Swick Mining Services’ pioneering rig designs deliver improvements in productivity, safety and value. With a reputation for innovation, we speak to Business Development Manager, Robert Burnett, about the company’s latest drill rigs.
FROM RIGS TO MINERAL RICHES
Western Australia (WA) is the epicentre of mining Down Under and a major player in the international industry.
Hosting a huge amount of high-grade resources and some of Australia’s largest mines, WA is ranked as the top region in the world for mining investment by the Fraser Institute, with new mineral exploration constantly ongoing.
Though the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mining sector was uncertain for a few years, it has been able to bounce back and continue operating as an essential industry.
WA’s mining sector directly employs an estimated 144,000 people across the state and country, including Robert Burnett, Business Development Manager at Swick Mining Services (Swick).
“Living in WA, there are many opportunities within mining, so it was always going to be a part of my future,” he opens.
Burnett has more than 20 years of experience in the industry, having first worked in surface drilling at Drillcorp Western Deephole for 12 months before moving into underground diamond drilling with Barminco.
“During my four years at Barminco I was able to experience multiple underground operations, drilling in adverse and numerous different ground conditions across the state of WA. I joined Swick in 2006, and since then I have not looked back.”
Swick is one of four specialised brands within the DDH1 Limited Group, Australia’s premier mineral drilling contractor, along with DDH1 Drilling, Ranger Drilling, and Strike Drilling.
The Swick footprint extends worldwide, with company operations strategically located in Australia, North America and Europe.
“Swick is a global business operating across three continents with a workforce of over 780 employees. As we span multiple continents, our operations require safety and training manuals in English, Spanish and Portuguese,” elaborates Burnett.
As one of the largest globally recognised mineral drilling contractors, Swick specialises in underground diamond coring, with capabilities ranging from small projects to large mining operations that require multi-rig drilling services.
The company has designed and manufactured its own state of the art rigs in-house since inception in June 2004 and now also sells them to third parties via the Swick Engineering division, which was newly created in 2021 and already boasts a strong reputation for pioneering innovative rig designs.
“Swick Engineering can assist your preferred service providers with the safety features, productivity benefits and unmatched versatility of Swick’s mobile drilling rigs,” Burnett tells us.
Mobile rigs are a revolutionary equipment layout that provide the ultimate flexibility and a major reduction in non-productive time, something that is essential for contractors and now recognised as a requirement for most miners.
“Being an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that manufactures and operates its own rigs has played a major part in Swick’s reputation of having an innovative culture and gives our clients the comfort of knowing our rigs and engineering controls are not off-the-shelf solutions.”
Through Swick’s market reputation, the business continues to flourish and increase its volume of operating rigs. Indeed, a strategic approach to tender activity throughout FY23 has resulted in contract awards and additional rig growth.
“In 2023, we have had new and existing clients increase their operating demand by further obtaining our services. It’s fantastic to be part of a team that can mobilise new opportunities, which we see arriving daily, in a safe and quick fashion,” says Burnett.
“The business is always looking for the right opportunity to grow and expand. Each opportunity has its risks; understanding the region’s complex labour laws and specific country-based restrictions need to be evaluated before capital expansion.”
Having built mobile underground diamond drill rigs for its own operators since 2004, Swick’s Gen II mobile drill rig is now available to the open market.
The Swick Gen II rig utilises a small single boom carrier to host a powerful drilling system, thus embodying the successful Swick formula of the highest possible power in the smallest possible package, which is a major benefit of underground operations.
A one-stop shop for all grade control, reserve definition and exploration drilling needs, the Gen II mobile is capable of successfully completing a wide range of hole sizes and depths of up to 1,500 metres (m).
“In 2019, Swick discussed separating grade control drilling and exploration drilling to offer the correct cost-effective solution for our clients’ needs. Our Swick Gen II mobile drill rigs are a world leader for standard scopes of work with 112 kilowatts (kW) of total power,” informs Burnett.
The business realised, however, that productivity decreased with the Swick Gen II rig after 800 – 1,000m. With this in mind, and to give clients the best return on investment, Swick decided to construct a high capacity, high torque mobile drill rig introduced to the market by the DeepEX division, to cater for deep exploration, difficult drilling conditions and infrastructure drilling.
DeepEX has since developed a reputation for de-risking difficult scopes and reaching deep target depths, with extremely powerful and specialised equipment that has drilling torque five times the industry standard and 15 times when the rotation unit is in low range, ensuring drillers can manage issues, set and recover casing pipe and complete the deepest and most complex holes ever drilled underground.
Exploration holes up to 2,390m in depth have been drilled by DeepEX without losing a single drill string in the ground, the sort of reliability that is extremely valuable to clients.
Naturally, Swick is very proud of the DeepEX rigs it has developed to work with all types of challenging ground conditions, enabling the company to meet its clients’ needs.
“Our DeepEX division’s underground mobile drill rigs are capable of drilling in excess of 2,000m, with the deepest hole to date reaching 2,390m,” Burnett reveals.
“DeepEX rigs are fitted with high torque heads, heavy duty feed cylinders, and 132 kW of installed power, showcasing deephole and high torque capability over our standard Gen II drills when drilling at depths greater than 800m.”
CULTURE OF INNOVATION
The Gen II and DeepEX’s specialist high-torque, high-capacity mobile drilling rigs represent the very pinnacle of underground rig technology, delivering unparalleled performance and productivity outputs.
It reflects the spirit and culture of innovative thinking that Swick demonstrates in the pursuit of excellence, driven by an internal R&D team that is always striving to provide the safest, most cost-effective solutions to clients.
Swick’s latest R&D project is the Gen3 E-Rig, which has the capacity to reduce power consumption by around 50 percent per metre drilled, resulting in a lower carbon footprint.
This underground diamond drilling rig removes all diesel power as well as a large portion of the Swick Gen II rig’s hydraulic parts. The Gen3 E-Rig also has a large battery capacity and utilises the latest in DC electric motor technology.
Comprehensive field testing and analysis of the Gen3 E-Rig were undertaken during FY22, with design upgrades to be completed before commencing operations in FY24.
“Swick has identified the need to improve efficiency, particularly in underground mining, to reduce the amount of carbon generated. Reducing the ventilation requirements and heat generation in underground mines by not using diesel engines is a huge opportunity and the Swick Gen3 drill rig will be a first mover,” Burnett explains.
“The design of the Gen3 eliminates many hydraulic systems and will greatly improve efficiency of the electrical power source, which can reduce the kilowatt hours (kWh) per metre drilled by 50 percent. The new electric rig will provide a solution to support clients’ sustainability goals whilst being a very productive and high capacity machine as well.”
The Gen3 E-Rig ties into Swick’s understanding of the importance to protect the environment around us, and recognition that responsible mining practices are fundamental to the company’s long-term success.
Swick is committed to the best environmental practices that minimise the potential impact of drilling on the environment through its environmental management policy.
Strict due diligence is carried out across the company’s operational activities to identify, measure and monitor its environmental footprint. In doing so, Swick has set out a number of principles to ensure continuous sustainable improvements in its operations.
Equally encouraged to develop a sense of responsibility for the protection of the environment are Swick’s employees.
The company recognises that its success is driven by talent and dedication, the latter of which is reciprocated by Swick to help expand employees’ professional horizons through stimulating career opportunities, job security and lifestyle choices.
Operating numerous sites around Australia and overseas gives staff the opportunity to work in different locations, and Swick is committed to promoting from within as well as providing ongoing training, support, and the chance to complete nationally recognised certificates.
“Swick is a company that focuses on its people. We pride ourselves on strong career pathways, including structured training programmes and promotional opportunities, with an entry-level recruitment focus.
“From there, our roles are predominantly filled by promotions, up to and often including leadership,” says Burnett, who himself has been fortunate to have conducted many roles since coming onboard at Swick, including Supervisor, Production Specialist, Area Manager, up to his current role as Business Development Manager.
“Our drill crews are also enrolled in Certificates of Drilling (II, III and IV), and our maintenance crews are often upskilled in other trades,” he adds.
Swick’s progressive global training programme arms crew members with the practical understanding and basic experience required to succeed on one of its drill sites, helping to unleash their potential from day one with intensive job-specific training to guide them through each critical aspect of their job.
A state of the art, purpose-built training facility, meanwhile, incorporates the latest innovations through hands-on practical training, designed to stimulate realistic conditions faced when working on a rig.
This allows new starters to begin their training in a safe, controlled environment and provides them with a level of confidence and competence to ensure they can safely carry out field work.
Just like a usual shift on site, each training day lasts for 12 hours, during which time trainees learn the skills required to become an Offsider.
These skills include setting up a drill site, correct rod handling techniques and use of hand tools, tube emptying techniques, conducting basic servicing and pre-starts, carrying out workplace inspections, and hazard reporting.
“Our underground training facility in Perth provides the initial training ground for our new Offsiders, equipping them with all the knowledge they need before they fly to the site,” Burnett shares.
Once new crew members successfully complete their initial training, they are sent to the drill site to continue their introduction to the industry via site-based programmes.
“Ongoing, on-the-job training is provided by our dedicated training team who travel to our sites, ensuring continuous improvement and support for operations.”
In recent years, Swick has increased its focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I), especially within recruitment, recognising the benefits of D&I including a broader pool of high-quality employees, improving staff retention, accessing different perspectives, and benefitting from all available talent.
“We now have several female employees as part of our operations team on site, as well as a very culturally diverse workforce,” notes Burnett.
Swick is likewise committed to employing a localised workforce and dedicated to giving back to the local communities in which it operates.
The key areas that the company focuses on to foster positive community relationships are environmental sustainability, indigenous engagement and support, health and safety in mining, mental health, and sport and recreation.
This is embodied through support for a wide range of community initiatives to create positive change and make a difference.
Swick is incredibly passionate about the community partnerships it supports every year, playing an active role in providing financial assistance and grants to local businesses, clubs, charities, non-profit organisations (NPOs) and events that enrich the wider community.
“We are especially proud of our partnership with Murlpirrmarra Connection, an NPO that exists to provide young Aboriginals in remote communities of Wiluna, Leonora and surrounding regions of WA with educational, sporting, health and well-being opportunities,” emphasises Burnett.
“Swick also actively participates in the annual HBF Run for a Reason, the MACA Cancer 200 Ride for Research, and Operation Sunshine, where we help and support children in difficult living conditions.”
This commitment to the community reflects the journey of continuous improvement that Swick has embarked on, with the aim of being recognised as an industry leader in corporate responsibility.
“We aim to maintain high standards of corporate governance and ethics, and to conduct our business openly and honestly,” Burnett affirms.
The company actively strives to implement ethical, socially responsible supply chain practices and anti-bribery, corruption, and modern slavery practices by working closely with its suppliers and contractors.
It is expected that suppliers and contractors who agree to work with Swick will meet or exceed the requirements set out in its supply chain code of conduct and human rights policy.
Supplier and contractor relationships are therefore considered and strategically sourced by Swick, with a view to maximising ongoing collaboration, innovation, value and success.
Working only with well-established, trusted and reputable suppliers in the industry, Swick continues to provide quality services that are valued and sought after by clients.
“Our focus is to ensure we maintain a high level of service by creating highly productive, safe and reputable drill crews,” concludes Burnett.
“We manage today while creating tomorrow!”