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Pocket Rocket adds to nickel profit

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A friendly takeover has provided the cash-injection needed to increase mining in one of the world’s premier nickel regions.

To aid in the task, a fleet of Atlas Copco equipment has been enlisted, including a new Rocket Boomer 104 fitted with the high frequency COP 1838 rock drill.

Consolidated Minerals took over ownership of the Beta Hunt nickel mine in March, but for the year prior, Reliance had been mining the site that it had bought from Goldfields South Africa after the site had lain dormant for many years.

The Consolidated Minerals takeover enabled mining operations to expand to include a focus on the previously unexploited East Alpha deposit, which lies one kilometre to the east of the current Beta Hunt development.

To prepare for the extra work, Consolidated Nickel (the wholly owned subsidiary of Consolidated Minerals mining the site) authorised the purchase of a raft of new equipment including Atlas Copco Rocket Boomers and trucks.

Resident manager Les Davis, who started his career as a jumbo operator in 1978 and has gained much experience in various capacities since, has used Atlas Copco equipment previously with success. Although other suppliers’ equipment was assessed for this site, Davis’ trust in the reliability, performance and quality of the products contributed greatly to the decision to purchase Atlas Copco machines for Beta Hunt.

“Consolidated Nickel has purchased a number of machines from Atlas Copco,” Davis said.

“Staggered over the past 12 months we’ve had three MT5010 haulage trucks delivered, an M2D rocket boomer, and in the last few months alone have taken delivery of a new MT5010B truck and an ST1520 Wagner loader. One of our first purchases was a Rocket Boomer 104 which arrived 12 months ago,” he said.

Based on the success of the first Rocket Boomer 104, Consolidated Nickel purchased a second machine that has been on site since March.

Specially designed for drifting, crosscuts, drilling rockbolt holes and uppers, the Rocket Boomer 104 used at Beta Hunt features a visible high frequency COP 1838 rock drill. The drill provides an unprecedented impact power of 22kW, a high impact rate of 73Hz and, depending on adapter type and extension rod used, has a hole range of between 35mm and 51mm.

The COP 1838 provides modern double reflex dampening to give genuine high-speed drilling and good drill steel economy. Reliable operation, low maintenance costs and requirements are some of the advantages on offer through a new lubrication system and pressurised sidebolts and mating surfaces.

Directing the drill is a direct controlled drilling system that incorporates Atlas Copco’s Rotation Pressure Controlled Feed force – a specialised anti-jamming feature.

High torsional resistance is provided through heavy-duty aluminium feeds with a double bottom, while snap-on stainless steel sleeves and polymer contact pads contribute to long life and low maintenance costs.

Atlas Copco claims the sturdy articulated carrier is easily manoeuvred in narrow tunnels and drifts. A FOPS-approved protective roof, power steering, fail-safe brakes and a central lubricated chassis are some of the provisions for operator comfort and safety that, according to Davis, have been praised by operators.

“Feedback about the 104s from operators has been very positive,” he said.

“As well as being comfortable on long shifts, operators report them to be responsive, manoeuvrable and powerful.”

Davis confirmed the new Rocket Boomers were a good investment and, with their high frequency COP1838 drill, are providing better penetration in less time as well as faster advance rates.

To ensure optimum operational efficiencies, Consolidated Nickel also took up a full service contract with all Atlas Copco equipment purchased. The deal sees an Atlas Copco crew of 14 service personnel based on site to perform all servicing and routine maintenance work on the Atlas Copco fleet.

“We’ve recently completed the first 12-month service contract and have commenced the next 12-month contract,” Davis said.

“For us this arrangement has worked very well and I’d recommend it to any mine operator purchasing equipment. I find it gives the customer flexibility. As we know in advance what our maintenance costs for the year will be, it enables us to prepare more accurate operational budget forecasts.

“What puts many customers off the idea of a comprehensive maintenance contract is the cost. While it is true that it may not always work out cheaper, it is a very attractive option for us to hand responsibility for the smooth running of the machines over to someone else. Ultimately, Atlas Copco personnel are specialists on their equipment so it makes sense that they will be able to deal with any issues that may arise with the various Atlas Copco machines we have on site,” Davis said.

Nickel production rose steadily in 2004, with a record 715 nickel tonnes produced in December 2004.

The nearby East Alpha Project has the potential to be developed in the short term as a second nickel operation for Consolidated, producing 4-5000tpa nickel, effectively doubling the company’s nickel production from the Beta Hunt complex. The combined resource base of Beta Hunt and East Alpha is 1.3Mt at 4% nickel for 54,000t contained nickel.

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