Regarded as one of the world’s foremost EPCM contractors, the company offers expertise in designing and supervising test work, providing full EPCM services for the design and construction of process plant, upgrading existing plants, and designing and constructing mining infrastructure.

First of the two Canadian operations is the Snap Lake diamond project, which is nearing completion with the modular recovery plant designed and built by DRA undergoing C1 and C2 commissioning on site.

The Snap Lake project — worth more than R71 million (US$10 million) – has proved to be a challenging one for the DRA. It involved the building and delivery of a 30- module plant to the Snap Lake site, located 220 km north- east of Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The site is accessible only during a short period from February to March over what is known as the “Winter Road”, built across frozen ground and lakes.

Snap Lake is Canada’s first fully underground diamond mine, and the first mine developed by De Beers outside Africa.

Victor Bulk

Victor bulk sampling plant under
construction in South Africa

The recovery plant –— which was built and tested in South Africa — left the country for Canada in November 2006, and reached the Snap Lake site in February. The lead engineer on the project oversaw the commissioning by Canadian engineers and the plant was expected to go on line as we went to press.

The recovery plant features a unique modular design which not only facilitated its transportation to the site, but also made assembly easier. When assembled the system, measures 30m in height. It consists of a total of 30 modules — 18 for the plant itself, and an additional 12 for stairways and ancillary use.

The three-stream plant will process fines, coarse and middles material, and incorporates primary and secondary x-ray, as well as Raven laser, sorting systems. It also comprises a pneumatic feed system, a vacuum spillage system; dust extraction and pressurisation plant, a canning system and safe.

According to DRA project manager Paul Howard, the project challenged the company with strict timetables for construction and transport as well as the need for specialised welding and structural engineering to Canadian welding standards.

A sister project to Snap Lake is the R178 million (US$25.4 million) De Beers Victor Mine project which involved the design and manufacture of a similar modular recovery system with the addition of a bulk sampling system.

While the lessons learned from Snap Lake stood DRA in good stead, the client moved the schedule for delivery up by a year to complete the project in time to make the 2007 Winter Road. This placed extreme additional pressure on DRA, but the company managed to meet the new deadline, delivering the plant in the same shipment as the one destined for Snap Lake.

Re-assembly of the Victor Mine plant is expected to be completed by August 2007, and it is scheduled to come on line by December.

The Victor Project is a kimberlite dyke located in the James Bay Lowlands, 90 km west of the Attawapiskat community in Northern Ontario. This is the first De Beers diamond mine to be established in the Canadian province, and only the second in the country for De Beers. The mine itself has an expected life of mine of 12 years, and is expected to process 2.5 Mtpa of kimberlite.

The recovery plant will provide a throughput of about 10 tonnes per hour, and the project will be managed by the De Beers Canada Owners Team.

The accelerated timetable proved challenging but not impossible, according to Howard. “When the Snap Lake and Victor Mine recovery plants were laid out together prior to shipping, they covered the area of a full rugby field,” he says.

“The logistics involved in shipping the processing plants from South Africa to Canada were astounding,” Howard adds.A total of 73 modules were packed into 32 containers weighing a total of 1 300 tons. The shipment was broken down into three sections — eight containers with 30 modules for Snap Lake, and two sections for the Victor Mine consisting of the 30- module plant in 14 containers and the 13-module bulk sampling system packed into 10 containers.

It was critical for the container carrying the foundation steel for the Snap Lake processing plant to be loaded onto the transport heading across the Winter Road first, so that construction could commence immediately on arrival. It was decided that the container would be painted to make it stand out from the rest of the cargo. A local artist was hired who created a typically African scene of a family of rhinos eating plants on one side of the container, and the same family in a night scene on the other. Needless to say, the container proved a traffic-stopper all the way to Meyerton, where the plant was being constructed. In addition, each container had to be weather-proofed for the journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

The shipping time had to be precise for the cargo to reach Montreal by the 17th of December in order to make the 2007 Winter Road. This required the chartering of the “Beluga Constitution” – a multi-purpose, heavy cargo project vessel – not only to handle the abnormal size of the shipment, but also to ensure that the tight schedule could be kept.

The vessel left Richards Bay on November 29th last year and — we are happy to report — arrived in Montreal on schedule at one minute to midnight on December 17.

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