SMD helps major international underwater mining project move a step closer to reality

November 17, 2017

UK-based subsea engineering specialist Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD) has successfully completed first stage testing in a pioneering project which is set to uncover valuable European mineral resources.

SMD is technical lead on the VAMOS (viable alternative mine operating system) project, a 42-month international research and development venture, which is part-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

At a cost of approximately 12.6 million Euros, SMD and its partners in the VAMOS Consortium, have designed and built a robotic underwater mining prototype with launch and recovery technology to perform field tests at four EU mining sites.

Stef Kapusniak, Project Director at SMD, explains: “The performance of the system is based on proven remotely controlled underwater excavation techniques made possible by improvements in underwater positioning, navigation and awareness systems. It will provide a safer and cleaner option for extracting inland submerged mineral deposits. The technique is suitable for soft to medium strength rock in orebodies below the water table. We envisage application in the form of extensions to existing surface mines, re-opening of abandoned un-rehabilitated mines and direct application in previously unworked mineral deposits which are in hydrologically challenging ground. Testing at the first trial site in an abandoned kaolin mine in Devon went very well. Testing at further sites in different rock types at different water depths will enable confirmation of the system’s potential for industrial scale applications. This is a very exciting time, as completion of testing will enable determination of the practical range of application in this emerging market.”

SMD is a market leading global company with over 45 years’ experience in the subsea technology sector, specialising in the development of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and advanced trenching and mining machines.

Paul Davison, SMD Managing Director of Trenching, Mining and Renewables, said: “I’m very pleased with how the VAMOS project is progressing. This is the first project of its kind for us and so it has been a great learning opportunity. I hope its success will create new opportunities for us all, as well as continue to demonstrate our passion for innovation and delivering world-first projects.”

During November the system will be demobilised and prepared for transport from the UK to the second test site in Bosnia and Herzegovina in spring 2018.

The VAMOS project launched in March 2016. The consortium includes 16 members from nine EU countries.

Other members of the consortium are BMT Group Ltd, Damen Shipyards Group, Instituto de Engenharia Sistemas e Computadores, Fugro EMU Ltd, Zentrum für Telematik e.V., Montanuniversität Leoben, Minerália, Lda, Sandvik Mining and Construction G.m.b.H, Geological survey of Slovenia, La Palma Research Centre for Future Studies, European Federation of Geologists, Trelleborg Ede Bv, Federalni zavod za Geologijo and Fondacija za obnovu I razvoj regije Vareš.

SMD operates three strategic sites in the North East of England; a head office and heavy production facility at Davy Bank in Wallsend, a manufacturing site in North Shields and a new Services operational base at the Port of Tyne.

SMD is a subsidiary of Chinese parent company CRRC Group, the world’s largest provider of propulsion and power control systems. The company continues to expand its global network and is currently investing in a new sales and manufacturing facility in Shanghai.

Mining

A Dynamic Underwater Mining Solution

November 3, 2016

March 2016: Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) and Underwater Mining Solutions (UMS) are teaming up to offer customers the full scope of mining equipment required for underwater mining projects, both offshore and inland, and in all territories.

Their combined expertise, and the strength of each of their parent companies, enable SMD and UMS to provide customers with proven, de-risked solutions to deep-sea, near-shore and inland underwater exploration, mining and processing.

SMD have over forty years of experience in subsea engineering and remote intervention, having delivered over 400 subsea systems to date.  The company, who have unrivalled experience in the marinisation of earth moving equipment for use in deep water, have recently delivered the world’s first three commercial deep-sea mining vehicles for Nautilus Minerals.

UMS have delivered commercial shallow water mining solutions and have capability to provide a complete system including mining vehicles and corresponding launch & recovery systems, vessel conversion, ore processing, transportation, separation and ancillary ore handling equipment.

SMD and UMS’ complementary product portfolio, means customers can spread risk across the supply chain, and benefit from integration of this complementary equipment and services from an early stage and throughout the life cycle of the mining projects.

Robert Denovan, UMS: “The minerals industry is currently in a ‘belt-tightening’ period. We are now in the perfect position to offer larger mining houses the solutions they need to help them get through this period, and to help them emerge into the next growth phase with a competitive edge.”

Toby Lambooy, UMS: “We can now offer our inland customers exactly what they want and need – a safely delivered mining and mineral processing solution at a price below that of conventional mining techniques, with a much smaller environmental footprint.”

Stef Kapusniak, SMD: “We’re delighted to be able to offer the emerging underwater mining market, both inland and offshore, an unrivalled capability from a group that provides the experience and ability to deliver market-leading solutions.”

SMD are also the Technical Manager on the Vamos Project which is a consortium funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The Vamos project team are developing a submerged mining solution to exploit existing inland mines which are no longer economically viable by conventional mining methods.  The programme will develop processes and technology, such as mining navigation, sensing and awareness systems, to be exploited in this new and emerging market.

General

SMD Deliver Deep Sea Mining Vehicles

November 3, 2016

February 2016: This week marks a significant milestone for subsea engineering company SMD as the MV Happy Delta, loaded with the world’s first deep sea mining vehicles, leaves the port of Tyne.

In late 2007 SMD was awarded with a contract to design and build the world’s first deep sea mining vehicles for Canadian listed company Nautilus Minerals. Eight years on, having worked in close partnership with the customer, this massive feat of engineering is complete. The SPTs and associated equipment, totalling over 1000 Tonnes, have now been loaded onto the vessel which has set sail for Duqm Port in Oman where they will undergo further testing.

As well as the three mining machines or Seafloor Production Tools (SPTs), SMD designed and manufactured the full spread equipment required to remotely operate, launch and recover the SPTs from the deck of the ship onto which they will be installed in 2017.

SMD conducted rigorous commissioning and factory acceptance testing on the full spread of equipment in dry conditions on land at their production facility in Wallsend, North East England prior to shipping. The SPTs will now undergo extensive wet testing at the port facility in Oman which is designed to provide a submerged demonstration of the fully assembled SPTs, prior to commencement of the first mining operations in 2018.

The load out operation took place at Swans, an advanced manufacturing site being developed next to SMD’s site on the banks of the River Tyne. It was the first operation of its kind to take place at Swans’ recently dredged 9m-deep quay.

SMD CEO Andrew Hodgson commented “It is a fantastic achievement for SMD to deliver another engineering world first project. Our engineers have taken proven technology which we have developed over forty years, and adapted it for a new application to suit Nautilus’ needs, and we’re very proud of that.

“We thrive on using our problem solving skills to help our customers make the impossible possible and we’re delighted to have been involved in what stands to be a game-changing project facilitating birth of a new industry.”

Nautilus’ CEO Mike Johnston commented “Nautilus’ approach in building the world’s first seafloor mine was to seek out world class partners, leaders in their respective fields, and SMD’s unparalleled leadership in the design and manufacture of remotely operated vehicles operating in the earth’s harshest environments certainly reaffirms the validity of that strategy.”

“SMD’s engineering design and manufacture of our seafloor production tools is simply second to none; we thank them for their invaluable partnership and their determined leadership in building these impressive machines, and we look forward to seeing them in action on the seafloor once our project at Solwara 1 is in production in 2018.”

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive of North Tyneside Council which owns Swans, said: “We are delighted that world-leading projects like this are being delivered at Swans.

“Our state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facilities being developed at Swans and other sites make North Tyneside one of the best places to do business, and we’re thrilled to be helping those in the marine, energy and offshore industries to compete in a global market.”

General

VAMOS Project Progresses

November 2, 2016

August 2015: SMD have now completed their first deliverable for the VAMOS (Viable Alternative Mine Operating System) project, finalizing the system architecture on schedule. The consortium made up of 17 project partners, is now progressing to deliver a number of spec documents as well as a project manual.

VAMOS is a 42-month Research & Development Project, which was launched in March this year as part of the Horizon 2020 programme. At an estimated cost of approximately 12.6 milllion Euros, the project will help to provide an opportunity to tap into the wealth of unexploited European mineral resources.

The VAMOS Project team are working towards the design and build of a robotic, underwater mining prototype and associated launch and recovery equipment, which will be used to perform field tests at four EU minesites. Three of these are inland inactive submerged mineral deposits and the other is offshore.  The prototype will build on successful deep-sea excavation techniques provide a safer and cleaner option for extracting currently unreachable and/or uneconomic mineral deposits.

SMD are acting as Technical Manager and Work-Package Leader for design/build and site testing, with manufacture of the prototype to take place at SMD’s production site in Wallsend, North East England.

The consortium, with members from nine EU countries, is working under the coordination of BMT Group Ltd. and includes Damen Shipyards Group; Instituto de Engenharia Sistemas e Computadores; Fugro EMU Limited; Zentrum für Telematik e.V.; Montanuniversität Leoben; Minerália, Lda; Marine Minerals Ltd; Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro SA; Sandvik Mining and Construction G.m.b.H; Geological survey of Slovenia; La Palma Research Centre for Future Studies; European Federation of Geologists; Trelleborg Ede Bv; Federalni zavod za Geologijo and Fondacija za obnovu I razvoj regije Vareš.

VAMOS will also look to enhance currently available underwater sensing, spatial awareness, navigational and positioning technology, as well as providing an intergrated solution for efficient real-time monitoring of the parameters associated with potential environmental impacts.

General

Commissioning of Final SPT Begins

November 2, 2016

May 2015: Our Mining team saw another major milestone in the first quarter of 2015 as the commissioning of the third and final of the Seafloor Production Tools (SPT), the Auxiliary Cutter, began.

The three SPTs have been in assembly in SMD’s main Wallsend heavy equipment assembly hall, known as the Turbinia Works, throughout 2014.  The launch and recovery equipment was assembled at various locations in Norway, Poland and Korea and is already complete.

Nautilus’ CEO, Mike Johnston said “We are very excited that commissioning of the final of the three SPTs has begun. With the Bulk Cutter and the Collecting Machine having already begun Factory Acceptance Testing and now with the Auxiliary Cutter underway, we are on track to complete this testing phase and take delivery of the three SPTs in Q4 2015.”

SMD’s Managing Director, Mike Jones commented “This is always an important and delicate phase, particularly when developing such large scale and high power technology. The experience from the first two SPTs will be a great help in this.  We look forward to their despatch for wet testing later this year.”

So How Will They Work?

The excavation and collection of mineralised material has been split into three individual tasks, with each carried out by a different SPT. The Auxiliary Cutter is designed as the pioneering tool which prepares the rugged sea bed for the more powerful Bulk Cutter. These two tools gather the excavated material; the third, the Collecting Machine, will collect the cut material by drawing it in as seawater slurry with internal pumps and pushing it through a flexible pipe to the subsea pump and on to the vessel via the Riser and Lifting System.

The Auxiliary Cutter weighs in at 250 tonnes. It is a preparatory machine that deals with rough terrain and creates benches for the other SPTs to work on. It will operate on tracks with spud assistance and has a boom mounted cutting head for flexibility.

The Bulk Cutter is the heaviest of the three SPTs, weighing 310 tonnes when fully assembled. It is designed to be the high productivity machine responsible for the bulk of production.

The Collecting Machine is the lightest of the three SPTs, weighing 200 tonnes when fully assembled. It is designed to collect material cut from the seafloor by drawing it in as seawater slurry with internal pumps and pushing it through a flexible pipe to the Riser and Lifting System and onto the vessel.

What will they mine?

The vehicles will be used to mine polymetallic sulphides, rich in copper and gold, at the Solwara 1 deposit which sits on the seafloor at a water depth of some 1600 metres, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The mine site boasts a copper grade of approximately 7%, which is significantly higher than land-based copper mines, where the copper grade today averages typically 0.6%. In addition, gold grades of well over 20 g/tonne have been recorded in some intercepts at Solwara 1 and the average grade is approximately 6 g/tonne.

General