Ernest Henry Mine on the way to safer drill and blasting with Orica WebGen™

Glencore’s Ernest Henry Mining (EHM) is one of the first mines in the world to trial Orica’s Wireless Electronic Blasting as part of its move to improve safety and production by using innovative drill and blasting processes. Over the past three years, EHM production engineers have been investigating opportunities to optimise drill and blast practices by trialling Orica’s Wireless Electronic Blasting System, WebGen™.

Wireless blasting is a relatively new innovation in the mining industry, in which encrypted firing signals are sent directly to an in-hole receiver attached to each individual detonator. This completely removes the need for physical leads. This technology delivers significant improvements in both safety and operational performance.

Previously, mine personnel would have to manually connect detonator leads underground but, as Orica Blasting Technician Luke Carlon says, the unique feature of WebGen™ technology is that the lack of detonator leads ensures reduced personnel exposure to the brow. “By removing the leads, you’re removing the main failure mechanism of an electronic detonator,” says Carlon. “This significantly improves underground safety, as it removes the need for a person to enter an area before and after it has been fired.”

Following the first trial of WebGen™ in 2017, the EHM team recognised that their existing design philosophies were not fully capitalising on the benefits of wireless detonator technology. Glencore and Orica engineers began investigating how to use the wireless initiation system to deliver extensive operational benefits to the mine. Glencore’s Lead Resource Engineer, Michael Hawtin, oversaw the trial at EHM, recognising that mining is adapting to changing dimensions and orebodies, and processes need to change with it. “Continuous improvement is very important for us, particularly with a focus on safety but also for efficiency and production improvements,” says Hawtin.

“In March 2020, a design was proposed utilising the WebGen™ technology, which has since significantly improved blasting performance. In fact, WebGen™-enabled designs have demonstrated recovery of approximately 95% of available tonnes, whereas previous shots were recovering roughly 80%.”

Orica’s WebGen™ technology has also allowed EHM to create independent drives and eliminate slot drives. This reduces lateral development in the main ore body, meaning less money is spent on building this infrastructure, which can instead be invested into other parts of the operation.

Hawtin says that eliminating the lateral development areas also reduces requirements for ground support and complex equipment interactions. “This minimises the wear and tear of mobile equipment and allows them to extract quicker tonnes due to the reduced path length. The implementation of WebGen™ has also created simpler ventilation requirements and means that operators are not exposed to potentially unsafe underground areas during blasting.”

While the immediate operational and safety benefits are clear, WebGen™ has also contributed to de-risking additional ore by improving the blasting performance. This provides EHM with an excellent opportunity to identify, execute and discover more opportunities in the future, in order to continuously improve and add value across its operations.