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

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