By  Gavin du Venage, South African editor

CAPETOWN, South Africa–The Americas hold “good future prospects” for South African raise-boring specialist Master Drilling, CEO Danie Pretorius told E&MJ ahead of the company’s annual results presentation in Johannesburg on Tuesday. Brazil and Mexico showed good growth in the past year, offsetting poor market conditions elsewhere. “We’re looking at a nice order book in Mexico, and around US$30 million in contracts in Canada,” Pretorius said.

Worldwide, the mining industry was facing significant hurdles, such as access to new ore bodies, pressure to increase safety standards and declining productivity. However, prospects in specific areas were looking up.

“The copper outlook in Chile is good,” Pretorius said. “We expect an increase in activity in Ecuador and Colombia. We should have a good year in the Americas to come.” He said the company had mobilized five machines and shipped two more to various project sites in Mexico for work this year.

The U.S. and Canada while offering less-exciting margins, did, however, offer a “stable and secure” environment and one Master Drilling would therefore pursue, Pretorius said.

Master Drilling had also acquired five additional raisebore machines in the past year, which brings their fleet to 149 raisebores and 30 slim drilling rigs.

In 2018, the company launched its Mobile Tunnel Borer, which allows for continuous operation, with full-face cutting, as well as simultaneous rock support and material handling. The nonexplosive process also increases face time.

Another innovation was the introduction of its Remote Drilling platform, which has been successfully commissioned at Anglogold Ashanti’s Mponeng Mine, considered the world’s deepest mine. Remote drilling enables operation of an automated drill rig from a separate location. In this case, the drill is currently working 3 kilometers (km) underground at Mponeng, and operated from the contractor’s site office on surface.

“At present, there is usually 10 to 12 hours dead time when machines are idle and can’t be operated because of safety issues,” Pretorius said. “By removing people from the work area, the machines can operate for longer. We are chipping away at dead time.”

The company’s revenue in the reporting period increased by 14.2% to $138 million, while earnings per share decreased by 3.5% to $0.11. Operating profit remained relatively stable at $24 million. Pretorius said this was a positive result, given that one of the company’s machine categories, the XX-large machines, were only 44% used.