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A new agreement between Komatsu, a global mining equipment manufacturer, and PIMS Group, a North Queensland mining services operator, could help set a benchmark for extending the life of multiple Queensland coal mines.

PIMS Group was recently awarded a five-year contract to convert the idled open cut Millennium and Mavis Downs coal mines, west of Mackay, Queensland, to an underground operation, which could ultimately result in an estimated 1.2 million tonnes of incremental coal extraction each year. Komatsu will sell PIMS Group new mining equipment for the project, and will provide a comprehensive maintenance, parts, rebuild and engineering support service to ensure the companies’ joint objectives are effectively supported.

Komatsu will provide a full-time preventative maintenance team at the mine sites to help maximise the operation of the eight pieces of equipment now on order, including two 12CM27 continuous miners, four 10SC32 shuttle cars, one feeder breaker and one multibolter. Delivery of the Komatsu machines is due in mid-2022 to coincide with PIMS Group’s conversion of the Mavis Downs site to underground operation, which will be followed soon after by conversion of the Millennium site.

Millennium and Mavis Downs are owned by MetRes, a 50:50 joint venture between Queensland miners Stanmore Resources and M Resources. M Mining, a subsidiary of M Resources, is the joint venture manager and operator.

Rob Rogers, Vice President of Underground Soft Rock for Komatsu in Australasia, said the success of the three-way venture with PIMS Group and MetRes depended on total confidence of each partner to reliably deliver in its area of expertise. Rogers said the arrangement aligns well with Komatsu’s focus on ‘creating value together’, an initiative intended to secure long-term customer solutions, particularly to the benefit of society and communities.

The MetRes rejuvenation alone has the potential to create up to 100 mine construction jobs and result in more than 125 direct full-time mining jobs.

According to MetRes Chairperson Matt Latimore, a partnership and risk-sharing approach, together with the potential for substantial local employment opportunities, had been paramount in PIMS Group winning its bid to operate the infrastructure of both mines.

MetRes has initially worked to reopen the mines using auger and open cut methods, with production of first coal already achieved in September 2021. According to MetRes, underground expansion will be economically achieved through the mines’ existing highwalls, yielding low-ash, high-quality metallurgical coal used in the production of steel globally.

Rehabilitation of the open cut sites will coincide with the switch to underground operations. With underground activity, Millennium and Mavis Downs share a current predicted additional mine life of 12 years, producing 13.9 million tonnes of metallurgical coal.

PIMS’ contract with the mines’ owners is the largest undertaken by the North Queensland group. It is seen as the forerunner for extending the operating life and remediation of aboveground sites which have so far been presumed to be near the end of their productive life.

PIMS Group Chief Executive Richard Mills sees this operating model being utilised throughout existing Queensland coal operations, providing substantial economic and employment benefits.