Discovery Drilling: Plumbing the depths for success

In recent times South Africa’s mining fraternity has faced all kinds of challenges: falling market value, economic downturn, fluctuating exchange rates and of course, much-highlighted labour disputes have put the entire sector under pressure.


However, a look at the bigger long-term picture, shows that many mining companies have performed well over the past 15 years. Take Discovery Drilling Contractors for example, a business founded in 1999, which has flourished.

The independent drilling company based in South Africa, has become an effective service provider to clients. The company offers a wide range of services including diamond core drilling, water well drilling, RC drilling and geotechnical drilling.

Speaking in 2011, Francois Conradie, Director, reflected on the company’s growth: “Over the last 12 years, we have grown considerably from a company that started with 3 drill rigs to an organisation extending to Botswana and Zimbabwe, to cater for clients under the auspices of Discovery Drilling Africa.”

The company’s website explained it’s focus thus: “Our service is solid, based on experience and quality of both management and field personnel, as well as rugged, safe and dependable drilling equipment,” states the company’s website.

By 2008, the company had expanded significantly, employing 36 people and providing business solutions for exploration drilling across the Sub Sahara region. At that point, it announced the opening of a new site in Selebi-Phikwe, in collaboration with BCL Mine.

The company manufactures its own drilling machines and Conradie commented on the importance of knowledge and experience: “We know the requirements of an excellent drilling machine, and our machines are manufactured to specifications to answer those requirements,” he explained.

With years of experience in the exploration drilling environment, that includes doing drilling operations in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, Mpumalanga, the Highveld and the Western Bushveld Complex in South Africa with big businesses such as Sasol and Platinum Group Metals, the company’s reputation has grown from strength to strength.

We provide service that is based on experience and quality of both the management and field personnel as well as safe and dependable drilling equipment,” Conradie commented in 2008.

He said Discovery Drilling had maintained the highest standards in the exploration drilling industry with regards to personnel, equipment, health and safety and delivery of quality service to its clients since it was incepted in 1999.

We did a 74,000 metre project for a client of ours and we completed the job in four and a half months, without any injuries whatsoever during the project,” stated Conradie. “This is due largely to the emphasis placed on training and retraining people in safety standards.

Indeed, the company’s safety record up to 2011 was hard to question, with many thousands of metres of safe drilling completed with accident. And remember that the conditions drillers work in are often variable, with weather, geology and topography having a big impact on the difficulty of each project.

Part of the secret to Discovery Drilling’s safety success has been its commitment to high standards of health and safety training, with a complete SHEQ Management System implemented and maintained by an external risk management consultancy.

Track record counts for a lot in the mining and exploration sectors. The history of diamond drilling was one which created opportunities for mineral mining in many areas of Southern Africa – and consequently led to something of a boom in mineral exploration in remote locations.

Initially, in the absence of drills, diamond mining involved digging by hand – a task which was fraught with danger. Eventually the first diamond portable hand drill was invented and today the drills are used in exploration diamond drilling and a solid core is extracted from the earth and examined on the surface, creating a much safer environment.

With a team of hugely experienced professionals, Conradie saw an opportunity to provide diamond drilling services 14 years ago and the rest as they say is history.

Discovery Drilling Contractors also specialise in the design and manufacture of truck mounted diamond rigs which they use in their daily operations.

The company has also developed a good reputation for RC Drilling and boasts a fleet of over 64 rigs in total. RC Drilling is a form of hammer drilling which unlike diamond exploration drilling where a piece of core is extracted and can be examined on the surface – rotatory hammer drillers are used to chip away pieces of rock.

RC Drills can come in different sizes, some can be operated by hand and some larger drills are fitted to rigs and mounted to trailers depending on the size of the drill. RC Drilling is also referred to as Percussion drilling.

Of course Discovery Drilling’s success is also reliant on modern, well-maintained equipment. The company utilizes the latest innovative machinery and by 2011 boasted a reported fleet of 50 Diamond drill rigs, 2 RC rigs and 12 drill rigs which can drill to a depth of 2,500 metres.

At the time, Conradie commented: “We have 4 small drill rigs capable of drilling down to 500 metres and 34 drill rigs capable of drilling down to 1,400 metres. Our drill rigs are maintained and serviced every 250 hours of use in the field. When mobilizing drill rigs and equipment from site to site, we have our own transport fleet to provide logistical support.”

Careful maintenance and expertise have greatly assisted Discovery Drilling and have helped it to accomplish industry-leading drilling volumes in the past.

However, Conradie’s assessment of the company’s success concludes with the expertise and professional approach of his team:

You can have the best drill rigs in the world and not the right people to run them and this can potentially become a serious problem to both ourselves and our clients. We treat our employees very well. We believe looking after our people in the important part of the business and it’s important for us to have employees that are very loyal to us,” he stressed.