The Mining Platform of Murray & Roberts, one of the world’s leading mining contracting businesses, is fast putting the economic effects of the COVID pandemic behind it and its order book has now recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
“Our order book was eroded in the immediate aftermath of the global economic shutdown caused by the pandemic but has now recovered nicely,” says Mike da Costa, who is CEO of the Mining Platform. “It now totals R22,2 billion which is sharply up on the R17,9 billion of a year ago. Future prospects also look good as there is a significant pipeline of new projects that we’re bidding on.”
The Murray & Roberts Mining Platform consists of three regional businesses. These are Murray & Roberts Cementation, headquartered in Johannesburg but with branches in Kitwe in Zambia and Accra in Ghana; Cementation Americas (which incorporates Cementation USA), based in Salt Lake City, which handles the Americas; and RUC Cementation, which operates out of Perth in Australia and works throughout Australasia and south-east Asia.
“We’re active in virtually every major mining jurisdiction,” says da Costa. “Notable mines and projects where we are currently working include the Venetia Underground Project in South Africa, the Jansen potash project in Canada, the Kennecott Utah Copper Keystone project in the US, the Oyu Tolgoi copper/gold mine in Mongolia, the Grasberg copper/gold mine in Indonesia and the Tanami gold mine in Australia.”
The Mining Platform, which in Murray & Roberts’ 2021 financial year generated revenues totalling approximately R9,5 billion, offers services spanning every aspect of underground mining, including feasibility studies, specialist engineering, vertical and decline shaft construction, mine development, specialist mining services such as raise boring and grouting, and contract mining.
While Murray & Roberts Cementation, the African arm of the global Mining Platform, may not be the biggest contributor to revenues currently (this title is held by Cementation Americas), it is probably fair to say that it has spearheaded the platform’s rise to a position of global pre-eminence in mining contracting. Over decades it has been noted for its technical capabilities and, in particular, its shaft-sinking expertise, which has played a vital role in the development of South Africa’s deep level gold mining industry. It is currently turning over approximately R3,5 billion a year but is aiming to lift this to R4,5 billion.
Commenting on the current performance of Murray & Roberts Cementation, its managing director, Mike Wells, says the bulk of its work is in South Africa. “Historically, we’ve worked all over Africa but at the moment our African presence – outside of South Africa – is largely confined to some raiseboring contracts we have in Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Tanzania, as well as a contract at the Navachab gold mine in Namibia where the client is developing a trial underground mine. In South Africa, however, we are extremely busy. We’ve definitely put the impact of the pandemic behind us.”
Wells says that a particular highlight for Murray & Roberts Cementation at the moment is the coal sector. “We’re working at New Clydesdale colliery through our Boipelo joint venture,” he notes. “We’re also at Matla 1, where we are doing stonework tore-establish the mine in a new location. Another opportunity in the coal sector is to do stonework by the method of road-heading and we’re actively pursuing work of this type.”
Murray & Roberts Cementation’s flagship contract is the Venetia Underground Project, where the company’s work on the sinking and equipping of the two vertical shafts the project requires is now well advanced, with the shaft sinking phase nearing completion. Although Murray & Roberts Cementation’s current scope of work runs through to about 2024, Wells believes there is a reasonable prospect of the company remaining active at the mine for years to come, given the scale of the VUP.
In the PGM field, Murray & Roberts Cementation has worked for several years on various aspects of the giant Platreef project near Mokopane and is just starting its latest contract at the site, which will see it carrying out development for the initial Phase 1 mine. An interesting feature here is that the contract will see Murray & Roberts Cementation using a battery-powered mining fleet – owned by the client, Ivanplats – for the first time.
Moving to safety, Wells says Murray & Roberts Cementation’s safety record is outstanding. “We notched up five million fatality-free shifts just over a year ago, which was a major milestone, and we should hit the 6 million mark shortly. We’ve now been fatality free for around six-and-half years, which is a truly exceptional run. We attribute our success to our Major Accident Prevention (MAP) programme, as well as the excellent training we provide at our world-class Training Academy at our Bentley Park premises near Carletonville.”
The task of bringing new business into Murray & Roberts Cementation is the responsibility of Allan Widlake, new business director, who says there is plenty of scope for the company to grow both in South Africa and the rest of Africa. “Clients across the board are starting to put out new tenders and projects that were previously on hold are now coming to the market,” he states. “This is particularly the case in South Africa but we’re encouraged by developments in other parts of Africa. In Zambia, for example, there are definitely some opportunities emerging on the Copperbelt.”
Widlake says Murray & Roberts Cementation is differentiated from most other players in the market by the breadth of its offering, its procurement ability, its balance sheet, its HR skills, its safety record and the training facilities at Bentley Park. As he says, “Our Training Academy is a huge asset and is particularly important now that localisation of employment opportunities is a requirement on virtually all contracts. We can take people with no mining experience and bring them up to an impressive level of competence very quickly by putting them through Bentley Park.”
Moving back to the global perspective, Mike da Costa says that the relatively recent acquisition by Murray & Roberts of Terra Nova Technologies in the US and Insig Technologies in Australia will significantly expand the Mining Platform’s capabilities.
San Diego-based Terra Nova has given the platform a strong foothold in the materials handling market. The company designs, supplies and commissions overland conveyors, crushing/conveying systems, mobile stacking systems and in-pit crushing and conveying systems.
“Terra Nova is a perfect fit for Murray & Roberts’ Mining Platform and gives us the capability of delivering, for example, conveying systems of up to 12 000 t/h capacity,” observes da Costa. “Its biggest market is North America but it is also active in South America and has an office in Santiago in Chile. It has, in fact, just won a major contract in Chile. Our intention is to grow the business by leveraging our global footprint.”
Commenting on the Insig acquisition, da Costa says it takes Murray & Roberts into high-tech territory, as the company specialises in developing IoT (Internet of Things) systems and remote control solutions in the mining field.
“We’ve been working on a digital strategy for the Mining Platform for some time now and the acquisition of Insig is central to our digital journey,” concludes da Costa. “We will be using Insig’s systems in house initially but will ultimately market them to the wider mining industry. We see them as being vital in our move to increase efficiencies, cut costs and increase safety through digitisation.”