On the sprawling site of the Nezhinsky mine in Lyuban, Belarus – about a two hour drive south of Minsk – Marcus Winterer climbs into a metal manrider. In the past two years it has taken him vertically underground on countless occasions. Winterer is one of the supervisors for two innovative Shaft Boring Roadheaders (SBR) from Herrenknecht. These two high-tech giants sank two shafts here in record time, 750 and 697 meters deep and 8 meters in diameter. As the 2,300kW hoist starts with a clear signal, Marcus Winterer descends into the depths at 8 meters per second.
Through the perforated sheeting of the manrider the Herrenknecht specialist sees the walls of the lined shaft rushing past. “I’m proud of what we’ve done here,” says Winterer. “It was a challenge for us and our partners. We have achieved revolutionary progress together.” Then he reaches the bottom of the shaft, above which the SBR’s mighty cutting drum currently stands idle in the potash horizon – for the first time in two years.
Since construction began in 2018, supervisor Winterer has been responsible for ensuring that the shaft sinkers from Redpath Deilmann GmbH in Dortmund were able to operate on the Belarusian jobsite at high performance without interruption, around the clock, seven days a week. To do this, he trained personnel, coordinated with electricians and mechanics and created maintenance plans.
Innovative technology is one side of this milestone project for the Nezhinsky mine because it is also a masterpiece of teamwork combining broad expertise and entrepreneurial pioneering spirit. All with the maximum of safety.
„THE 21ST CENTURY OF MINING“
The deployment of the SBR was a pioneering underground mission from the start. Commodity producer IOOO Slavkaliy wants to mine the deep deposits of reddish shimmering potassium salt. With the new method, the company wanted to develop the new mine as quickly and safely as possible. The coveted commodity is mainly used in agriculture as a fertilizer. The Belarusian commodity company expects a yield of 2.2 million tonnes per year. For this, around 7 million tonnes of potash ore have to be mined and removed.
In the summer of 2016, multinational businessman and IOOO Slavkaliy founder Mikhail Gutseriev and entrepreneur Martin Herrenknecht directly came to an agreement in Schwanau. With a handshake, they agreed to tackle this ambitiously planned shaft sinking mission with the latest technology. The specific order was that in 12 months Herrenknecht was to design and build two huge, innovative SBRs for the mechanized sinking of the service and production shafts down to the potash deposits. The businessman Gutseriev also made clear publicly what he expects from the project: “Our approach is the 21st century of mining!” The words were followed by tangible pioneering actions.
The successfully completed project marks a boost to innovation that resounds in the industry. In addition to innovative shaft boring technology, the constructive teamwork of the partners involved in building the shafts contributed to this success.
In July 2017 the Dortmund-based mining company Redpath Deilmann – formerly Deilmann Haniel – was awarded a contract by IOOO Slavkaliy to develop the underground mineral deposits with the mechanized Shaft Boring Roadheaders from Herrenknecht. Redpath Deilmann would then also excavate around 10 kilometers of underground routes and a loading bunker.
BOOSTING PERFORMANCE CONTINIOUSLY
The time scale for the mechanized construction of the two shafts at the Nezhinsky mine represents an particularly ambitious benchmark: compared to construction progress in soft and medium-hard rock with conventional methods, both SBRs were to reach the final depths of 697 and 750 meters twice as fast. In other words: the shafts descend into the depths twice as quickly as is usually the case using blasting techniques.
Nothing was left to chance in the interaction of Herrenknecht machine technology, the shaft construction planning and shaft design of Redpath Deilmann and the specifications of project owner Slavkaliy.
In June and August 2018, Redpath Deilmann formally accepted the two huge, fully assembled machines at Herrenknecht’s headquarters in Schwanau, which rose like towers to a height of 45 meters. Around six months later in December 2018 and January 2019 the SBR cutting drums were eating into the Belarusian soil for the first time. That alone was a remarkable achievement, because a completely new team of shaft sinkers, machine manufacturer and commodity producer using a completely new type of mining technology had to start sinking the shafts in a relatively short time. Thanks to perfectly organized work preparation and planning, the signs were good for sinking the shafts in record time.
In April 2019, Shaft 2 had already reached a depth of 165 meters. Throughout the project, with concentrated and cooperative collaboration the partners managed to continuously improve performance.
144 METERS OF TOP PERFORMANCE
Michael Niermann, chief site manager at Redpath Deilmann, has 37 years of shaft sinking experience. Projects all over the world bear his signature. The advantages of the new technology are obvious to him: “Normally, separate work steps follow one another: you drill blast holes, blast, ventilate, muck out and then the shaft wall is lined and secured,” he explains. “With the SBR, the process is fluid, mucking and lining work take place at the same time.” The dangerous work with explosives is no longer necessary thanks to the mechanized excavation – and higher performance is also possible.
A pioneering project record was then set in April 2020. On social media channels the sinking crew proudly announced a top performance of 144 meters of shaft in one month, with a peak performance of 7.4 meters of advance per day. At Redpath Deilmann, which can look back on 132 years of proud mining history, it broke an internal company record set in 1938 – which was achieved at the time thanks to practically non-existent safety regulations.
The shared successes welded the miners from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Germany together. “Everyone was enthusiastic about the technology and highly motivated to drive it forward,” says Niermann. “We got together every day and pushed each other. At first we optimized ourselves by hours, later by minutes and toward the end it was a matter of saving seconds.”