Mine operators can significantly improve productivity and drill thousands of holes more a year by implementing automated systems that drastically reduce the time to drill a hole and move on to the next one. They’re the findings of a report on the effectiveness in the field of two of FLANDERS Australia’s mainstay products, One Touch and Full Autonomous. The One Touch and Full Autonomous systems are part of the company’s flagship ARDVARC automated drill control systems that has been used around the world for more than 15 years.

Using One Touch, mine operators can convert a manually operated drilling cycle to a totally automated drilling cycle with ‘one-touch’ of a button by monitoring the drill signals to ensure the equipment is operating at a safe maximum potential. The Full Autonomous option provides complete automation for a drill rig, as it removes the operator from the machine. Its ease of use means that one operator can manage up to five drills and is a much safer option for operators especially if drilling on unstable or dangerous conditions.

The report looked at the effects on productivity when One Touch and Full Autonomous were used with drill machines at two different hard rock metal mine sites. It studied the effects of using One Touch and Full Autonomous in terms of between hole times, that is, the total time to drill a blast hole and then move on to the next. The report found that using the automated systems saved significant amounts of time at both mines sites compared to when the drills were manually operated.

Mine Site 1 used a fleet of eight Atlas Copco Pit Viper 271 machines and one Bucyrus Erie 49RII. Overall, the Pit Viper 271 machines had a 15% increase in true productivity while using the automation system in a One Touch configuration. The automation configuration led to a reduction in the time it takes to drill a hole and move to another of three minutes and 57 seconds per hole. The report calculated that, over the course of a year, this decrease in time between holes equated to 2,267 additional holes being drilled. With regard to the Bucyrus Erie 49RII machine, the results were even more impressive. The automated system reduced the drill time by seven minutes and 59 seconds per blast hole, which led to a 20.84% increase in productivity — which would lead to an extra 3,620 holes a year being drilled.

The results of testing using the One Touch and Full Autonomous automation systems at Mine Site 2 — using four Atlas Copco Pit Viper 271 machines — were just as striking. It found that, on average, the automation system saved four minutes 45 seconds for each hole, which would equate to potentially drilling 4,126 extra holes per year. This is equivalent to an increase in productivity of 17.5%.

“The main benefit is that by embracing technology and using the new technology is that you’re able to decrease the time between holes and increase the time spent drilling throughout the day so you’re using the drills more productively and gaining the benefits,” says Joshua Goodwin, Product Development Manager at FLANDERS Asia Pacific. Because you’re able to drill more holes, those benefits can be as simple as using fewer drill rigs on the site — thus saving the cost of buying or maintaining extra rigs — or freeing up potential bottlenecks in the mining process.

A safer way to drill

Apart from the increases in productivity and increasing the number of holes that can be drilled by using One Touch and Full Autonomous, the report pointed out another important benefit: safety. “By implementing the additional technology to your drill, you’re increasing machine and personnel safety and reducing the likelihood of human injury,” says Goodwin. “The technology will protect the machine server by introducing additional interlocks and protection, and also reduces human interaction involving repetitive tasks and reducing the likelihood of human injury by simplifying the process.”

For instance, the report found the One Touch system can enhance the safety of drilling and blasting operations in the following ways:

  • Pipe in hole protection: ARDVARC drills have had zero instances of a drill steel being bent due to machine propel with pipe in hole
  • Machine parameter drilling: ARDVARC drills within a machine’s limits, ensuring no equipment or personnel damage occurs due to equipment misuse
  • Complete protection against inadvertent operation of auxiliary systems. ARDVARC will not allow operators to move auxiliary tools, such as rod supports, into the area of operation of the machine, and
  • Exposure to hand-related injuries caused by repetitive actions is eliminated by the use of auto drilling.

The Full Autonomous system can also enhance the safety of drilling and blasting operations in the following ways:

  • All personnel are removed from the area of operation, which significantly reduces the potential for any kind of work-related injury
  • Exposure to dust is virtually eliminated, thereby reducing the potential for silicosis of the lung
  • Exposure to vibration and repetitive motion injuries is eliminated, and
  • Exposure to slips, trips and falls from the drill or the drill operational area is eliminated.

FLANDERS says its ARDVARC autonomous control system can fully automate current drills and enable a single person to manage several machines remotely. It can be fitted to existing drills and has been used to successfully to drill millions of blast holes worldwide.