Smart rig ‘no ugly duckling’ in fuel, production savings

Xcel Drilling and Blasting this year celebrates 18 years of providing full rock on ground drilling and blasting services to the Western Australian extractive industries.

Originating in 2003 in Perth as a one-drill, one-contract father/son operation, Xcel was lucky to ride the crest of WA’s resources wave in the late “noughties” and into this decade. It is now one of the state’s leading drill and blast contractors, servicing 90 per cent of the Perth metropolitan market and undertaking major regional contracts throughout WA. Xcel’s customers include both mines and quarries.

The contractor currently has a complement of 10 staff on the ground but this can vary, depending on demand (at one time it was as high as 20). According to managing director Russell Hughes, the bulk of Xcel’s work is providing the full rock on ground service for mines and drilling for quarries.

{{image2-a:r-w:250}}In the last eight years, the company has built its reputation and service, particularly in the quarrying segment, on acquiring the best and most up to date drilling technology. In 2011, Quarry reported on Xcel Drilling and Blasting’s acquisition of the first of the then new Sandvik DP1100i drill rigs.1 At the time Hughes said that eight years of experience with the Pantera DP1100 crawler rigs had convinced him that the DP1100i rigs were the most powerful and reliable hydraulic top hammer drills for quarrying.

“They’ve proved themselves to be very reliable rigs, hardly missing a beat except for routine maintenance, and providing the level of accuracy we need to ensure uniform blasting patterns,” Hughes said at the time. “They are also very fuel efficient, which means we can drill for a whole day without refuelling.”

At that time, Xcel Drilling and Blasting had conducted two years of exploration drilling and commenced production work at metropolitan quarries in Perth. Each of its rigs was comfortably achieving 300m per day with TS1 drill strings with 102mm bits.

Fast forward to 2018 and another metropolitan quarry has been a testing ground for the latest acquisition to Xcel’s fleet of 12 which today comprises 11 Sandvik DP1100i rigs. The difference is that the new rig belongs to a competitor – the Epiroc (formerly Atlas Copco) SmartROC T45.

It could therefore be described as a yellow “ugly duckling” compared to the rest of the Xcel fleet’s splash of red and white rigs. However, from Hughes’ feedback, and also information from Tom Ross, the SED business line manager for Epiroc, based in Perth, Xcel’s SmartROC T45 has clearly demonstrated to date that it has all the elegance, intelligence and economy of a “swan”.

Smart rig

{{image3-a:r-w:250}}The SmartROC T45 is one of the most advanced machines in Epiroc’s inventory of rigs. Unlike some of Epiroc’s manually operated rigs, like the PowerROC T452, the SmartROC T45 features an automatic feed alignment that enables the operator to maintain the desired angle when drilling; this is fundamental to optimal blasting results.

The automatic rod adding system also ensures that the rods are inserted to the desired depth. The SmartROC T45 drills to the exact desired drilling depth under the operator’s supervision before he/she shifts to employing the rods. Both the feed alignment and the rod adding system ensure that the operator achieves consistent results and superior penetration rates.

The SmartROC T45 is available as one of four variants:

  • The T45-10, which has a heavier duty boom and a 30kW rock drill for quarries that drill larger diameters up to 140mm. The rig is equipped with a 6.1m starter rod or guide tubes and 3.6m rods in the carousel.

  • The T45-10 LM (long mast), which has all the features of the SmartROC T45-10 but uses a 7.3m starter rod and 6.1m rods in the carousel. “This can increase single pass drilling and also remove a rod change if drilling a 10m bench,” Ross said.

  • The T45-11, which Ross said is a “great choice for those quarries which have difficult areas to work in. The rig’s boom reach is very large indeed”.

  • The SmartROC C50, which is identical to the SmartROC T45-10 but uses Epiroc’s patented COPROD drilling system, combining the best of down the hole (DTH) and TH drilling technology.

“COPROD will drill extremely straight holes faster, even in the most challenging conditions,” Ross explained. “By having the impact energy and rotation separated, this allows us to use the full 30kW power from the rock drill.”

Ross added that the T45’s automated systems – incorporating the Hole Navigation System (HNS), Measure While Drilling (MWD), ROC Manager, and rig remote access (RRA) – are designed to increase the productivity of the rig and lower costs for the quarry owner or contractor.

“HNS allows the operator to load a drill pattern and have the rig automatically collar a hole with approximately 50mm accuracy using GPS positioning,” Ross elaborated. “By using HNS you reduce the mistakes that are commonly made during the set-up of the hole.

“Measure While Drilling (MWD) is a great tool to analyse the performance logs from the drill to check the rock for any voids or change in ground conditions which may alter the fragmentation quality of the blast.

“Just as important as drilling is actually analysing the drill holes using the rig systems and software,” Ross added. “Analysing your drilling enables you to improve for future blasts, increase production and reduce costs. ROC Manager, a free software program supplied by Epiroc, can be used to analyse the log files from the drill rig. This not only means that you monitor completed drilling but will assist in decision-making for future blasts.

“All the SmartROC rigs are ready for the level of automation that you want,” Ross said. “So if it’s just automated hole collaring, you enable HNS. If you want more sophisticated data, you just plug and play the next feature.”

Ross said the SmartROC T45 class rig had generated a “dramatic reduction in fuel burn both per hour and also in fuel per metre drilled – in most cases, by between 30 and 50 per cent. We have cut fuel burn by half but increased productivity. Typically, a SmartROC T45-11 in a quarry application will use approximately 15 to 18 litres of fuel per hour.”

Rock on ground service

{{image4-a:r-w:300}}In addition to providing its drill fleet for hire, Xcel Drilling and Blasting also offers quarries and mines the option of a full rock on ground service – from developing full blast designs and plans through to drilling the holes and shotfiring.

“At the moment the quarries do their own blasting so we just do the drilling for them,” Hughes said. “However, we can supply a fully affordable drill and blast package to quarries. This is our major point of difference to the likes of Orica and Maxam, whose expertise is in the blasting.”

Xcel employs the Surpac program, which Hughes said “is probably one of the best ones out there”, to develop the blast design, in consultation with a mine customer.

“They will tell you what they want, depending on the size of the ore body and waste, and all together, and you design a shot to suit, so you’re not diluting the ore and the waste,” Hughes explained.

{{image5-a:r-w:250}}“We design it, then they have to sign off on it. So you might go back and forth a couple of times but you know what the opening is. The optimal result is the less dilution for the ore and the waste, the better for everybody.”

When he works with quarries, Hughes said the focus changes from diluting the ore from the waste in the blast plan for mines to factoring in fragmentation, vibrations monitoring and dust control in the blast plan for quarries.

“You still have to get your fragmentation right to suit the crusher,” he said. “But we’re finding that the emphasis in the quarries is changing. It’s not just about the fragmentation, a lot of the blast planning is about how to reduce the vibration and the amount of dust generated because most of the quarries are now in close proximity to residentials. You have to monitor your blasting and you have to make sure you get it right in the planning.”

‘Smooth sailing’

Having been a long-time proponent of Sandvik drill rigs, it might seem unusual that Russell Hughes has now embraced the SmartROC T45 for Xcel Drilling and Blasting’s inventory. Not so, he insisted.

“The main reason was my client asked for GPS capabilities and I looked at both Sandvik and Atlas Copco in that regard,” Hughes explained. “I think Atlas is more advanced in that area.”

That client is Boral’s Orange Grove quarry, south of Perth, the testing ground for Xcel’s SmartROC T45-10. According to Hughes, Boral sought a rig that was less labour-intensive and which didn’t require the shots to be marked “out on the ground. It’s all done on the stick and you upload the data to the computer. So you have a cost saving there plus it’s more accurate. It’s going to drill where it’s supposed to”.

{{image6-a:r-w:250}}At Orange Grove, the T45-10 has been working on granite and dolerite deposits using 89mm, 102mm and 115mm drill bits. As of December 2017 (with a service every 250 hours), the T45-10 has allotted 842 engine hours – all “smooth sailing so far”, Hughes added – and it had been “very good on consumables”.

Hughes described the rig’s penetration rate as good. “Obviously the drill bits remain the same no matter what rig they’re on,” he remarked, “but we’re getting more life over their revs and shanks.”

Hughes also reiterated Ross’s remarks about the T45’s fuel efficiency. He described the fuel savings as better than his other drills. “It’s averaging 17.6 litres per hour,” he said. That’s within the 18 litres Ross has suggested, whereas Hughes estimated his other rigs have been expending closer to 30 litres per hour.

In all, Hughes has no qualms in recommending the T45 to quarry operators or drill and blast contractors on the lookout for a new drill rig. “It’s only early days for us but at the moment our production is up and there have been no breakdowns with it,” he said. “I can log in and see what the machine is doing from day by day, or see how production is going with it, with the fuel economy, etc.”

He was also adamant that when it comes to purchasing another machine for his fleet, he would consider buying another Atlas Copco drill rig in the future – but he wouldn’t rule out going back to Sandvik, with whom he still enjoys a solid relationship. “It will obviously depend on our workload and whether we need to replace some of our machines as they age,” he said diplomatically. “However, I’d give both Sandvik and Atlas a go.”

Further training

Xcel Drilling and Blasting’s SmartROC T45-10 is, in Tom Ross’s estimation, one of 300 Epiroc/Atlas Copco smart rigs currently operating throughout Australia for producers in quarrying, construction and mining.

Ross said that the SmartROC T45 is a “good generalist rig” that is very effective on a “total cost per metre basis”. It can work on all rock types and, he said, if operators make the most of the “smart” features, “then you’ll get better fragmentation and both inexperienced and long-term drillers can use the rig.

“The skill level of the driller can be lower,” he added, “as the SmartROC rig takes care of a lot of repetitive functions. To drill with a PowerROC you must have much more drilling experience. We have the PowerROC and FlexiROC options for those operators who may not have the capital available for a SmartROC.”

Ross said that Epiroc can also provide complete training and operator familiarisation for its customers. “This can be classroom-based at one of our service centres or at the customer’s site. A product specialist will come with each rig delivery to ensure the site is confident in the rig’s operation and maintenance. Further training can be tailored to the customer’s requirements.

“Training is an important component,” Ross added. “Trained people perform.”

Name change, restructure is rock steady

{{image7-a:r-w:250}}In January 2017, the board of multinational Atlas Copco Group announced it would establish a new, second entity for its mining, rock excavation and construction tools divisions. This side of the business was worth 3 billion Euro ($AUD4.2 billion) in the financial year ended 30 September, 2016, and comprised 12,000 employees worldwide.

The demerger is expected to be ratified by shareholders at the Atlas Copco Group’s AGM in April this year.

The name of the new company – Epiroc – was announced in May 2017 and Atlas Copco Group’s mining, rock excavation and construction tools divisions in Australia started trading under the name in November.

The name “Epiroc” was selected from a list of 1000 potential titles. “Epi” is a prefix meaning “on” or “at”, while “roc” signals durability and stability. Rock is, of course, one of the most important materials that the company works with.

“With Epiroc we have found a short, distinct and timeless name that is spot on for the mining and civil engineering business,” Annika Berglund, Atlas Copco’s senior vice president for corporate communications and governmental affairs, said in a press release.

The name change has had little impact on the operations of Atlas Copco Australia’s mining, rock excavation and construction tools divisions. It is business as usual although the new company name will result in a wholesale rebrand of Epiroc’s products. The construction tools have already been rebranded to Epiroc with the other mining and quarrying products in the process of undergoing rebranding.

References & Further Reading

1. Contractor opts for new drilling technology. Quarry 19(8):29; August 2011.

2. “Simple” rig keeps it in the family. Quarry 25(4):32-35; April 2017.

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