We have seen technology revolutionise the quarrying operation within the last five to 10 years. Whether it is analytical telematics, weighing systems, connected assets or connected sites, all these equipment solutions have made big strides in allowing the aggregates industry to incrementally improve its processing, operational efficiency and productivity output.
Now it is the turn of drilling accuracy systems to make the next game-changing difference. These systems will make fundamental changes to surveying practice at the front end of the process, allowing almost all surveying to become remote. This is the first in a long list of benefits and will have positive knock-on effects throughout the quarrying operation.
These benefits will include a reduction of surveying staff resource costs (whether in-house or outsourced), an improvement in operators’ drilling accuracy, geotechnical sampling accuracy and blast efficiency, the minimisation of drilling operational downtime, a reduction in consumables, haulage costs and wasted mineral extraction, and an improvement in health and safety on-site.
So how do these systems work? They are made up of four key components:
- 3D mapping software for the surveyor to plan the drilling route.
- Remote sensors on the operated machines to ensure drilling is carried out at the exact drilling location.
- Mapping display hardware within the cab to guide the operator.
- Antennas/receivers that allow the machineto be connected to the software in real time.
Remote surveying has been a feature of quarrying sites for years now. Software provides the means to accurately plan, map and route in 3D digital format, checking and correcting throughout the process, saving and sharing in the cloud. However, planning the drilling points and operational route is only half of the remote surveying solution. Surveyors still have to spend hours on the ground, staking out the drilling points for the operator. This is time-consuming, arduous and leaves plenty of room for human error.
Giving surveyors the ability to not only plan in the office but also instruct operators on-site from the office means they will not need to set foot outside. With the new drilling solution systems, surveyors can spend their time analysing, planning and mapping. Not only will this make the surveying process more efficient and accurate, but it will also reduce surveying staff resource costs.
This new technological advancement could well be the complete remote surveying solution. It is more of a reality now due to the three pieces of technological hardware working together within the drilling accuracy system. First, the antennas and receivers allow the surveyor’s 3D data to be shared to the connected asset. Second, the sensors accurately track the mobile machine’s placement and drilling practice. Third, the in-cab monitor device will guide the machine operator to within inches of the drilling point.
Once the portable machine is at the correct station, the monitor will instruct the operator to adjust the angle and orientation of the drilling guide to the precise requirement, as designed by the surveyor. The drilling can then begin. The functionality of the sensors does not stop at positioning; once the drilling has started they will then make sure that the depth of the drill is exactly to the surveyor’s 3D map. Tricky inclined drills will become a simple task for skilled operators, and when it comes to the blasting stage, surveyors and operators alike will have complete confidence, knowing that their work has been carried out to a precise standard.
This new technology promises to revolutionise quarry management. As stated above, the benefits of this new process are of multi-dimensional significance. That surveyors will be able to stay within the confines of the office is still very much the tip of the iceberg in terms of how this will improve efficiency, resources, productivity and, ultimately, operational profitability.
Due to surveyors not having to be present while the operator works, it opens up the possibility of drilling activity becoming a continuous process, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This would negate the costly incursions downtime and machine idling can have on an operation. Bad weather drilling, poor visibility drilling and night-time drilling will all become more feasible options. Operators will know they can trust the in-cab monitor to be their eyes when on-site and surveyors will know their maps are being followed to detailed accuracy with even spacing throughout.
The connected drilling systems will also cut out many overheads. In terms of consumables, there will be no need for drilling stakes and due to improved drilling accuracy, minimal over-drilling will result in longer lasting machine parts and hammers.
With regard to variable costs, the improved blasting patterns will deliver better surfaces and improve rock fragmentation, reducing haul expenses significantly. The ability for all 3D designs to be stored on the cloud and retrieved on the connected system also removes the cost and time taken to deliver plans to the site.
Most importantly, the health and safety benefits for operators and surveyors alike are significant. The sensors can see the machine’s blind spots and alert the operator when he is entering an avoidance zone on the site. Surveyors are no longer required to be in and around the machines, so it removes the possibility of an on-site accident. All these benefits provide peace of mind for the project directors.
Whether the surveying is outsourced or conducted in-house as part of a larger quarrying operation, whether the drilling is for blasting or geotechnical sampling, there is no doubt these drilling accuracy systems will revolutionise quarrying operations. Remote surveying is by no means new, but with the technology to instruct the drilling operators in real time we may only just be scratching the surface of its potential.
Erica Parkinson is the business manager of Sitech UK and Ireland.
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Quarry Management (UK). It reappears in Quarry with kind permission.