ASSEMBLY of the Bulk Cutter, the first of the three Seafloor Production Tools (SPTs) for Nautilus Minerals’ seafloor mining operations, has been completed. The Bulk Cutter is the heaviest of the three SPTs, weighing 310 tonnes when fully assembled, and is designed to be the high productivity machine responsible for the bulk of production.

Nautilus’ CEO Mike Johnston says, “This is a major milestone for the company, having the first of the three SPTs assembled. This achievement brings the company closer to making seafloor mining a reality.”

Subsea vehicle designer and manufacturer, Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD) of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, is the company responsible for building the SPTs for Nautilus. SMD are experts in the ‘marinization’ of mechanical, hydraulic, electric and electronic equipment for use in a subsea environment (water and pressure immersion). SMD uses this skill set as the basis of much of its existing product line in remotely operated vehicles and subsea trenchers.

Some world class companies have been involved in the design of the SPTs:

  • The cutting drum of the Bulk Cutter was designed and built by Sandvik (Austria), a leader in hard-rock mechanized mining and rock cutting equipment. The designs are based on similar designs used on large continuous miner machines used in underground mining and construction.
  • The track sets for all three SPTs have been designed and built by Caterpillar, based on an existing Caterpillar excavator track design. Modification to the track set for subsea operation and required cutting duty was completed by SMD in consultation with Caterpillar and Sandvik.
  • The dredge pumps for all three SPTs have been supplied by Damen, a leading dredge equipment supplier and are based on existing catalogue designs used in the dredging industry.
  • The hydraulic equipment for all three SPTs is based on existing off-the-shelf Bosch Rexroth hydraulic equipment, with adaptations by SMD.
  • The flexible hoses for all three SPTs have been designed and supplied by ContiTech AG (Germany), and are very similar to the rubber hoses used in the dredging industry.

Companies and institutions involved in the simulations and test work include CSIRO, Cellula Robotics, Deltares, Istanbul Technical University, ContiTech Oil & Marine Corp and Paterson & Cooke Consulting.

Mike Johnston says, “The next step is to carry out commissioning and acceptance testing in parallel with assembling the other two production tools, the Auxiliary Cutter and Collecting Machine.”

Nautilus is the first company to explore the ocean floor for polymetallic seafloor massive sulphide deposits. It was granted the first mining lease for such deposits at the Solwara 1 prospect in the territorial waters of PNG, where it is aiming to produce copper, gold and silver.

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