishen in May, the Kumba Iron Ore team presented future developments and unpacked the mine’s operational strategy.

“Sishen is at 13 years life of mine, but we have an exploration programme, which we are confident and excited about between Sishen and Kolomela. We are also currently looking at improving the amount of ore we get out of the ground; however, this is still in feasibility stage,’ said Themba Mkhwanazi, Ceo, Kumba Iron Ore.


At the site visit, GM of the operation Mapi Mobwano unpacked Sishen’s strategic aim coined ‘The Full Potential Programme’, which looks to become the project benchmark in Anglo American within three years.

“Sishen is a high-quality mine, producing premium products and competitive on margin basis, we are especially focused on eliminating fatalities. In five years, we aim to be the best in the business, and the best in Anglo American in three, by becoming a full potential mine,” said Mobwano in describing the Sishen mission.

A high-quality ore

Sishen currently produces four types of iron ore: the massive and laminate ores (lower quality), and the breccia and conglomerate ores (higher quality). At the moment, the premium lump is in high demand in the market, placing Kumba in a favourable position with the premium product selling for $84/tonne.

Timo Smit, executive head: Marketing and Seaborne Logistics, said Kumba was inching its way closer to the high-value 65% iron content ore, which was trading at a premium of $19/tonne to the medium-grade 62% iron ore. The company increased the iron content in the bulk of its ore to 64.4% from 64.1%, Smit said, attributing this to the fact that demand for high-quality iron ore from China was growing. He added that stricter pollution controls and efforts to improve smelter efficiencies were driving the demand for good-quality lumpy iron ore, which makes up two-thirds of Kumba’s production.

“The iron ore price for 62% iron content delivered to China — which is now close to $65/tonne, down from the $70/tonne earlier this year is expected to remain strong well into the third quarter of this year before weakening later this year,” Smit said.

Notable tech upgrades

Glen McGavigan, executive head: Technology and Projects unpacked how the company has invested a significant amount of money and resources, in the region of R749 million, on technology at Sishen and Kolomela between 2014 and 2017 to implement the best available technology in advanced process control, drones and mine information system equipment.

“First, we had to ask ourselves, ‘how do you modernise drilling, blasting, loading and hauling after it has been done a certain way for so long?’. We developed a fit-for-purpose technology strategy in 2014 to improve safety, productivity and reduce costs. Namely, the automation of critical value chain equipment and plant-improving efficiencies resulted in the driving down of operational costs.

“The implementation of data integration systems and the upgrading of industrial information technology has created a technology-ready business,” said McGavigan.

The modernisation journey for Sishen included a fleet management system upgrade that looked to optimise load and haul cycles to maximise productivity and efficiencies. Additionally, it included the implementation of a high-precision GPS shovel guidance system to dog the right material, keep the designed bench grade, respect dig limits and work within the machine’s optimal operating specifications. The fleet management upgrades also included real-time monitoring including asset health.

Worth noting is that Kumba’s second project, Kolomela, as a part of the modernisation initiative, boasts a fully autonomous blast-hole drilling fleet.

Moving forward, McGavigan expressed that technology remains a game changer for the Kumba Iron Ore business

“We fully intend to rapidly implement appropriate and proven technologies across the iron ore value chain to achieve safer, more productive and lower cost operations,” he concluded.


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