Enaex continues to innovate for mining’s bright future

During the EXPONOR 2024 event in Antofagasta, IM Editorial Director Paul Moore met with Enaex Key Account Manager Sebastian Catron to discuss its latest innovations and offerings to the mining sector. Catron began: “After we win the bidding process to supply explosives and blasting services to a mining customer, whether that is a renewal of an existing contract or a new contract, as part of that commercial relationship, we have KPIs that we must ensure that we meet and hopefully exceed. And one of the best ways of doing that is to introduce new products, technologies and innovations. Our clients’ priorities are topped by productivity, safety and cost reduction – reducing the cost per tonne.”

IM Editorial Director Paul Moore with Sebastian Catron, Enaex Key Account Manager at EXPONOR 2024

Looking at products, two of the Chile-based explosives giant’s latest innovations are in emulsions. “The first one is related to wall control and slope stability – that is being able to more precisely create steeper walls as well as limiting wall damage. This is not a new problem but one that the mining industry is now looking at it with a new perspective particularly as benches in some cases are getting higher and steeper to reduce costs as grades get lower.” Catron said they have developed a lower energy and lower density product called Densiex® that they are testing right now at client sites. “It is an emulsion that stands out for its reduced vibration and VoD, hence it reduces the effect induced by the blast, compared to traditional emulsions. We have already seen a lot of good results and are just adjusting and fine tuning the calibration of the MMUs. It’s a really promising product.”

At the other end of the emulsion scale with high energy products, Enaex is looking the make a positive impact in mine to mill projects, and at expanding the blasting pattern – customers want products that allow to obtain lower powder factors – using less explosives to obtain the same blasted tonnes and maintaining or even improving fragmentation results.

It already has its standard bulk emulsion products Vertex® and Pirex® – Pirex® is a blasting agent that increases safety in mines with more reactive rock with a high pyrite content. Vertex is a versatile blasting agent, specially designed to optimise energy and expand grids. Its new higher energy products are Vertex® S and Pirex® S.

Catron: “Both products are enhanced using proprietary additives including physical sensitisers allowing them to offer high energy and improved power. We are currently penetrating the market with these higher energy products with our larger clients and in the coming years we expect a greater shift away from standard products and towards more engineered products as the focus on cost reduction becomes even greater with lower grades in the copper mining industry. These products bring better fragmentation results; plus a lower overall cost due to a lower powder factor. Plus you are able to expand drilling patterns which comes with savings in the drilling process.”

Innovation also extends to the MMUs themselves. “We are already known for supplying some of the largest MMUs in the industry, our Milodon units which can load 30 tons of explosives, and we continue to work on those in terms of increasing volume and capacity even further. All the Milodon engineering is proprietary to Enaex. And actually, there are a lot of technologies involved in blasting execution that we are able to provide to clients thanks to our MMUs.” A good example is its overhead arm so the truck doesn’t have to relocate every time that it loads a hole.

Enaex RoboPrimer® for robotic and autonomous priming, improving the safety and productivity of the overall process

Work also continues on projects to automate the MMUs and related equipment and also to power them with diesel alternatives. The autonomy work is being done by the Enaex Robotics division. “We are working on three new products – first a semi-autonomous surface Milodon MMU which is already working at an operation near Santiago– it is still trammed manually to the working area but then switches into remote control mode to load the holes with the operator sitting at a control station elsewhere. The semi-autonomous MMU has given us a lot of information and feedback about autonomous operations, that we are pouring into the design and software updates of our fully autonomous MMU: Mine-iTruck®. Then there is RoboPrimer®, our solution for robotic and autonomous priming, which improves the safety and productivity of the overall process. RoboPrimer® has been extensively tested at our testing grounds near Santiago but is not yet being used commercially at client sites. Thirdly we have our UG-iTruck® for underground autonomous loading – this is already running at an underground operation in the north of the country.”

There is also innovation in electronic initiation systems – where there are two new solutions. First is the latest version of its established DaveyTronic programmable electronic detonators called DaveyTronic 5®. “It has a new ASIC meaning increased memory for enhanced data capabilities. It stores blast ID, length, traceability and GPS coordinates. The log files for executed functions ensures better control. Extended delay time provides flexibility for advanced blast designs and optimisation of operations. Enhanced electric protection safeguards against EMP and ESD. Plus a new connector has better mechanical strength and extreme cold resistance.”

Then there is DaveyTronic Edge, where Enaex removed the surface wires, meaning a significant reduction of the operations on the bench (connecting, troubleshooting), while keeping two-way communication. “Bi-directional radio modules are placed on the surface of the open-pit mine. The wireless network communicates with a digital blasting system located a few meters away from the blasting zone and is controlled by a wireless communication protocol specifically developed and optimised to ensure safe, reliable and synchronised operation of hundreds of detonating elements. This is paving the way to teleoperated/ automated priming operations. This has completed testing and is now in a market scaling phase – productivity rates have increased a lot due to the much faster programming and checking of the detonators. For a pattern of 200+ holes this now takes 20 minutes or less – it used to take hours.”

With DaveyTronic Edge, Enaex removed the surface wires, meaning a significant reduction of the operations on the bench while keeping two-way communication

The last area Catron touched on was greater digitalisation of blasting. “We set out to develop a new digital ecosystem to bring increased availability of data and information for closer blasting control. Customers also want better understanding of the next bench in terms of the rock quality and structure. To meet these expectations we developed a solution called Enaex Bright.”

Enaex Bright is a digital platform designed for blasting optimisation and digital integration with mining clients, for the final purpose of enhancing productivity by reducing the variability of the processes. This platform provides the opportunity to learn about the operational process through artificial intelligence tools for the purpose of propose operational optimisations. Moreover, it generates digital information to facilitate integration with clients’ systems and enables traceability of the complete process from design to the blasting result. This makes it much easier to manage KPIs.

Enaex Bright has four main modules – Bright Scan, quality assessment module to control drilling, loading, and blasting execution; Bright Blast to optimise fragmentation and digging results including getting information direct from the blasthole drills as they drill holes using scanners to analyse the rock and predict rock hardness even days or weeks before the pattern is actually blasted and adjust the explosives energy profile for holes based on that. Finally, Bright Fleet to ensure on-time operations and deliveries; and Bright Care to take care of nearby communities and infrastructures.

Chile is also set to host International Mining Events‘ Electric Mine 2025 conference, being held May 13-15 at Centro Parque in Las Condes, Santiago.