Tag Archives: De Beers

VENETIA TRAINING CENTRE IMPARTS UNDERGROUND MINING SKILLS

One the challenges facing De Beers as it implements its US$2,2 billion Venetia Underground Project (VUP) in South Africa’s Limpopo Province is the training of its employees – and new recruits – to allow them to acquire the necessary skills to successfully transition from open pit mining to underground mining.

The VUP involves the development of one of the world’s most advanced underground mines. Highly mechanised, it will employ the sub-level caving method to mine up to 6 Mt/a of kimberlite ore to produce between 4,5 and 5,5 million carats a year of diamonds. Once the VUP’s ramp-up is completed, the underground workforce will number around 850 people.

While the caving method to be deployed at Venetia Mine is well established (De Beers used essentially the same method at its Finsch mine in the Northern Cape when it owned and operated it until it was sold in 2011), very few of its employees at Venetia Mine have any experience of it. Not only will they have to adapt to the very different demands of an underground mining environment as they transition to the VUP but they will also have to learn the very specific skills associated with highly mechanised sub-level cave mining.

To expedite the required training, De Beers has now commissioned a training facility at Venetia able to accommodate e-learning facilities for 65 learners and classroom sessions for 95 learners at any one time. The facility represents a total investment of R188 million. At its heart are five training rooms, all with video walls and servers, as well as sophisticated mobile machine simulators.

An underground simulation area will have an emergency rescue bay and control room able to replicate situations occurring underground that could require evacuation while a virtual reality blast wall will give trainees the opportunity to mark up and charge a face.

All training will be managed by a comprehensive training management system offering modules for self-paced learning. The system is integrated into the mine’s human resources information system.

The simulators – supplied by Thoroughtec – allow operators to be trained on the Sandvik equipment – primarily trucks, loaders, drill rigs and bolters – that has been selected for the VUP. Most of the machines are classed as ‘intelligent’, meaning that they can deliver data continuously to on-surface control rooms and can be operated remotely. The simulator training is complemented by a TMM (trackless mobile machine) mock-up area on surface. Trainees will spend 15 hours in the mock-up.

As a follow-up to the training received at the training centre, De Beers has partnered with mining contractor Redpath to further enhance the skills of TMM operators. A contingent of Redpath personnel – who will be on site for the next four years – will assist with skills transfer on some of the key mechanised equipment and ensure that safety and performance levels of operators are up to the required standards.

While the training centre will focus on imparting core underground mining and TMM skills to trainees, De Beers has also developed a training package which allows both technical and non-technical personnel to familiarise themselves with the sub-level caving method. The content has been converted and incorporated into the electronic learning platform.

The sub-level caving training material has been split into 10 modules covering, amongst others, subjects such as mine design and sequencing; drill and blast; cave propagation and subsidence; cave management; and caving hazards and hazard management.

The training centre and other training initiatives at Venetia Mine all form part of De Beers’ operational readiness framework, which is designed to facilitate a smooth migration from open-pit to underground mining in terms of people, processes and systems.

WATER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM A KEY PART OF THE VUP

De Beers is making good progress on the installation of a comprehensive water management system at its Venetia Underground Project (VUP) in Limpopo Province. 

Costing US$2,2 billion to develop, the VUP will see an ultra-modern sub-level cave mine replacing the current open pit operations, which are due to cease shortly after being in production continuously since the mine opened in the early 1990s.

The cave mining method allows underground mines to achieve the same type of production rates that are normally associated with open pit mines and this is the case at Venetia. Once in full production, the VUP will produce approximately 6 Mt/a ROM to deliver between 4,5 and 5,5 million carats of diamonds a year. These figures are similar to those which have been typically achieved by the open pit operations at Venetia.

The new underground mine is located directly beneath the current open pit. Given that it is a caving operation, water ingress from the pit into the mine, particularly at times of heavy rainfall, is a risk which has to be carefully managed. 

The methods used to mitigate the risk include the installation of an extensive pumping system, as well as the construction of water control doors which will be activated if inflows exceed the capacity of the pumping system. 

The frames of the water doors are each about 8 m high and 7 m wide. The doors are 1 m thick and are designed to hold back a 100 m head of water. They will effectively seal off the ‘dry’ side of the mine, where the water pumps and other critical infrastructure are located, from the ‘wet’ side where the kimberlite is located.

In terms of the pumping systems, a major milestone was achieved in January 2022 with the completion of Pump System 2, which has the capacity to pump 100 litres/second (360 m3/h) out of the mine from a depth of 540 m. It has increased the mine dewatering capacity threefold and allows for active dewatering of the mine groundwater, which is recharged during the rainy season which runs from roughly December through to March.

The system consists of underground pump stations situated on 54-level and 46-level, as well as a pump station located in the K01 open pit on Bench No 27, which pumps to the open pit dewatering pump station located on Bench No 15.

A challenge on Pump System 2 was the installation of two pipe columns which connect the pump stations in the open pit and which are routed 120 m up the pit wall. After an initial unsuccessful attempt to install the columns, the installation method being used was reviewed and adjusted, with the new procedure adopted proving very successful.

Construction is now well underway on Pump System 1 with commissioning expected by mid-year. This system will add a further 40 litres/second (144 m3/h) of pumping capacity and involves the construction of a further two pump stations underground on 46-level and 54-level and one on the surface at Terrace 3 together with all interconnecting pipework.

Pump Systems 1 and 2 are interim water pumping solutions until the main pump station in constructed on 56-level. This is scheduled for completion in Q3 2023. Once it is in operation, the full pumping capacity will be 4 500 m3/h.

Construction of the first water door is currently in progress and it has had an extensive engineering review to ensure the integrity of the installation. The door is secured by 40 mm rock anchors, 234 in total, which are each about 2,5 m long and pinned 1,5 m deep into the host rock.

In total, six water doors must be installed before December 2022 to allow first ore production from the VUP to start by the end of the year. The installation of the water doors will therefore be a major focus for the underground construction team over the next several months.

An interesting point is that De Beers has invested R70 million in a new weather station at Venetia. This is linked to South African Weather Services and will give timely warning of heavy rainfall events and enable the mine to prepare in advance for possible excessive water ingress.

DE BEERS HELPS BUILD STRONGER COMMUNITIES

For decades, De Beers Group has put considerable resources into improving the socio-economic status of communities surrounding its mines and operations with its efforts meeting with considerable success. 

It is now taking its community engagement to the next level with ambitious and measurable goals having been set for the next decade as part of the Building Forever initiative, which has ‘Partnering for Thriving Communities’ as one of its four core pillars.

Building Forever builds on many past successes for De Beers, including a World First HIV/AIDS health programme at its diamond mines in Botswana, launched in 2001. According to Dr Tshepo Sedibe, Health Lead for the De Beers Group, the programme – which includes free anti-retroviral treatment for employees and their ‘dependants’ – has resulted in the mortality rate from AIDS amongst employees reducing from 31 % to just 0,1 %. 

Another outcome is that De Beers in 2019 marked more than 10 years of no babies being born with HIV to HIV-positive mothers. 

De Beers’ experience with AIDS and HIV has also contributed to it making a highly effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “When the pandemic started, we rapidly took measures to protect our internal employees and our contractors but it rapidly became apparent that we needed to take our efforts into the communities,” says Nerys John, Head of Social Impact at De Beers. 

“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitation became of utmost importance in the schools and hospitals in our host communities in order to prevent transmission. As things developed, we then adapted our approach to include the provision of testing, intensive care unit beds, oxygen and isolation centres.”

Given that mines eventually close and that when this happens communities can lose their main source of livelihoods, De Beers places major emphasis on providing community members with skills that will allow them to support themselves after mining operations cease. Nowhere is this more apparent than at De Beers’ Venetia mine in South Africa’s Limpopo Province.

“We have several socio-economic initiatives running in the Venetia area but one of the most significant is the supplier development programme which is designed to promote local procurement,” says Greg Petersen, De Beers Group Manager – Socio-economic Development. 

“We’ve already appointed more than 50 suppliers in terms of the programme. The biggest of these is the bus company we use to transport employees from the Musina and Blouberg areas to the mine. We’ve worked to ensure that communities have a stake in the company and indeed it is now 40 % owned by community members. 

DE BEERS ROLLS OUT DRIVER ASSISTANCE TECHNOLOGY

Pioneering the use of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in the mining sector, De Beers Group is successfully rolling out this safety innovation across its operations in southern African.

The world’s leading diamond producer places Putting Safety First Everywhere  as its number one value and has been fatality-free for the past two years, according to Dr Urishanie Govender, De Beers Group Head of Safety and Sustainable Development. 

“The application of ADAS aligns with our culture of pioneering brilliance as we equip our operations for Future Smart Mining,” says Dr Govender. “This exciting initiative has provided another valuable tool for our amazing people on site who are constantly looking for ways to improve our safety performance.”

She highlights that the intervention contributes to the De Beers Group’s critical control management, one of  the areas for advancement identified at the company’s regular safety summits. “Driven by the chief executive officers across the group, the specific focus areas are Competence, Culture, Connectedness, and Cultivating Care to enable everyone to be Ready to Respond to Risks.”  

Head of Asset Strategy and Reliability at De Beers Group, Meshal Ruplal says the first phase of the ADAS initiative saw the technology being installed on buses and any vehicles that carry five or more people. In a second phase, vehicles with four passengers were fitted with the equipment. The technology comprises a range of functionality, including cameras to monitor harsh and distracted driving. 

“The camera software can also check on the driver’s eyelid movements and other indicators of drowsiness, and can transmit short video clips to a control room for improved monitoring,” says Ruplal. “It can register infringements like changing lanes without indicating, or crossing a solid barrier line.”

The technology – which has been well proven in the trucking industry abroad – assists the driver by checking if there is a safe distance to the vehicle in front, recognising speed limit signs and detecting whether the seat belt is being worn. 

“ADAS makes an important contribution to our coaching and training activities, as the data we gather is fed back to drivers to continuously improve their performance,” he says. “Used as a proactive warning system the technology has generally received good support from drivers and their trade unions.”

He notes that De Beers Group’s contractors – who assume much of the company’s staff transportation function – have been quick to come on board and align with the ever more stringent safety standards. 

Govender emphasises the collaborative approach taken to ensure all the necessary stakeholders are together on the safety journey, requiring that contractors participate actively in the company’s efforts to leverage technology in pursuit of resilience and sustainability. 

EMERALD PROJECT BENEFITS FROM VERSATILE DIAMOND SORTING TECHNOLOGY

Adapting one of its X-ray fluorescence (XRF) diamond sorting range of machines, De Beers Group Technology has created a secure and efficient sorting solution for emeralds.

According to De Beers Group Technology head Gordon Taylor, the company’s sorting technologies have been applied to a range of minerals apart from diamonds, and these include gemstones like rubies to lower value commodities like manganese and coal.

“We are always on the look-out for new applications for our sorting equipment, which also employ X-ray luminescence, X-ray transmission, laser, magnetics and ultra-violet technologies,” says Taylor. “So we were excited by the opportunity to collaborate with Magnum Mining and Exploration on their Gravelotte emerald project in Limpopo province.”

In its trial mining and processing phase, Gravelotte has been gathering data to confirm the historic grades previously recovered at the Gravelotte project. In operation for much of the 20th century, total recorded production from this area was estimated at nearly 113 million carats. It was reportedly the world’s largest emerald mine of its type in the 1960s, employing over 400 sorters.

General manager of operations at Gravelotte, Wessel Marais, highlighted that the traditional manual method of sorting carried an associated security risk and also led to recoveries that were not optimum.

“Various mechanical sorting options are available on the market today,” says Marais, “and Magnum approached De Beers Group Technology to determine whether their diamond sorting technology could be adapted to emerald sorting.”

He says that testing of samples provided by Magnum was highly successful.

“This led to Magnum leasing an XRF machine from De Beers Group Technology for the duration of our trial mining, and the results to date have been very encouraging,” he says. “With the machines now deployed in the operational environment, research and development work is continuing in conjunction with De Beers Group Technology to refine the process.”

Taylor notes that constructive collaboration with customers is often an important element in extending the application of De Beers Group Technology’s equipment.

“On this project, we were able to conduct some fundamental investigation on the properties of emeralds to guide us in developing the most effective solution,” he says.

Nico van Zyl, De Beers Group Technology marketing and new business development manager, agrees. “You really need a partner who is willing to cooperate with you, as there is considerable effort that each has to contribute,” says van Zyl. “Our team is always enthusiastic about exploring new applications, and has the expertise and experience to know what is possible and how to achieve it.”

The De Beers Group Technology emerald sorting machine can make a potentially significant contribution to the success of the Gravelotte operation, with its high recoveries combined with excellent processing security. The project aims to reach a target of around 3 million carats a year as its initial production rate.

Before the run-of-mine material reaches the De Beers Group Technology XRF machine, it is crushed to -30 mm and put through a trommel screen for cleaning and further size reduction. After material containing emeralds is ejected from the material stream by the sorter, it is further sorted by hand and graded.

“De Beers Group Technology is constantly pushing the boundaries where our equipment can be applied, and has had significant successes in non-diamond commodities. Whether removing the value product or the waste from the process stream, our sorting technologies can be the game-changer in the viability of many projects,” Taylor concludes.

DE BEERS GROUP DEMONSTRATES UNWAVERING COMMITMENT TO SAFETY

De Beers Group is proving that the best mechanism to drive a safe mining business is for management to lead by example, and this starts with the company’s senior leadership team, including CEO Bruce Cleaver. They have together established a CEO Safety Summit initiative, which now in its third year is committed to achieving zero harm throughout the company’s global operations globally.

The CEO Safety Summit, which takes place every year in January and August, brings together a wide range of personnel from De Beers Group’s executive committee as well as general managers, safety and sustainable development leads and safety line managers. Over the course of a week they collaborate and discuss the requirements needed to establish a safety framework that guides the company’s day-to-day operations and will ensure zero harm for every employee.

The company’s recently appointed principal safety lead Willemien Potgieter attended the recent summit held in August and believes it has positioned De Beers as a leader in driving safety within the mining sector.

Potgieter is a qualified electrical engineer, project manager and engineering safety manager and has worked for the metal, pulp and paper, chrome, petroleum and mining sectors, applying her knowledge of engineering into safety leadership roles. From an early age she committed her career to helping heavy industries such as mining work towards achieving zero harm and believes it is possible. In her position she is driving safety across De Beers Group’s global operations in Canada, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

De Beers Group’s August 2019 CEO Safety Summit focused closely on six focus areas – leadership and culture, critical control management/fatal risk prevention, capacity building, learning and sharing and contractor management.

These areas will be built into a framework, each with their own priorities and outputs. “Importantly, all of the initiatives and actions we outline must be measureable and put into systems to create sustainable methodologies that support the framework,” says Potgieter.

Following the growing success from what now totals five summits since it was initiated in 2017, Potgieter will facilitate co-design sessions necessary to establish roadmaps for each operation as part of the process towards finalising a safety framework. This will reduce resistance to change, ensure a clear alignment on deliverables and help build relationships and encourage knowledge sharing she notes.

“50% of the co-designed session work streams will be completed by January with the intention to have all the co-designed sessions completed by the second summit held in August.”

While the steps taken in building a safe business is a work in progress Potgieter notes that the implementation of actions and initiatives are always taking place in parallel to the CEO Safety Summits.

“Improving safety is an ongoing process and an area that receives priority and attention every day,” she concludes.

HOLISTIC LEARNING FOR ACHIEVING ZERO HARM AT DEBSWANA MINES

Debswana Diamond Company’s recently launched Sustainability Resource Centre (SRC) is applying a holistic approach to achieve its goal of zero harm across its Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines in Botswana.

With its ‘Put Safety First’ strategy, the company continuously pursues ways to improve the impact of its awareness raising and training interventions, according to Tefo Molosiwa, Head of Safety & Sustainability at Debswana.

“By using a combination of learning modes – theoretical and practical – the SRC delivers greater learning,” says Molosiwa. “For instance, while employees can learn the theory of how a bund wall must be maintained, there is now also an opportunity to practically clean spillage using the equipment provided.”

Molosiwa highlights that the SRC facility has been designed to include ‘seeing’, ‘doing’ and ‘discussing’ the various aspects of environment, community, occupational health and safety (ECOHS) on the mines. This will allow best practice to be effectively displayed and understood by employees, contractors and visitors, including the Fatal Risk Control Standards (FRCS). E-learning plays an important role in the facility, with 20 workstations available for self-induction.

“Employees gain exposure through being shown both ‘best’ and ‘bad’ practice displays as part of their induction,” he says.

The scope of environmental management aspects of this learning process extends to energy conservation, water-saving and waste management. The facility itself includes solar water heating devices, for instance. The energy-saving impact of this technology is shared with all inductees, to motivate adoption.

Water tanks at the SRC harvest rainwater from roof gutters, which is used for cleaning and watering gardens. The dry landscaping itself – featuring just a few pockets of greenery – is also an important practical demonstration of how water can be better conserved.

The SRC also showcases facilities for proper waste management. Animal-proof waste receptacles in the outside areas are examples of what the mining operations can adopt where appropriate. A bund wall for hydrocarbon management at the SRC demonstrates how the structure is optimally designed, developed and equipped.

Debswana is one of Botswana’s largest private sector employers – with over 5,200 employees – and is jointly owned by the Botswana government and the De Beers Group of Companies. It is one of the world’s leading diamond producers by value and volume.

DEBTECH X-RAY DIAMOND RECOVERY TECHNOLOGY TO SIERRA LEONE

Working in collaboration with project house Paradigm Project Management, diamond processing technology specialists DebTech is supplying its well-proven X-ray diamond recovery technology to the Tongo diamond mining project in Sierra Leone, currently being developed by Newfield Resources Ltd.

DebTech’s mature sorting technology is a dependable solution for high efficiency recovery of diamonds from a wide variety of kimberlite, marine and alluvial sources, capable of treating a material size range from 1 mm to 32 mm.

In this case, the dry unit – the CDX118CD – was specified for the West African project, featuring an eight-channel photo multiplier detection system capable of identifying all types of diamonds including low luminescence, yellow and boart.

“The appeal of the technology is its efficient diamond recovery with minimum gangue material, even at high feed rates,” says Gavin Alexander, products manager at DebTech. “These rates can range from 825 kilograms per hour with material sized between 1 mm and 2 mm, to 4,5 tonnes per hour with material of 16 mm to 32 mm in size.”

Among the benefits of the system are its unique “dual wavelength” detection system and small installed footprint. It is capable of self-testing, while calibration can be conducted on-line.

“Designed to be operator-friendly and straightforward to maintain, the unit offers complete operator safety due to its improved features,” he says. “It is specifically designed to enhance diamond security, and the compact sorting modules can be configured for higher throughput or for a double-pass process, as required.”

There are manual and automated inlet chute gate options available, with a robust air ejector system that ensures no loss of valuable stones. Design is modular, compact and ergonomic, with left and right-hand variants available to suit. The split cabinet design features a heat exchanger-cooled X-ray generator and power supply compartment with separate control and service panel configurations. There is a single network interface for control and information, and DebTech ensures there is full maintenance support for customers, wherever they are on the globe.

DE BEERS DRIVES BIODIVERSITY FROM GROUND UP

Conserving large tracts of land for biodiversity conservation and research is one of the important ways that the De Beers Group ensures its overall impact on the environment is positive, according to De Beers senior environmental manager Dr Patti Wickens.

Its properties near Kimberley in the Northern Cape and near its Venetia Mine in Limpopo Province, together with conservation areas at both the major diamond mines managed by Debswana in Botswana, make up about 200,000 hectares that are dedicated to biodiversity conservation and research.

“For every hectare of land used for mining by the De Beers Group, six hectares are dedicated to the conservation of nature,” says Wickens. “This approach is driven by our objective to have no net loss of significant biodiversity, an aim which is now strengthened by our major shareholder Anglo American committing to have a net positive impact on biodiversity.”

Working proactively with a network of conservation and research partners, including academic institutions and NGOs, De Beers supports a range of research projects that make a broad environmental contribution. The research conducted – into birds, mammals, archaeology and other fields – is also given the opportunity to be shared at an annual research conference on biodiversity-related issues that the company co-hosts each year.

Fostering this vibrant network of specialists allows researchers to be readily mobilised when, for instance, a rare species is identified on one of its properties; such research could even lead to specific initiatives that promote biodiversity. Supporting this conservation research helps build capacity among young conservationists and scientists, as wildlife college students can avail the company’s properties for experiential learning; the properties are also made available for specific research projects by post-graduate students.

Wickens emphasises that a key part of De Beers’ business approach is to internalise all environmental and closure costs.

“This gives us both a clear assessment of the various business risks and an ability to plan the necessary biodiversity actions where new projects are envisaged,” she says. “This means understanding, in detail, the levels of biodiversity risk in each of the areas in which we operate – hence our careful focus on this impact.”