Drill rig data capture drives rock on ground innovation

The Red Bull Powder Company is a 20-year old Auckland-based company renowned for its market-leading innovation. It was one of the first fully integrated manufacturing, drilling and blasting services companies in New Zealand.

Today, the company holds the lion’s share of the quarrying and construction market in New Zealand as well as significant mining contracts. It services about 120 quarry clients and has completed more than 25 construction and infrastructure projects across the North Island.

The company invests in its own drill rigs and manufacturing plants, and is therefore uniquely placed to create value for its drill and blast clients.

For Red Bull, safety is the biggest driver. The company’s appetite for embracing and trialling new technology to make operations safer for its teams and clients – and lessen environmental impacts – saw it become one of the first in the world to use programmable digital detonators to control blast vibration in surface mining.

The same passion for safety and innovation has shaped Red Bull’s 10-year partnership with Sandvik. It is the first New Zealand drilling and blasting service company to take full advantage of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and “measure while drilling” data capability that Sandvik’s newer drill rigs provide, and it is currently the only one using GPS technology for quarrying blasting services.

Red Bull owns 12 Sandvik drill rigs, four of which have TIM3D GPS capability. The capability of its new drills to upload and export data – and how the operators, blasting engineers, and management team can use this data – has been hailed a game changer for the Red Bull team.


Safety first

Based on satellite systems, the TIM3D system can improve drilling accuracy, efficiency and productivity in quarrying, road construction and open pit mining applications. It consists of four essential operations: rig navigation, feed alignment, drilling and reporting.

The navigation system provides improved hole quality and hole position accuracy. It produces parallel holes and keeps hole spacing and bottom levels accurate, resulting in better fragmentation and less boulders and fines. This pinpoint accuracy means greater efficiency in the production process, both in crushing and in loading and hauling. The system also removes the need for surveying and hole marking, minimising the risk of errors, and significantly speeds up drilling.

According to Red Bull’s general manager Chris Pilmer, falling from heights is one of the biggest risks for anyone working in a quarry. Quarries manage this risk with berms (raised bench edges created by rubble piles) or other physical barriers such as a fence. However, due to bench design or geological constraints, these practices are not always possible or practical, especially when drilling smaller blast patterns. This is where the survey and GPS guidance on drilling is particularly useful as it completely removes the fall hazard associated with marking out a blast pattern manually.

Pilmer said being able to keep people away from the edge of the bench and blast face is one of the biggest safety advantages to the drill rig technology.

“When you can design blasts using survey data and software, then upload drill plans to the rig, and use GPS guidance, there is no need for manual mark-out of holes,” he said. “Standing close to the edge with a mark-out staff to get holes in the right position is an unacceptable risk, and one the new technology completely removes.”

As well as safety considerations, the savings in time, efficiency, and costs versus manual mark-outs is also significant. However, for Red Bull’s clients, the most tangible impact is the level of precision the Sandvik TIM3D technology has enabled.


Precision made perfect

Being able to plan and drill with precision is critical for Red Bull’s quarry and construction clients. The GPS capability of the drill rigs has greatly enhanced the operator’s ability to follow the complex drilling patterns and has significantly improved drilling accuracy.

In the two years since Red Bull purchased its first Sandvik drill rig with the TIM3D drill navigation system, operators have put the rig and the GPS system through its paces. According to technical manager Nick Bastow, the interface is very user-friendly, even for older operators who are not used to working with computers or software systems.

“The machine control system allows automatic hole set-up and mast positioning, increasing accuracy and reducing rework, and being able to send the drill plan directly to the operator electronically using GPS co-ordinates saves so much time,” Bastow said.

“The software is an excellent training tool for all operators. We use the data in the quality report from their drilling and compare it against the design. This can be reviewed with the operator to see where any improvements can be made.”

The most interesting aspect of the new technology for the Red Bull management team is that they have been able to reduce explosive loading where they use rigs with the TIM3D navigation system.

“The drilling accuracy, coupled with ability to adjust blast parameters according to penetration rate, percussion, flush air pressure and rotation pressure, means we can generate very precise load plans and have been able to make significant savings on explosives,” Bastow said.

“We are very excited about future technology developments from Sandvik. Learning how to understand and use this technology has been an innovative tool to promote our ability to deliver a more professional, technically complex set of services than our competitors, greatly enhancing the profile of our business.”

{{image5-a:r-w:250}}This is corroborated by the client Dougal Francis, the construction zone manager for roading construction company Fulton Hogan, which required a blasting services partner for the current Huntly Bypass project, a 15.4km realignment of the Waikato Expressway. This project will eventually shift 3.6 million cubic metres (or 1.2 million tonnes) of soil and rock and connect Auckland with the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

Red Bull won the tender as, according to Francis, it was “the only company prepared to provide assurance that they could meet the very tight specifications and protect the rock batters in this sensitive environment”.

“It was critical to ensure we could achieve the right tolerance to prevent failure of the rock batters, and avoid not breaking far enough and needing to trim it down,” Francis said. “We also needed to make sure the blast vibration was monitored throughout to avoid impacts to the surrounding residents.

“The Sandvik TIM3D precision drilling technology and Red Bull’s technical expertise gave us the confidence that they could work within these tight parameters. From a quality perspective, knowing that you’re not going to have your mark-out changed by weather or have it driven over is reassuring. You also don’t need surveying set out to the same degree. It is good to have those added checks and balances.”

What is TIM3D?

Sandvik TIM3D is a drill rig navigation system that provides drill rigs with 3D machine automation. It uses satellite navigation to guide the starting point and the correct course of drilling in accordance with the drilling plan.

TIM3D consists of three essential operations: rig navigation, feed alignment, and drilling. It is available for all Sandvik DPi and DX series surface top hammer drill rigs.

The TIM3D navigation system is designed to improve hole quality and hole position accuracy. This potentially translates into better fragmentation and decreased amount of boulders and fines, resulting in increased efficiency later in the production process, both in load and haul and crushing. The system also removes the need for surveying and for mark-outs, therefore reducing the risk of marking errors and significantly speeding up the drilling process.

Based on real time kinematic global multi-satellite (RTK GNSS) navigation, TIM3D is compatible with GPS and the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). The navigation uses drilling plans made either with standard office programs or with the system itself. The plan is imported to the rig with a USB memory in the International Rock Excavation Data Exchange Standard (IREDES) format, containing the target co-ordinates in three dimensions. A local base station, or a virtual reference station (VRS) correction, keeps navigation accuracy within 10cm.

Thanks to a modern and clear user interface, the TIM3D system is designed to make the drilling process easier for the operator. It compares the position of the drill bit with the planned hole position and guides the operator to the correct starting point of the chosen hole. During drilling, the operator can follow the penetration rate and hole depth, distance to target, number of required rods and current feed alignment. At the target depth, drilling stops automatically. In addition, the system shows the status of the holes with colour codes.

The operator can deviate from the drill plan if needed, eg due to an impracticable planned starting point. Despite the modification, the hole bottom remains as planned; the TIM3D system automatically calculates a new course based on the actual starting point of the hole.

The drilling data – the actual parameters – are stored in the system memory and it can be exported to various programs, such as blasting simulation. The data includes a quality report, position and depth of the drilled holes, drilling time, and start and end points.


Source: Sandvik

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