Automated drilling history in the making

All eyes were on the monitor as the advanced, automated surface drill rig carefully moved into its starting position. Its task: to follow computer-generated instructions to complete an entire drill pattern without human intervention.
The rig levelled and then started to drill, completing the first hole. So far so good. The rig then extracted its drillstring and trammed to the next row of holes where it repeated the cycle with equal speed and efficiency. Before long, the entire drill pattern had been completed, fully automated, without any human intervention.
The scene was Rio Tinto?s technology and innovation test quarry outside Perth in Western Australia. The rig was an advanced Atlas Copco SmartROC D65, and the result was a major milestone in fully automated production bench drilling.
Charles McHugh, Rio Tinto?s mining disciplines manager explained that the drill pattern had been pre-designed in the mine office and the drill was controlled and directed at the touch of a button.
The success of this project represents a first for the surface mining industry and a milestone in a joint development alliance that was established between Rio Tinto and Atlas Copco in 2008.
At that time, Atlas Copco?s challenge was to develop an automated drill rig that could be integrated with Rio Tinto?s Mine Automation System (MAS) which provides the command and control of automated equipment at Rio Tinto operations. Rio Tinto further developed the MAS system to remotely connect with the drill rig and these functions were put to the test as part of Rio Tinto?s Mine of the Future program.
?Atlas Copco and Rio Tinto worked together to ensure that the tasks assigned to the drill rig could be received and carried out in an automated fashion with the drill operator located in the office,? McHugh explained. ?We expect benefits both from a single operator being able to operate multiple drills and from flexible operation which will be possible between operators and potentially between operating sites. Importantly, however, we are also seeing improved drill utilisation and consistency in drill outcomes, providing more accurate information for mine operation.?
Rio Tinto has a substantial program in place to develop automated systems for its surface mining operations which create safer and more efficient operations.
McHugh maintained that Rio Tinto?s alliance with Atlas Copco would accelerate the development and deployment of autonomous drilling solutions for the surface mining industry. ?The benefits resulting from automating drills include improved operator safety, higher precision of the drilling process and improved equipment reliability, resulting in superior performance,? he said.
?For Rio Tinto, these advances are about achieving competitive advantage through step changes in mining that come from leadership in technology, starting with academic origin and resulting in a commercial outcome. Through this approach we?re changing the face of mining.?
He added that Atlas Copco and Rio Tinto would continue to work on ?other exciting drilling technologies through the strategic partnership?.
Tom Ross, Atlas Copco?s surface drilling business line manager in Australia, said the test result was a landmark for the industry because it demonstrated the ability of the Rig Control System software on board the SmartROC D65 to communicate with the MAS software and complete drilling tasks effectively under instruction from a computer.
?Technology is the future in mining and I would like to think that Atlas Copco is at the forefront of that,? Ross stated. ?This is why the SmartROC D65 being able to do this is like putting a big flag on top of the hill saying ?we?re the first?.
?The really clever part was the ability of the machine to navigate 15 holes, three rows of five holes each, without any human involvement, then drill those holes and return to a waiting stance for further instructions.
?The MAS system ?spoke? to our rig, our rig understood the instructions and carried out the commands, rather than it being remote controlled. That is maybe the first time the MAS system has ?spoken? to control a drill rig.
?This is something we have been working on for three years, so this is the accumulation of a lot of work to get to this point. It?s been really satisfying that we were able to do it. For us it?s a world first on this class of drill rig, and for the alliance, it means that we?ve got the proof of concept completed.?
Source: Atlas Copco

Smart rig makes drilling debut

The SmartROC T45, Atlas Copco?s peak performer in surface drilling, has raised expectations for drilling efficiency even higher.
The rig was recently launched in selected countries, including Australia, and has proved to be a milestone in the effort to increase efficiency in aggregate and limestone quarrying.
Working in the hole diameter range of 89?140mm (3???5??), the rig?s performance has been closely monitored in various climates, ranging from very cold to very hot, and in different applications, all with exceptional results.
Drilling in a quarry near Frankfurt in Germany, the rig proved its capabilities by overcoming the demanding, fractured German basalt. Drilling 102mm holes on 20m high benches, the rig consistently achieved more than 40 metres per hour, with a fuel consumption of less than 21 litres per hour (l/h).
In Australia, it has been the same story. The SmartROC T45 impressed loyal users of the FlexiROC T45 by demonstrating a fuel consumption of less than 20 l/h, proving that it lives up to its claim to increase profits from the very first day of drilling.
The big difference with the SmartROC T45 lies in its high level of automation. Many aspects of the operative process, such as aligning the feed and the actual drilling, are automatic, which not only gives continuous, satisfactory results but also exceptional precision.
The rig can be equipped with the hole navigation system (HNS), which makes accurate set-up and collaring extremely easy. Furthermore, the drilling function is automatically adjusted to the precise position of the hole bottom, according to plan, and the whole process is driven and documented by the rig?s ROC Manager Program, providing detailed information for accurate decision making.
?In the long run, it is not the productivity and precision that will be paying off, but the consistency delivered,? product manager for the SmartROC T45 Mario Santillan explained. ?It is the fact that owners will be able to rely on satisfactory results, shift after shift, day after day, irrespective of which operator is at the controls.?
This winning combination of productivity, precision and consistency is the key to improvement throughout the whole quarrying process chain, enhancing fragmentation, loadability and the crushing throughput.
?If our customers believe that reducing the cost of drilling is a good idea, they are right, of course,? Santillan said. ?But reducing the overall rock excavation cost is, well, smart!?
Source: Atlas Copco

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