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Automated drilling : It just got BETTER

Having successfully deployed hundreds of automated Pit Viper blast hole drilling rigs into the mining sector over almost a decade, , writes LAURA CORNISH.

Even though the sub Saharan African mining industry has been relatively slow in embracing technology and automated blast hole drilling techniques, those that are successfully deploying technology have benefited from improved productivity and high level performance from their drilling fleets. “This has an enormous and positive impact on the entire mining process,” points out Heino Hammann, regional business line manager for Atlas Copco Drilling Solutions, South Africa. “The results are better planning and higher quality blasts, resulting in upstream and downstream value.”

Prior to the launch of AutoDrill 2, Atlas Copco Drilling Solutions’ automated system technologies encompassed optional HPGPS capabilities (pre-planned holes location to improve hole accuracy and reduce setup time), AutoLevel (reduce setup time level at each hole with a touch of a button) and AutoDrill 1 (auto drilling capability to complete the hole with a touch of a button). These are all retrofit-able to Atlas Copco’s in-house developed Rig Control System (RCS). The results from the machines can also be best monitored through Surface Manager. Surface Manager is designed to display important Pitviper (an Atlas Copco flagship drill) data in an easy to use layout. Through active data management, flexible reporting, and customized features, Surface Manager provides you with a means to actively manage your fleet.

“The combination of these functionalities not only delivers a more accurate drilling performance, but also improves the quality and speed by reducing the intense manual labour duties for that operator. Improving the quality of life for operators has become essential on mine sites today and with this technology operators can deliver a better service.

Introducing AutoDrill 2

The patent-pending Auto Drill 2 drill system, officially launched only two months ago, has been delivered to the global market following the success to date of its predecessor AutoDrill 1. The data gained, along with generational changes in software and hardware, provided the basis for a ground-up redesign of the system with two main objectives in mind: to improve drilling performance further while providing a simple and intuitive setup process.

The setup and use of AutoDrill 2 does not require high levels of knowledge or experience; the control system does all the work for the user. “In simple terms, AutoDrill 2 can be seen and compared to adaptive cruise control of the drilling world to employ benefits of artificial intelligence. True AutoDrill capitalizes on variables – matches the power of the Pit Viper, the capability of the bit and the intelligence of listening to the ground through proprietary algorithms.

It was developed in conjunction with the Atlas Copco’s Rock Drilling Tools division to ensure it complemented the rigs’ and consumables’ physical capabilities. “Working across departments, and not in silos, allows us to develop the best solutions.”

This delivers further cost benefits for the mine which include increased bit life and optimal penetration rates,” Hammann reveals.

“With AutoDrill 2 our Pit Vipers function 22% faster than a manual human-operated rig, the technology offers better efficiency, repeatability, consistency and improved drill hole quality, stability and accuracy – hole after hole, shift after shift. It further promotes excellent blast fragmentation, thereby improves ‘load-ability and crush-ability’ which contributes to a huge saving. “Ultimately, it enhances the entire production stream, allowing the plant to operate at maximum capacity.”

For clients who already have the first generation AutoDrill technology in use, Hammann notes it is easy and hasslefree to upgrade to AutoDrill 2. “And as always, we will continue to train the operators and technical training staff to ensure they can operate and support the machines and technology on site.

The AutoDrill 2 system can be fitted to any single pass Pit Viper with RCS 4 and will soon be available for multi pass and down-the-hole applications.

Moving forward, Hammann’s focus is to ensure the local industry understands and values the benefits of using its automated drilling The RCS cab is designed for maximum operator comfort The drill hole quality is excellent when using AutoDrill 2 technology offering. “We guarantee to deliver on our principal goal – to offer a sustainable solution making mining operations simpler and more cost effective to run. It is simple – the mines that embrace and implement technology today will be the mines that are around tomorrow.”