Danie Pretorius, CEO of Master Drilling, eyes new tunnelling projects to diversify the company's offering. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Danie Pretorius, CEO of Master Drilling, eyes new tunnelling projects to diversify the company's offering. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Master Drilling has entered a joint venture with Italy's Ghella company, which specialises in building infrastructure, as it seeks to diversify its product offering. 

The new partnership has also bought an Italian tunnelling specialist, which will complement Master Drilling's position as one of the world's biggest raise-bore drilling operators providing services to the mining industry in SA, the rest of Africa and further afield. 

Master Drilling has just completed the proof of concept tests in Italy on a mobile tunnel-boring machine that it had built by Seli Technologies, the company which it and its partner Ghella have just bought for an undisclosed sum.

The joint venture, which is 49% owned by Master Drilling and 51% by Ghella, is called TunnelPro and the Italy-registered company will provide services in civil and mining projects.

"TunnelPro … will pursue tunnel boring projects in the smaller scope civil construction and broader mining industries while also offering select product supply and professional services to industry third parties," the partners said.

Master Drilling has its own tunnelling company called Master Tunneling, which will actively seek contracts, particularly for the new mobile tunnel borer. The mobile borer is made of four or five component parts on tracks and can develop access tunnels more quickly than conventional methods.

"Through TunnelPro and Master Tunneling, Master Drilling will access projects in new sectors and across various countries while providing a platform for further vertical integration and risk mitigation,” Master Drilling CEO and founder Danie Pretorius said.

The purchase of Seli will give the venture access to a team that designs and makes tunnel-boring machines for the civil construction sector, but it has just built and tested Master Drilling's new concept drill specifically engineered for the mining industry.

“The acquisition of Seli also gives us access to critical intellectual property and a deeper pool of skills, from engineers to experienced tunneling personnel," said Koos Jordaan, an executive with Master Drilling who is driving the tunneling business.

Pretorius has long spoken of Master Drilling entering the civil projects sector, particularly with hydro electric projects that need tunnels. From the tone of the joint media release the two companies, Master Drilling and Ghella will be able to overlap each other's markets.

"The joint venture thus brings together two highly skilled and experienced companies and aptly positions them to become even more significant players in specialised infrastructure projects worldwide," the release said.

Ghella, which is more than 120 years old, has worked on subways, water, railways, roads and hydro projects.