Tag Archives: autonomous drilling

Zyfra presents new ZR RoboDrill autonomous drill rig solution at MINExpo 2021

At MINExpo 2021 in Las Vegas, Zyfra, a Finnish-Russian group of companies specialising in AI and IIoT based solutions for mining and other heavy industries, has presented its new ZR RoboDrill autonomous drill rig solution.

The ZR RoboDrill can improve productivity and personnel safety as well as reduce drilling operation costs, according to Zyfra. The system is designed to autonomously operate one or more drill rigs. This could see execution of the drill plan remotely controlled by an operator who can manage up to four drills at the same time, tracking the status of each machine.

This solution can autonomously change the rig position within the drilling site using an optimised route, the company sats. While moving, it will scan the surrounding area for obstacles, equipment and personnel.

While drilling, the rig’s platform and mast level will be maintained within 0.3° in two planes. The autonomous drill is equipped with an automatic emergency stop system, which can guarantee the safety of personnel in the work zone, according to Zyfra. The operator in the control room can take over control of the drill rig at any time, using respective monitors and all information required for manual remote operation.

Unmanned technologies can keep operators out of zones deemed hazardous because of various mining, geological and technical factors, creating a safe and comfortable working environment as well as reducing the risks to occupational health.

Pavel Rastopshin, Managing Director at the Zyfra Group, says: “Digital transformation and its current stage, automation of mining processes, are key factors for improving efficiency and safety of mining as well as competitiveness of mining companies in the increasingly complex mining, geological, technical and climatic conditions. Zyfra’s mining division has been engaged in the digital transformation of mining businesses for over three decades and our autonomous drill rig solution is another milestone in the transition to unmanned mining operations in the world.”

The new ZR RoboDrill solution is OEM-agnostic and can be installed on most new or used drill rigs. It is compatible with diesel and electric-powered drills, the company says.

Sandvik enables fully autonomous drill fleet operation with AutoMine AutoCycle

Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions says it is enabling fully autonomous fleet operation of multiple Leopard™ DI650i drill rigs from a remote control room with the launch of AutoMine® Surface Drilling AutoCycle.

The AutoCycle capabilities expand the iDrill automated drilling cycle with autonomous hole-to-hole tramming, path planning, obstacle detection and geofencing.

“With the growing demand for surface drilling automation, we have developed together with key customers our new AutoCycle capabilities to enable fully autonomous fleet operation through the drilling cycle,” David Hallett, Vice President of Automation at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said. “These capabilities include hole-to-hole tramming without operator involvement for continuous autonomous drilling through the entire pattern. From a control room, an operator can oversee the autonomous operation of multiple surface drill rigs remotely, improving operational safety and increasing productivity and fleet utilisation.”

The Leopard DI650i iDrill automated drilling cycle covers all steps from boom positioning, drilling and pipe handling to finishing the hole, and ensures consistent high-quality drilled holes, according to Sandvik.

AutoMine Surface Drilling with geofencing functionality sets the drilling area where remote operation is allowed. The system prevents movement of the rig outside of the defined area. Autonomous hole-to-hole tramming enables automatic drill rig relocation according to the drill plan, with an operator assigning the hole sequence using a touchscreen interface.

The AutoMine obstacle detection system can automatically stop the rig and interlock tramming in case of detected obstacles in the stop-zone to avoid collision.

“The AutoMine Surface Drilling safety system is made according to international safety standards, providing functionality to operate the autonomous drilling system with peace of mind,” Sandvik said.

AutoMine Surface Drilling AutoCycle, together with iDrill intelligent sequences, increase efficiency and productivity through consistent and accurate performance as well as the operator’s safety and comfort.

AutoMine Surface Drilling offers scalable automation with three remote operation packages:

  • ‘Line-of-Sight’ package is optimised for quick setup when an operator remains close to the drilling area;
  • ‘Control Room’ package includes enhanced features for locating an operator away from the drilling area into a control room; and
  • ‘Autonomous’ package includes all capabilities to enable AutoCycle with a fully autonomous operation for a fleet of Leopard DI650i drill rigs.

Automation, electrification, alternative haulage weighed for GSR’s Wassa UG expansion

A preliminary economic assessment (PEA) on the potential expansion of Golden Star Resources’ Wassa gold mine in Ghana has flagged the potential for applying alternative underground haulage methods, and autonomous and battery-electric equipment at the operation.

The PEA provides an assessment of the development of the Southern Extension of Wassa and the increase in mining rates to fully use available process plant capacity. While the study itself represents a conservative plan that excludes exploration opportunities from the scope and adopts the current mining practices and equipment, the “opportunities” section of the technical report outlines some more innovative approaches to expanding mining rates and filling the plant capacity.

Wassa, which Golden Star owns 90% of, produced 168,000 oz of gold in 2020 using the sub-level longhole open stoping method.

The PEA is focused on the development of the large inferred mineral resource (just over 7 Moz) which comprises the Southern Extension zone. Around 50% of the total resource was included in the PEA inventory, which showed off a life of mine of 11 years, with total gold production of 3.5 Moz. Average annual gold production of 294,000 oz represented an approximate 75% increase on the current production rate.

The mine plan considers a production rate targeting the processing capacity, at or close to 2.7 Mt/y run-of-mine material, after a five-year ramp-up period. The plant has previously operated at these rates with feed from both Wassa and the Bogoso-Prestea operation (since sold).

Mining would be by underground trackless decline access (1:7 gradient), with access from duplicate access ramps and independent ventilation infrastructure on each side of the deposit to support the increased mining rate and provide efficient access across the mineralised footprint (circa-850 m along circa-300 m across strike). Truck haulage will utilise the dual access ramps.

The mining method proposed for the expansion is bottom-up long hole open stoping with 25 m level spacing and nominal stope sizes of 25 m length x 30 m width x 25-100 m height with cemented paste backfill. Stopes will be mined in a primary-secondary sequence down to around 1,000 m depth, transitioning to pillarless retreat below that point to account for increasing in-situ stress, which will need to be further investigated in future work.

The PEA assumes average recovery of 94.8%, which is supported by current plant performance and metallurgical test work on a small number of samples that suggest processing performance for the Southern Extension feed will be similar to material currently treated. This will be evaluated in the next phase of work.

Capital expenditure is expected to total around $790 million over the life of the PEA mine plan. Of this total, 29% is growth capital and 71% is sustaining capital. The PEA mining method relies on paste fill, with Golden Star confirming the paste fill plant was constructed in 2020 and commissioning is expected to be finalised this quarter. Capital has been allowed for an expansion of the paste fill system in the PEA mine plan.

Based on a $1,300/oz gold price, the expansion project is expected to generate a post-tax net present value (5% discount) of $452.2 million.

So far, so conventional…

The company said it planned to complete option and trade-off studies to optimise the project plan ahead of a feasibility study on the expansion, due in early 2023.

Just some of the innovations being considered in these trade-off studies include the use of automation, electrification and alternative haulage.

In terms of increasing machine productivity through technology, the study listed off the potential use of semi- or fully-autonomous vehicles to increase shift operating time and remove operators from hazardous areas. It said the highest likelihood applications were in production drilling and drawpoint loading.

Golden Star confirmed current projects included in its in-development technology roadmap were the introduction of tele-remote loading and digitalisation of production data.

In terms of haulage infrastructure opportunities, Golden Star said it was considering the replacement of truck haulage with an infrastructure system like shaft hoisting, conveyor, or Rail-Veyor. The capital demand for such options would be offset by a large reduction in operating costs with automated systems, reduced diesel consumption and reduced ventilation demand, it noted.

These haulage options were being studied to design different systems, estimate capital and operating costs, then complete a trade-off analysis, the company said.

The current mine design assumes loaders digging from open passes to load trucks, but Golden Star said feeder systems could be installed to automate loading, increasing efficiency and reducing operating costs.

And, of course, the company said it was considering options for clean energy technology applications, particularly battery-electric trucks. As part of this, it was assessing available systems and developing fleet selection criteria. This will have knock-on benefits to the mine’s ventilation requirements.

Autonomous drilling transition sets IAMGOLD’s Essakane up for longer mine life

The roots of IAMGOLD’s automation ambitions at the Côté gold project in Ontario, Canada, can be traced back to remote and auto drilling developments at its 90%-owned Essakane mine in Burkina Faso, which, according to a recent presentation from Zhi Jun Zhu, has resulted in significant operational benefits.

IAMGOLD launched the first automated drill rig in West Africa with assistance from Epiroc back in February at Essakane. This followed a series of automation steps carried out on the company’s fleet of Epiroc PV235 blasthole drills, beginning with the ‘Operator Assist’ phase back in 2016.

Added to the seven PV235 blasthole drills on site are five Sandvik D45KSs. These drills are working in medium-to-hard material of 100-250 Mpa rock where they drill 229 mm and 152 mm diameter holes on 10 m benches. They come with a single pass limit of up to 12.2 m in down-the-hole drilling mode.

The business case for adopting automation at the site, which began operating in 2010 and was expanded in 2013 to reach a mining capacity of 55 Mt/y, was centred around a capex versus opex dynamic – should the company purchase a new rig to increase drilling performance by 15%, or try to increase the use of automation on its existing seven PV235s to hit this goal?

Alongside this, the company wanted to provide its best drillers with the ability to operate multiple rigs simultaneously, enhance operational safety, support continued sustainability, and improve performance and productivity.

Zhu, who worked at Essakane as Technical Services Coordinator for five years prior to his current role as Autonomous Systems Engineer at Côté, explained during the recent GMG-led Autonomous Drills Virtual Forum: “During the start-up of the mine, the required fragmentation size was difficult to achieve because the ore was coming from the soft area where it was highly weathered and fractured. As the mine depth increased, the material got harder. As a result, the blasting fragmentation became harder to achieve. At the same time as the percentage of hard material increased, productivity of the crusher became a concern and bottleneck.”

With the last life of mine study in 2018 showing a required increase in the total material mined to keep up an average gold production rate of 400,000 oz/y – and the requirement to strip hard material from phase four, five, six and seven to reach a new ore zone from 2026 – the company needed to embed a suitable level of blasthole drill automation in advance of another expansion in the mine life.

Prior to 2016, Essakane required two people to operate a PV235 – one to guide the machine to the desired location and another to operate it.

This was neither safe or efficient, Zhu said, adding that hole deviation and sub-optimal fragmentation were also common with this setup.

Breaking down the project key performance indicators after the initial ramp up of remote and autonomous operation, Zhu said the company was looking for:

  • An improved drilling penetration rate of 15%:
    • 23 m/operating hour (propel + setup + drill); and
    • 28 m/drilling hour.
  • Improved drilling productivity from 63% to 75%:
    • Eliminate stoppage delays associated with lunch and shift change;
    • Lean drilling, less propel/tram and setup/positioning time.
  • Increased drilling capacity from 81,714 to 108,800 drilling meters/rig/year.

Having progressed from the ‘Rig Operator Assist’ mode in 2016, which used Epiroc’s Rig Control System, Surface Manager, Auto Level, first generation AutoDrill module, and Hole Navigation; the company has progressed to the ‘Rig Remote Operation’ phase where (Multi) Remote and AutoDrill generation two functions are employed.

This second-generation system represents a “big advance”, Zhu said.

“The system is very smart and could continuously optimise the engagement to deliver the desired result,” he said. “The only manual input required is the ‘aggressiveness’ setting, which balances the bit life with the penetration rate.”

This led to the launch of its first fully automated drill rig on February 8.

While the project is on course to hit all the above-mentioned KPIs, there have been other benefits including an operating hours improvement of 645 hours/year/rig; a 14,835 m/year/rig drilling metres gain; a $356,040/rig incremental annual production benefit; and a net cost saving of $202,794/rig compared with the equivalent rental equipment drilling cost.

All of these add to fewer people being in dangerous areas on the mine site – with all operators in remote operating centres – more consistent operation from a fuels/lubricants and drilling consumables perspective and, of course, less maintenance.

Reflecting on the implementation, Zhu noted several key required inputs for a successful automation implementation program.

“It is a critical requirement to have a reliable network connection between the on-board device and the remote operations office,” he said.

On top of this, the sensors on the machines need to be kept in top shape, meaning maintenance teams should evaluate their health on a regular basis and always keep spare parts available.

And, while fewer people will be needed to oversee drilling in autonomous mode, the skills level of the required personnel will be that much greater.

Some of the next steps at Essakane include improving the bandwidth and latency time for real-time control of multi-automated drills, developing a preventive maintenance system checklist, and carrying out a business case study on upgrading four PV235s to either Teleremote/AutoDrill 2 operation.

Zhu will no doubt bring these learnings and opportunities to the Côté gold development in Canada, which is expected to operate six blasthole drills in fully autonomous mode when ramped up, alongside more than 20 fully automated haul trucks. These will help the mine reach an average production rate of 367,000 oz/y of gold.

Thiess to bring autonomous drilling to Lake Vermont coal mine

Thiess has been awarded a contract extension by Jellinbah Group to continue to provide mining services at its Lake Vermont coal mine in Queensland, Australia.

The five-year extension will generate revenue of A$2.5 billion ($1.7 billion) for Thiess, CIMIC Group’s global mining services provider. It will also see the company provide a range of autonomous services at the mine, including the implementation of autonomous drilling and semi-autonomous dozer push, it said.

When it comes to autonomous drilling, Thiess will most likely leverage the learnings from a phased 12-month autonomous drilling pilot project it carried out at MACH Energy’s majority-owned Mount Pleasant coal operation in the Hunter Valley of Australia, in collaboration with Caterpillar and WesTrac.

Thiess said the contract continues its full-service mining operations at Lake Vermont, including mine planning, coal mining, topsoil and overburden removal, drill and blast, water management and rehabilitation of final landforms. This includes providing all mobile plant and equipment, being statutory operator for the project, and operating and maintaining the client’s coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP).

CIMIC Group Chief Executive Officer, Juan Santamaria, said: “For more than 13 years, Thiess has worked alongside Jellinbah Group to safely position the mine’s operations for optimal efficiency, productivity and cost performance. This contract demonstrates Thiess’ ability to turn insight and optimisation into greater certainty for its clients.”

CIMIC Group Executive Mining and Mineral Processing and Thiess Managing Director, Douglas Thompson, said: “We’ve developed a strong working relationship with Jellinbah Group since commencing work at Lake Vermont in 2007. We’re excited to bring fresh thinking and new solutions to support the mine’s continued, sustainable evolution over the next five years.”

The contract extension will commence from January 1, 2022.

CIMIC Group’s mineral processing company, Sedgman also provides CHPP operations support at the Lake Vermont mine, which, in 2012, went through an expansion to more than double production from 4.6 Mt/y to 10.7 Mt/y of coal.

Lake Vermont is held by the participants of the Lake Vermont Joint Venture (Jellinbah Group 70%, Marubeni Coal 10%, Sojitz Coal 10% and AMCI 10%).

Sandvik AutoMine open-pit drilling automation offering surfaces

Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology is taking its underground automated drilling expertise to the surface with the release of AutoMine® Surface Drilling.

A leader in mining automation, Sandvik has for a number of years been helping mining companies across the world improve productivity and increase safety with the use of its intelligent AutoMine systems for trucks, LHDs and underground drill rigs.

Even so, the commercialisation of the AutoMine Surface Drilling system marks an important milestone for the company in surface mining automation, it said.

The system is designed to meet customer’s challenges and maximise productivity and safety while increasing drilling efficiency. It enables mines to operate multiple Sandvik iSeries drill rigs from a remote control room miles away.

AutoMine Surface Drilling is available for Pantera™ DP1100i, Pantera DP1500i and Leopard™ DI650i rigs as well as Sandvik DR412i and DR416i blasthole drill rigs. It will be available for the recently released DR410i in the December quarter, the company added.

“This game-changing technology is the most advanced commercialised autonomous fleet system in the world enabling customers to reap the benefits of an autonomous drilling cycle,” Riku Pulli, Vice President Automation at Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, said.

Like the AutoMine Underground solution, AutoMine Surface Drilling dramatically improves the working conditions and immediate safety of the operator while keeping mine personnel out of hazardous areas, Sandvik said. This reduces the operator’s exposure to noise, dust, and vibration and the hazard of working close to high walls.

Automated on-board functions enable iSeries rigs to work autonomously while the operator monitors at fleet level. Automated drill operation, accurate rig control and positioning increase the drilling quality and the overall excavation efficiency, according to Sandvik, thus ensuring higher productivity for the mine.

“We look forward to working closely together with our customers to automate drilling operations and unlock the full potential of AutoMine Surface Drilling,” Pulli said.

IAMGold weighs autonomous drilling, haulage at Côté gold project

IAMGold has provided an update on its majority-owned Côté gold project in Ontario, Canada, which included confirmation of a key approval and the mention of studies on implementing autonomous haulage and drilling technologies.

The late 2018 feasibility study on the project demonstrated its potential to produce 460,000 oz/y of gold at all-in sustaining costs of around $700/oz for the first six years of a 16-year mine life.

It said this week that the project has received approval for its application under Section 36 of the Fisheries Act (Canada). This is a key milestone in attaining permits relating to impacts on fish habitats and tailings management, according to the company.

Since the feasibility study was published in late 2018, IAMGold says it has been very active in “de-risking” the project.

As of the end of May, the company says it has:

  • Completed additional resource and geotechnical studies, and advanced mine planning;
  • Completed over 60% of detailed project engineering, including the tailings facility;
  • Following this level of engineering, obtained firm bids and secure prices on all major equipment. To date, 55% of project cost has firm pricing, further reducing technical and cost risks for the project leading to a refinement in costs and metrics as IAMGold works toward a construction decision;
  • Completed a pre-construction camp on the adjacent Chester site;
  • Completed all tree clearing needed for initiating construction – work was carried out with a First Nations partner firm earlier in 2020, before standing down in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Carried out detailed implementation studies on technology, including automated truck haulage and drilling, and commenced discussions with regulators regarding the use of automated equipment;
  • Advanced development of construction protocols in consideration of COVID-19; and
  • Completed 4,700 m of drilling at the Gosselin Zone, a potential satellite pit 1.5 km northeast of Côté.

The company has also signed Impacts and Benefits Agreement with First Nations partners, approved the Environmental Assessment and Closure Plan, and advanced permitting.

The 2018 feasibility study envisaged a truck-shovel operation, assuming 220 t autonomous trucks and 34 m3 shovels, and a 36,000 t/d mineral processing circuit incorporating primary crushing, secondary crushing, tertiary high pressure grinding roll crushing, ball milling, vertical stirred milling, gravity concentration and cyanide leaching, followed by gold recovery using carbon-in-pulp, stripping and electrowinning.

Gordon Stothart, IAMGold President and CEO, said: “A key part of the future of IAMGold is our organic growth pipeline, starting with the Côté Gold Project in northern Ontario.

“The transformative impact of Côté Gold on IAMGold’s production profile and global cost structure, in addition to its long mine life in an attractive jurisdiction, establishes clear and compelling reasons for this project to proceed.

“Our current financial position supports our proposed growth plans, with over $800 million in cash on hand, access to a currently undrawn $500 million committed revolving credit facility, and expected stronger operating cash flows from our current mining operations, including anticipated contributions from Saramacca at Rosebel and steady performance from Essakane and Westwood.”

A formal decision on the construction of the Côté Gold Project will be made in conjunction with IAMGold’s partner, Sumitomo Metal Mining, given a satisfactory environment for construction to proceed with appropriate work protocols in light of COVID-19 and without risk of interruption.

IAMGold said: “The company is currently working with SMM toward a formal decision. A decision in the coming months would allow construction to commence later this year with a targeted completion date of mid-2023.”

Sandvik TH545i haul trucks, DL432i autonomous drill to join Barrick Hemlo fleet

Barrick’s Hemlo gold mine in Ontario, Canada, is lining up the arrival of a new Sandvik autonomous drill and eight Sandvik haul trucks as its underground-only contract miner strategy takes hold.

The company said it is expecting eight new Sandvik TH545i 45 t haul trucks to arrive on site in the near term.

These trucks moves more rock and material than its current fleet and are equipped with an ejector box, which means operators do not need to lift the box to dump material – it pushes it out the back – making it easier to work with in smaller areas, the company said.

“Let’s not forget to mention the reduction in emissions from this Tier 4 engine, improving worker safety and lessening the environmental impact,” the company added.

Earlier this week, a Sandvik DL432i fully autonomous drill arrived at Hemlo too. Its fully integrated software allows this machine to drill holes on its own, even between shift changes, according to Barrick.

“Engineers are now able to upload plans and designs for day-to-day operations,” the company said, adding that the cab is enclosed and comes with climate control to cool operators in warmer climates underground.

Late last year, Barrick said it would phase out the open-pit operation at Hemlo and move to an underground contract mining model as it looked to upgrade the mine to a Barrick Tier 2 asset. This saw Barminco appointed as the contract miner earlier this year.

Epiroc Pit Vipers pass automation test at Boliden Aitik

To help increase productivity, efficiency, and safety at its Aitik copper mine, in Sweden, Boliden has looked to leverage advances in autonomous drilling.

The mine has plans to raise production at the open-pit copper mine to 45 Mt/y this year, from 36 Mt/y previously.

To meet this target, Boliden needed to increase production from its fleet of five Epiroc Pit Vipers at the operation, the mining OEM said.

“The traditional and obvious solution would be to invest in additional Pit Vipers,” Epiroc said. Instead, Boliden looked to see if utilising automation and operating its fleet with teleremote, and semi-autonomous single-row Pit Vipers, could provide the needed boost.

“One reason to convert to remote and autonomous operations is the opportunity to reduce non-drilling time, increase utilisation and gain productivity,” Epiroc said.

Aitik is one of Europe’s largest mines with a massive pit visible from space, according to the equipment maker.

Peter Palo, Project Manager at Boliden Aitik, explained: “Its depth is 450 m and it has a width of several kilometres, requiring 15-20 minutes of driving time for operators to travel to and from the surface level. There is also a satellite mine even further away. Lunch breaks in production can last for an hour.”

Another factor taken into consideration is the harsh arctic winter climate, with snowstorms and biting cold that reduces visibility, and increases the need for safe workplace conditions. Both Boliden and Epiroc were curious to see whether automated Pit Vipers could handle these conditions, Epiroc remarked.

The first step in this transition was to perform a test with one of the Pit Vipers, converting and upgrading the machine for remote operation.

A meeting room in the mine office building was converted into a temporary control room, and the WLAN in the pit was updated and fortified to increase coverage and bandwidth.

Boliden staff were trained to operate the Pit Vipers by remote control, with the primary key performance indicators yielding positive results, according to Epiroc. On top of this, the Pit Viper automation technology received positive feedback from the operators.

Fredrik Lindström, Product Manager Automation at Epiroc, said: “There’s more to converting to automated operations than you’d think. To enjoy the full advantages of automation, you have to systematically change and improve routines, adapting them to the new processes. The lion’s share of the work involves getting people to change their habits to reach the common goal.

“Boliden has done a tremendous job laying the groundwork for the necessary process changes.”

The next step involved converting the other four Pit Vipers for remote operation while upgrading the first Pit Viper to handle single-row autonomous operation. The automation, in this case, entails the operator initiating the process, leaving the Pit Viper to drill a whole row of blast holes on its own and moving autonomously between drill holes. Once the row is completed, the operator moves and prepares the machine for the next row of holes.

Comparing the semi-autonomous single row Pit Viper with a fully manually operated machine, under optimal conditions, Boliden has measured a utilisation increase from 45-50% to 80%, as well as a 30% increase in productivity, Epiroc said.

Palo said: “We’re very pleased with the results, which is why we’re converting the rest of the Pit Viper fleet to remote operation as a step towards further automation.”

The operators handled the transition to remote operations exceptionally well, Epiroc said, explaining that the onsite operations control system was designed to mimic the Epiroc Pit Viper onboard controls with the same configuration.

Palo added: “We’ve been running by remote for a year now, and everyone is happy.

“Some of the operators were wary about learning to use the technology, but that settled quickly. They appreciate working together in a control room in the office building. It’s a better work environment, easier to exchange experiences and socialise.

“Handling the winter climate was also a cinch, despite heavy snowfalls and low temperatures for days on end. Even the laser-based Obstacle Detection System coped splendidly during snowfall. The automated systems seem to withstand arctic conditions very well.”

Byrnecut, OZ Minerals and Sandvik achieve teleremote drilling first

Contract miner Byrnecut Australia has become the first underground operator in the world to successfully use a new automation and teleremote package for Sandvik development drills.

Byrnecut introduced a Sandvik DD422i development drill featuring the package to OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill gold-copper mine, southeast of Coober Pedy, South Australia, in March.

With COVID-19 travel restrictions preventing Sandvik staff from attending site, Byrnecut, OZ Minerals and Sandvik experts collaborated via phone, teleconference and email to complete remote commissioning of the rig.

The two-boom rig, which can be monitored and controlled from the surface and features a sophisticated boom-collision-avoidance system, has now been in operation for three weeks, according to the companies.

Byrnecut Australia Managing Director, Pat Boniwell, says the new automation features allow for enhanced drill operation across shift changes – a period when, historically, development drilling has stopped or been significantly reduced.

“We’re conservatively looking at a 10% increase in productivity with this machine through being able to drill extra holes and the machine being used more consistently,” he said. “It picks up on the deadtime, and if it does stop for any reason we’re able to remotely reset it.”

The new boom collision avoidance system means both of the rig’s drill booms can be left in operation during shift change – something that was previously not possible. In the first few weeks of operation, the drill has been able to drill 60-70 holes while being operated autonomously and remotely from surface, the companies said.

General Manager of OZ Minerals Prominent Hill operations, Gabrielle Iwanow, says when Byrnecut approached her about trialling the upgraded development drill, she was immediately interested.

“OZ Minerals is a modern mining company,” she said. “We’re interested in innovation and looking for safer, faster, and more efficient ways of doing our work.”

Iwanow said the commissioning of the drill in such trying times is a true credit to all those involved and the positive working relationship between OZ Minerals, Byrnecut and Sandvik.

Byrnecut Drill Master, Noah Wilkinson, says a solid working relationship with Sandvik and good communication contributed to the success of the commissioning.

“People from the Sandvik factory in Finland were able to remote into the machine over the internet and adjust settings that were stopping some of the functions from working,” he explained.

Sandvik’s Global Account Manager for Byrnecut, Andrew Atkinson, paid credit to Byrnecut’s openness to adopting autonomous technologies in areas including development drilling, loader operation, production drilling and ore trucks, which are all engineered for compatibility with Sandvik’s AutoMine® and OptiMine® products.

In addition to the collision avoidance and teleremote capabilities of the DD422i, the new automation package allows for semi-autonomous bit changing.

Another handy feature of the setup during the current period of social distancing has been the virtual network computing capability that allows the control panel of the drill to be viewed remotely on a tablet. This means that during operator training, the instructor need not be in the cabin with the operator.