General Manager – Chile,
"We are the main vertical development contractor in Chile with currently 12 blind hole machines and eight raise bore machines in our fleet."
What are some of the standout projects that Master Drilling is working on in Chile?
Master Drilling is a vertical development specialist. We currently hold six contracts at the El Teniente mine, acting as a vertical development expert alongside the main contractors. In addition, we have presence at the Chuquicamata copper mine through a joint venture between Master Drilling and Besalco, where we are engaging directly with Codelco.
Our services at El Teniente and Chuquicamata include raise boring as well as blind hole boring (also a vertical development, for which Master Drilling is the leader in Chile). We are the main vertical development contractor in Chile with currently 12 blind hole machines and eight raise bore machines in our fleet.
Can you elaborate on Master Drilling’s new MTB (mobile tunnel borer) technology?
Master drilling has developed an extremely interesting technology called MTB (mobile tunnel borer), for mechanized horizontal development, which is currently in South Africa undergoing tests. We have had preliminary conversations with Codelco to test the machine in Chile, and they are interested in going to South Africa to see the machine.
Whereas traditional tunnel borers are focused on civil works, the MTB is a bespoke machine for mining to allow for horizontal mechanical excavation for underground mining development and can operate on a 12-degree incline or decline development. It will be a huge opportunity for us if we can bring this technology to Chile as the machine can be utilised to excavate a variety of tunnels, including tunnels to underground ore bodies such as declines, portals, haulages, inclines, ramps, ring roads and connecting tunnels.
What does blind hole boring involve and what expertise does Master Drilling have in this field?
Raise boring happens in two phases – a pilot hole is drilled from an upper level to an underground cubby or tunnel, whereafter a hole is then cut from the underground tunnel or level to the upper level. Often, due to production methodologies, you are not able to bore both levels in the same way. Blind hole boring is a mechanized alternative for conventional methods. This methodology can facilitate access and establish shafts of up to 2.1 m in diameter and up to 90 m length in hard-rock applications where raise boring methodology is not feasible.
Master Drilling Chile is the leader in blind hole boring technology. We do blind hole drilling mainly for slots, to create an open space which will allow the development of block caving. We are mainly drilling at 1.5 m, but over the past year, Codelco has requested to increase that diameter to 1.8 m and in some cases even 2.1 m.
How has demand for your business evolved in the last two years considering the restrictions for underground mining contractors during the pandemic?
2020 and 2021 were quite tough as there were many restrictions and limitations placed on mining activities due to the pandemic. We never completely stopped operations and continued to work on our projects with the right protocols and measures in place. In 2022, we have now returned to almost a normal pace of working with just a few restrictions still in place. A positive coming from the pandemic was the acceleration of technology and digitization, and the administrative part of business has become more productive.
Is price or quality a bigger concern for clients in today’s climate of high metals prices?
Price remains important to clients. The challenge is to demonstrate to clients that often it is better to pay a bit more, but to receive added value. Being a solutions provider, ensuring value add and increased productivity for our customers, they understand that the price might be a bit higher than only paying for a specific service, but they are paying for quality.
What are the main competitive advantages of Master Drilling?
Master Drilling’s is focused on bringing the best technology, innovation, and productivity to our customers. Our focus in Chile is to be a solutions provider more than just a service provider as we want to be a partner for customers, solving their complex issues. We manufacture our own machines and components, so we can respond to new industry requirements, and we also have our own training center where we are developing talent to be able to meet the growing demands of our customers in the years ahead.