HomeHealth and safetyBreaking boundaries in rock-drill innovation

Breaking boundaries in rock-drill innovation

In a bid to bring South Africa back to its roots by reinvigorating its research and development capability and rethinking the decades-old mining drill technology still in use today, the isidingoDRILL Design Challenge was launched in August 2018.

It was launched as a means to encourage the rapid design and prototyping of a new and innovative rock-drill concepts to be used in South Africa’s gold and platinum deep-level mines, with the aim of launching a prototype as early as possible in 2019, CHANTELLE KOTZE writes.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 2, 2019

The isidingoDRILL Design Challenge is an open-innovation challenge driven by mining research and development hub, the Mandela Mining Precinct, in collaboration with the Research Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (RIIS) – a boutique innovation consulting firm focused on solving intractable business and social problems.

The challenge was borne from the need for South Africa to maintain a competitive advantage when mining its typically deep-level and narrow ore bodies by developing new underground rock drills to do this.

Improving safety and health through innovation

According to Mandela Mining Precinct co-director Alastair Macfarlane, the key aim of this challenge is to improve the efficiency, health and safety with which drilling occurs in the overall mining cycle.

In addition, faster and more precise drilling may contribute towards lower fall of ground incidents, thus contributing to a safer mining environment, and less dilution, thereby lowering unit costs.

Current drilling technology is not energy efficient, as well as being heavy, noisy and prone to extreme vibration which results in fatigue, noise induced hearing loss and white knuckle syndrome.

In addition, the conventional configuration means that operators are exposed to the most dangerous conditions of the mine, including fall of ground, seismicity, and gas blows.

In an attempt to improve the operational cost, as well as the health and safety of rock drill operators, parties interested in taking part in the challenge were asked to submit a concept design based on four key criteria, namely:

  • The weight of the drill must be less than 16 kg, as opposed to the current drill weight of between 28 and 32 kg;
  • The drill must use an alternate power source to compressed air;
  • The drill design must incorporate parallelism; and
  • The drill must be able to be set-up and taken down within 10 – 15 minutes.

Six secondary criteria to be considered with the design of the drill is that it must produce more thrust than current drills, must be designed to operate quietly to be able to render noise levels that are less than 95 dB, must reduce vibrations for the operator, must improve on current drilling speeds or penetration rates, must be easily operable by a rock drill operator, and must be human-centred in its design.

Challenge specifics

“The three-phase challenge was designed to be as open as possible, with as few constraints as possible, to invite as wide a range of ideas as possible.

It has also been designed in such a way as to drive designers to innovate and design rapidly, with the ultimate aim to not only introduce a new rock-drill design to South Africa, and global deep-level mining, but to open opportunities to enter the mining supply-chain network through an innovative process,” says RIIS executive Clen Cook.

Phase 1 of the challenge, which ran for 30 days from 20 August 2018 to 18 September 2018, received 11 concept designs which were evaluated by a panel of subject-matter experts in the field, and three finalists were chosen to move through to the second phase – the proof-of-concept development.

The second phase of the challenge is being setup to run in early 2019, requiring the three finalists to develop a proof-of-concept to determine the technical and feasibility of the proposed solution.

The proof of concept has to be hardware based and demonstrate validated support for the successful achievement of the challenge specifications.

Finalists were given the opportunity to partner with an existing equipment manufacturer from the Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa (MEMSA) cluster to take the concept

The third and final phase will run later in 2019, and will require the three finalists to develop a prototype over 90 days, and will require the finalists to build a fully operational prototype which can be tested against real world environmental conditions.

This stage is aimed at final validation of any updated or adapted technologies developed through the proof-of-concept phase.

Finalists chosen

A total of 11 proposals for a concept design for a new rock-drill were submitted and included concept designs from Bertie Meyer, Conax Machine Solutions and Pro-Hydraulics, Fermel, GST, Novatek, Karl Grimsehl, H I Mining, Isithelo Mining Consultants and Services, HPE, Drill Rod Specialist, Shaw Equipment.

These were evaluated by a panel of judges with various expertise and skills sets in the area, who chose the strongest submissions.

The three winning entries were submitted by equipment manufacturers Fermel, HPE and Novatek.

Speaking at the finalist selection event held at the Mandela Mining Precinct in Melville Johannesburg, CSIR Manager for Mineral Resources, Navin Singh, who is also the co-director of the Mandela Mining Precinct, said that the isidingoDRILL Design Challenge is fully aligned to the South African Mining Extraction, Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) programmes looking at sustainability and longevity of current mines and added that this challenge was the first of its kind in developing South African solutions to a South African problem.

Next steps

Mcfarlane says that the Mandela Mining Precinct and its project partner RIIS will assist in the development of the grant funding documentation, which finalists will submit to public funding agency, the Technology Innovation Agency, which serves as the key institutional intervention to bridge the innovation chasm between research and development.

Moreover, the Mandela Mining Precinct is currently underway with fairly advanced discussions and studies to establish an industry test mine, which it plans to use to test the prototype drill rig.

Chantelle Kotze
Chantelle Kotze is a Johannesburg-based media professional. She is a contributor at Mining Review Africa (Clarion Events - Africa) and has created content for the media brand over the past 6 years.