Situated on the Western Limb of South Africa’s Bushveld Complex, the open cast Pilanesberg Platinum Mine has delivered 10 years of steady PGM production build up.
This is thanks to its sound geological knowledge of the ore body and the technical expertise and support of those contractors responsible for ensuring that both the operation’s pit and upfront crushing circuit are performing optimally – at all times. LAURA CORNISH visited the site to find out more.
Q2, 2019 officially marked PPM’s 10-year production anniversary since first ore was sent to the plant in 2009, a year after the first blast.
“It has been a steady 10 years of production build up at the mine which averages about 150 000 ozpa of PGM concentrate,” starts COO Casper Badenhorst.
For now, all +- 340 000 tpm of ROM production is generated from the Tuschenkomst pit which is predominantly silicates (upper and lower pseudo reef) and UG2 reef as well. The silicates are higher in volume and the UG2 higher in grade.
Primary crushing – undertaken by surface materials handling solutions company SPH Kundalila – occurs on the pit perimeter before being transported to the nearby concentrator which has processing and milling capacities of 340 000 tpm and 315 000 tpm respectively. The tpm difference is a result of the dense medium separator for upgrading the UG2 reef.
The current pit extends to about 135 m and is reaching its final depth of 180 m at a rapid pace. There are expansion plans to extend the opencast operations with underground mining also a potential outcome for the future of the mine.
“Despite a difficult platinum price environment, and a geologically complex ore body, we have continued to perform,” Badenhorst states. “2018 in particular was an exceptional year, both in terms of production and cost performance.
"We have also maintained a close working relationship with our doorstop and neighbouring communities, who rely heavily on the mine for financial support.”
Community engagement may be considered one of PPM’s greatest challenges but also some of its greatest rewards. The road to effective engagement and open discussion has not always been easy but today the relationship between parties is encouraging and positive Badenhorst reveals.
The mine has contributed significantly to uplift in the region and is for example currently underway with the execution of a new water pipeline that will feed water to these communities as part of its many efforts to ensure sustainable lifestyle upliftment in the region.
PPM employs 2 000 people on the mine (including contractors), 68% from its doorstop communities and another 20% from the North West province.
Technical expertise delivers operational excellence
With a largely outsourced based model used to operate the mine, PPM relies on its contractors to deliver the majority of its operational requirements. The mine’s longest standing contractor is Raubex Group subsidiary SPH Kundalila whose primary responsibility is as mentioned managing all of the mine’s primary crushing requirements.
“PPM’s relationship with SPH Kundalila extends back nine years. Their ongoing involvement on the mine, which has evolved and expanded over time, is thanks not only to the trust and partnership we have built together over the years, but also their technical capabilities on site,” Badenhorst shares.
The company employs 260 people on site, 75% from the local Bakgatla tribe.
It is the commitment and dedication from the company’s on-site team to relentlessly ensure optimised service delivery, together with extensive technical capability that has and continues to contribute towards the mine’s production successes says SPH Kundalila site manager Pieter Boonzaier.
The company’s primary contract requires the company to crush all ROM material from the mine before it is transported to the concentrator. “We operate four 63 t mobile crushing machines around the perimeter of the pit which together has a design capacity of 380 000 tpm,” production manager Walter Eriksen continues.
The SPH Kundalila PPM team note that the crushers have been replaced over the years as the production requirements have grown and reiterate their machines’ high availability thanks to its extensive understand of the mine production requirements, together with its strong on-site technical support infrastructure comprising workshop and +40 workshop crew.
“Through this facility we are able to conduct preventative maintenance equipment routines as well as full services and minor repairs,” Erikson further highlights. This equates to minimal downtime.
“PPM is a hard rock mine and comprises a large proportion of large-scale rocks which could be considered a crushing challenge but one that SPH Kundalila has perfected through the use of machinery well catered to handling such material,” Boonzaier further adds.
Over and above its crushing contract, the company also delivers a variety of materials handling services for the mine through its fleet of front end loaders, dump trucks and tippers.
On the back of its steady performance over the years, PPM expanded SPH Kundalila’s workload last year June to include loading and hauling waste material from the pit.
“Over the last 12 months we have successfully been moving waste material from the northern side of the pit and have increased our initial volumes from 50 000 tpm to around 450 000 tpm at present. This facilitates quick and easy access to the reef,” explains pit manager Danie de Jager.
The company’s technical expertise is again well reflected here – with an earthmoving fleet comprising two excavators, two bulldozers and most importantly, eight 45 t dump trucks – whose size was specifically selected to ensure accurate waste-only removal.
“Our fleet was correctly ‘spec’d’ to meet the mine’s requirements in this area,” De Jager reiterates.
Looking back over the last nine years and the last year in particular since SPH Kundalila’s workload was expanded on site, the team has proven its capabilities in all areas of open cast mining and dry processing as well.
Significant short and long-term future for PPM
Despite the challenge PPM has with the lifespan of the current pit, the future looks good for the mine.
“We are currently negotiating with our communities to gain access to and open up new open cast ore bodies in the vicinity which will extend our lifespan quite substantially and ensure we maintain our annual PGM production,” Badenhorst highlights.
To date, he confirms that negotiations have been promising and the potential to gain access to these new areas by year-end looks promising.
The exciting potential however lies in exploring the transition from an open cast to an underground mine operation which the COO says will enable PPM to continue operating for another 30 years and beyond.
“PPM is currently evaluating the possibility to go underground via a decline shaft to access shallow reef (less than 700 m) in the area.
“While this is dependent on the PGM price environment, the merits of building an underground mine are significant. It will enable us to fully target the higher grade UG2 reef which will deliver greater financial returns.
"We also want to contribute to longer term economic prosperity in the region and implementing this project will deliver this,” Badenhorst affirms.
Should the merits of building an underground mine at PPM warrant the financial outlay, and should PPM successfully secure the cash necessary to do so, Badenhorst says the plan is to move into development in the next three or four years.
“We want to generate cash from our underground ore body as fast as possible.”
“Looking towards the future, the SPH Kundalila team have proven their reliability on site – first through our crushing contract and now through the extended work we are doing for the mine.
"Our commitment to meet our targets has seen us work religiously, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. We hope to continue supporting PPM as it ventures into the next stages of its lifespan and are well equipped with the financial support of our parent company Raubex to upscale our service offering and fleet to meet any of PPM’s surface mining and crushing requirements,” Boonzaier concludes.