by Matti Rautakoski, Business Manager at Oy Kati Ab Kalajoki
KATI Oy (KATI) was founded by two young men in 1980. In fact, it was the first private company to start offering core drilling in Finland. Until then, core drilling was carried out solely by a state-owned company. One of the KATI founders was working there and saw opportunities to revolutionize the industry in Scandinavia. He found a common ground with his brother-in-law, and they began operating with one Atlas Copco Diamec drill rig. Since 2019, a new generation of entrepreneurs has taken the lead and continues the same business idea by bringing something new to the well-proven concept. KATI is still running as a family business.
KATI started the first projects abroad in Sweden during 1990s. Roughly after the turn of the century, exploration activity began increasing in the Nordic countries. Since then, drilling operations have been expanding steadily to what they are today.
Nowadays, KATI has 16 rigs, most of them for surface coring. From the early 2000s, the company has paid much attention to environmentally friendly exploration. In 2004, KATI’s environmental management system was certified according to ISO 14001 standards, which was quite uncommon among drilling companies, showing that KATI was ahead of its time. KATI has since developed a number of solutions for eco-friendly exploration drilling, its water recirculation system being probably the most famous of them.
In 2020, KATI generated EUR 18.7 million in sales and was employing 135 people. There was a slight decrease in sales compared to 2019, due to COVID-19, projects getting canceled or delayed, travel restrictions and budget changes.
‘Today we are a company that strives to find and develop new methods, techniques, tools and services, which we can implement to our business and offer even more advanced and tailored help to our customers’ needs,’ says Tapani Niskakangas, Operational Manager and Chairman of Board.
Even though there has been a recent change in the ownership and leadership, it was more of a technical nature rather than bringing in totally new faces. The current management and owners have been in the business for a long time. ‘My experience starts from 1993 as an off-sider, and since then I have been involved in the industry,’ comments Tapani Niskakangas, one of the second-generation entrepreneurs.
KATI’s drill teams have the chance to work independently; they are used to it and like the autonomy that the work gives them. Autonomy is part of the company’s work culture that has been preserved and nurtured for over 40 years, as it has proven to be successful and appreciated.
KATI’s rigs are designed and built in-house. The main reason is that there are not many choices for ready-made drill rigs which are suitable for Nordic conditions. In-house manufacturing also allows quick updates and modifications, which are sometimes necessary for different projects or to reflect changes in safety standards.
The rig fleet has standard surface coring rigs, underground and heli-portable rigs. Most of the drills are Sandvik-made, but heavily modified to become as they appear on-site. Their key features are agility in the hilly, boggy and forested areas, as well as a comfortable and safe working environment. It is quite typical that temperatures may vary between 30°C (86°F) all the way to -40°C (-40°F), which is why the drills must offer shelter for the employees. Most of the drill rigs are mounted on rubber tracks, which is a useful feature in the Arctic conditions and in the pristine nature. The rigs can drill from B-size up to P-size. The newest drill rig is made by Epiroc and has some computerized features.
When it comes to drilling equipment, KATI has developed their own KATI-100 rod size, which has a relatively small outer diameter making it maneuverable by fairly compact rigs, which cannot drill with P-size. With KATI-100, the core diameter is 69 mm (2.72 in), which is significantly bigger than H-size (63.5 mm (2.5 in)). The volume of core is 18% more than in H-size, making KATI-100 a tempting choice for applications such as metallurgical test drilling and for certain types of gold exploration drilling, as well as some downhole installations.
Exploration core drilling is the main activity of the company. However, it goes together with many additional services. Among them are the deviation surveys, the demand for which is rapidly increasing.
Directional core drilling is also becoming more and more popular. Drill targets are deeper than they used to be, so there is more distance to cover, making hole deviation a bigger issue. In order to overcome these problems, KATI has been working closely with one of the most famous companies in this field, Norway-based Devico AS (Devico). Together, the two companies have carried out directional core drilling for years on a constant basis in Agnico Eagle’s gold mine in Kittila, Lapland, Finland.
The KATI survey team also has deep knowledge in deviation surveys with real north seeking gyros, such as Stockholm Precision Tools (SPT).
Another special service offered by the KATI survey team is packer testing, which is used to give data of bedrock’s hydraulic conductivity.
KATI operates on various kinds of drilling projects. When there is an exceptionally challenging situation, KATI is often the preferred drilling contractor, which contributes to resolving any problem. In the end, it is about delivering the core to the client, this is why the company exists.
The deepest hole drilled by KATI is 2024 m (≈ 6640 ft) with N-size in 2020. The hole is located in the Zinkgurvan mine in Sweden. Another almost similar in its depth hole that the company achieved, 2015 m (≈ 6611 ft), is located in Espoo, Finland. The latter is a sounding hole for geothermal power plant that has been drilled for an energy company ST1 in 2015.
There were several occasions where a target which had been deemed almost impossible to drill with the standard type of surface drilling, turned out to be quite reachable when KATI entered the picture. A recent project of this kind is owned by Aurion Resources and is situated on a steep hill covered with big boulders, making access extremely difficult by both wheeled and tracked vehicles. Together with the Aurion CEO Matti Talikka, KATI conceived the idea of using rubber mats as a road to the hilltop, which made the target area accessible by standard drills. This revolutionary road enabled the completion of a full-scale drilling project for the first time.
Another example of a rare and special situation is from Eastern Finland, where a company wanted to explore under a lake. There was drilling done on top of the lake both during the winter and the summer. However, to get a complete understanding of the deposit, it had to be approached from a different angle – horizontally. KATI and Devico made a joint project and started drilling on the lakeshore at a 40 degrees angle. At a certain point, directional core drilling was introduced, and the angle was gradually changed to almost horizontal. Eventually, the ore section was reached and penetrated at about 500 m (≈ 1640 ft), which was not too far away from the bottom of the lake. Several holes were made with this method and valuable information was produced for the customer.
One of the projects representing the combination of state-of-the-art technology and Arctic know-how is the Sakatti project in Northern Finland. It is a world-class multi-metal deposit, located deep under a nature conservation area, so it is mandatory to collect drill cuttings and clean all of the water, used in the drilling process. KATI has designed and developed a closed system unit that meets the standards given by the authorities and helps with leaving practically zero traces from drilling. Minimized traces are also possible because drilling is done only when there is snow cover protecting the ground. To extend the season, KATI has the equipment to make artificial snow, which is used to prepare routes and drill pads (read more in Issue 15).
Gemcokati, a prosperous blend of East and West in the Indian exploration sector
Many people are not aware that KATI also has a solid presence in India. Since 2010, Gemcokati Exploration Private Limited (Gemcokati) has been operating as a joint venture between two companies, KATI and Gemco. Gemco is an Indian company, and it was in the business way before KATI joined. The first half of this decade-length cooperation was fairly challenging for many reasons, starting from cultural differences to adapting to political changes and a slow market situation. During the past few years, Gemcokati has evolved into a dynamic, efficient and very desirable drilling contractor and a partner for major Indian mining companies, such as TATA Steel, Vedanta Resources and many more. The company operates pan India, except in the northern part. A great share of its activity focuses on the mineral-rich eastern part of the country.
As of this year, Gemcokati employs 400 people. They have 15 hydraulic drills and 50 rigs of other types, such as semi-hydraulic and mechanical. The idea right from the start has been to develop a strong company in the Indian market by merging Gemco’s local contact network and understanding of Indian business climate with top quality working culture, drilling technical knowledge and quality- and system-oriented thinking. This has not been a walk in the park, but hard work pays off and KATI now has an exceptional Indo-European company that is being highly recognized among Indian exploration and mining companies. It attracts talented and skilled people due to the positive, fresh and slightly Western type of working culture. The growth in India will continue and Gemcokati has the potential to also expand in other Asian and African countries.
Health & safety
Mining and exploration have been in many ways at the forefront in achieving safety. There are practices that have been adopted from the aviation industry, which is known for the long heritage in maximized safety-based thinking. ‘Even relatively small companies must meet the standards of the mining companies, which is not necessarily the same in some other fields of business,’ notes CEO Markku Ojala and continues, ‘We are proud to be in a sector where safety is considered so seriously.’
This year, the KATI safety management system will be certified according to the ISO 45001 standard. With that, the company will have three certified systems, the other two being quality and environment management systems.
Coping with COVID-19 has brought many challenges and many new practices have been created. For example, crossing the state border between Finland and Sweden has been much different from the usual, as for some time negative tests were always required while driving between the two countries. ‘These kinds of procedures are easily found frustrating, and they stress people in the long run, but our drillers have stayed strong and now luckily, the border crossing seems to be easier again,’ Ojala describes the latest situation.
‘The KATI way’ to operate
KATI is well-known for its capability to deliver high-quality samples at any cost. It may be fractured rock, nasty fault zones, difficult access or other challenging conditions.
The KATI business values always strive to meet those of the customers and focus on making the right decisions to achieve successful exploration and good practices and turn the company into the dream place to work. These values contain more than just a few words and they are taught to all new employees as well as reminded to all existing personnel. These are lessons which are fully applicable during daily work, not merely idealistic slogans.
To put this philosophy into a few more words, KATI wants to excel by having the best equipment to complete the work, by being innovative in solving the customers’ problems, by overcoming challenges and by creating genuine cooperation.
For more information visit: www.oykatiab.com
Read Issue 17 here: