Epiroc autonomous drill gets working on BHP’s South Flank iron ore project

The first autonomous Epiroc Pit Viper 271 drill rig has broken ground at BHP’s South Flank iron ore project in Western Australia, the mining major confirmed.

This is the first of five autonomous drill rigs to operate at the mine, all of which will be controlled remotely from the BHP Integrated Remote Operations Centre in Perth.

BHP, which officially broke ground on the $3.6 billion project in July, is targeting first ore extraction in 2021 and expects to ramp up to 80 Mt/y of output. South Flank will replace production from the existing Yandi mine, which is reaching the end of its economic life. The company carried out the first blast at the project in September.

Epiroc says the Pit Viper 271 is the most productive drill available for rotary tricone and downhole drilling of 171 mm to 270 mm holes with up to 18 m cleanhole single pass capability.

It features a patented cable feed system with automatic tensioning for improved component life and low total cost of operation, with the standard Rig Control System (RCS) providing on board automation capability as part of the standard drill package to help deliver safety and productivity.

“With RCS you can run automation with an operator on board with options like auto drill and auto level, or you can run with the operator off the drill with the optional BenchREMOTE package, allowing one operator to run one or multiple units,” the company says.

“With the RCS system on Pit Vipers you can even achieve your ambition of fully-autonomous drilling with almost no human interaction with the drill.”