The machines that Nautilus Minerals will use in its deep sea mining ventures were unveiled in November.
The three remotely operated machines weighing between 220 t and 310 t (242 and 341 st) will work on the sea floor, up to 1,600 m (5,200 ft) below the surface and are valued at more than $100 million.
They are part of Nautilus Minerals’ $500 million project that offers the prospect of extracting high-grade minerals without the large overheads and long timescales of land-based mining.
SMD built the machines that will be controlled remotely by teams on board Nautilus’ Solara 1 vessel using sonar and mapping technologies. Ultimately a crew of around 130 will help to deploy and operate the machines from Nautilus’ vessel.
The machines feature components made by the likes of Caterpillar and Pearson Engineering.
The Nautilus machines are designed to break rock with much greater forces than their land-based counterparts and can only be operated on land at low temperatures for fear of overheating.
While the machines mark a significant stride toward production for Nautilus Minerals, deep sea mining faces great technical challenges and must overcome potential environmental concerns.
Nautilus said that the slowdown in the global economy had not undermined the commercial argument for deep sea mining.
“The (mineral) grades you get on the sea floor are much higher than on land,” said Mike Johnston, CEO and president told The Financial Times. “You are able to produce the material at competitive prices with the machines we have here.”
The three SMD machines are due to leave Tyneside in early 2016 for shallow water trials.
Mining operations off Papua New Guinea, for which Nautilus has the necessary license and environmental permits, are due to begin in early 2018.
Nautilus was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2006; Papua New Guinea is its first commercial operation. Its biggest backers are Mawarid Mining and Metalloinvest. Nautilus said it expected to raise additional capital next year.
SMD is now owned by CRRC Times Electric of China. Mike Jones, SMD deputy CEO, said he hoped that the project, which is being closely watched by the mining sector, will lead to more orders. He said: “It this works, it will be the start of a new industry.”
Seabed mapping has been used to identify hydrothermal vents where mineral deposits accumulate.