Boipelo coal
Boipelo is an empowered turnkey contractor with services extending across the full spectrum of underground coal contract mining

Since acquiring the New Clydesdale Colliery (NCC) from Exxaro in 2015, ASX-listed coal miner Universal Coal has proven that value can still be realised from older assets.

The company has achieved significant success in reopening the underground mine, increasing production from nearby open pit resources and importantly, is making smart decisions to ensure it optimises its performance. LAURA CORNISH visited the mine to find out more.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 1, 2020

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NCC is situated in the Kriel district about 35 km outside of eMalahleni, Mpumalanga. Within a year of completing the acquisition, Universal Coal brought the underground mine out of care and maintenance and back into production. Having also introduced open pit mining to the operation since then, the operation has proven to be a valuable asset for the company.

The mine is currently operating at the level required to fill the 380 000 tpm coal handling and preparation plant – generating about 300 000 tpm ROM material from four open pit seams and roughly 75 000 tpm ROM material from the Diepsruit underground 2 lower seam.

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The total production output, roughly 4 Mpta ROM, equates to a +10-year lifespan – based on the current production model.  The coal produced at New Clydesdale is currently sold to power utility Eskom as well as global trader on a long term offtake.

Smart decisions keep NCC optimised

In February 2019, a number of market dynamics resulted in the underground mining contract exchanging ownership – necessitated by the need to maintain its 75 000 tpm or 900 000 tpa ROM production target.

The necessity to secure a transformed company with substantial coal experience saw the company appoint Boipelo Mining Contractors, a Level 2 B-BBEE accredited joint venture company formed by Murray & Roberts Cementation and the Amandla TM Group.

The company is an empowered turnkey contractor with services extending across the full spectrum of underground coal contract mining. Headed by executive partner and mine engineer professional Charles Makgala, who has spent his career in the underground coal industry, his company offered NCC the perfect suite of skills, drive and empowerment.

Boipelo’s three-year rand-per-ton turnkey contract includes mining three underground sections from the 2 lower seam using three continuous miners and the necessary supporting equipment –roof bolters, shuttle cars, LHDs and tractors. The company is also responsible for the installation and maintenance of the conveyor and ventilation infrastructure.

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“The performance of the underground operation is critical in ensuring that Universal Coal’s long-term export quality offtake is met and this necessitated a seamless transition as well as improvement in a number of key performance areas, including production and safety culture.

“From the outset our appointment required that we retain the majority of the existing contractor’s 175 personnel and equipment but take the necessary steps to optimise the mine’s production performance,” says Makgala.

With hard work and intensive effort, Boipelo has done just that. In fact, the company has on occasion exceeded its monthly production target and in November 2019 delivered its strongest month totalling 112 000 t.

Success driven by experience, passion and commitment

While expertise is a driving factor for the delivery of its contractual obligations, Makgala has brought additional value to the project. “I want to build a sustainable operation that has a strong future beyond the remaining four-year lifespan of the 2 lower seam.

This requires injecting passion and commitment into all aspects of what we do and importantly, enhancing employee motivation which I believe we’ve had considerable success in achieving.”

The executive director wants to build the company’s reputation through its responsible approach which means going over and above. For NCC in particular, this has seen Boipelo appoint grade controllers – a decision of its own accord – to assist manage the varying coal qualities.

“Since taking over the underground mine, we’ve achieved the lowest contamination numbers. Our focus is not only quantity but quality as well,” Makgala highlights.

Thanks to his extensive experience in the industry, Makgala has also reconfigured the mine approach through improved long-term planning while still maintaining the company’s short-term focus and daily targets.

“This has been an incredible journey so far and I am determined to surpass our contractual obligation in our first twelve months in operation and built a solid foundation for the remaining years of our journey with Universal Coal.”

The addition of new equipment moving forward to achieve this, as well as improve efficiencies, is a possibility and on the table for consideration.

Safety is of course another area Boipelo is committed to upholding and so has maintained the proximity detection systems on two of the three sections originally installed on the trackless mobile machinery. It is also looking to roll this out to the third section.

“Our performance is a reflection of the client’s and so we must operate at a level that is acceptable to the company as well as the industry,” Makgala notes.

“We aim to compete according to international contracting standards and adhering to best safety practises is one of the steps in which we will achieve this.”

Proud achievement for all stakeholders

To date, the transition to Boipelo Mining Contractors has been well received and was achieved through extensive consultation with New Clydesdale management and the affected employees,” says Makgala.

“This is an exciting project for us,” continues Allan Widlake, Boipelo Mining Contractors executive partner and new business director at Murray & Roberts Cementation.

“We are bringing a depth of coal mining experience and expertise from both JV partners, and are confident that we will continue to deliver an efficient and cost effective solution to the client.”

“The joint venture represents a solid collaboration of enterprising new entrants and well-established players. While expecting a high level of quality in the services to be delivered at all times, we are also proud to be contributing to meaningful transformation in the mining sector,” concludes Chris Silver, general manager at NCC.