Tag Archives: autonomous drilling

Thiess, WesTrac and Cat collaborate on ‘world-first’ autonomous drilling feat

In what WesTrac says is a world-first for autonomous drilling, mining services provider Thiess has successfully rolled out a system that involves three Cat® drill rigs being remotely operated by a single operator.

The solution is part of an ongoing program, also involving original equipment manufacturer Caterpillar® and specialist Cat equipment and service provider WesTrac, to ultimately achieve full autonomy. The current solution involves a single operator, working from a remote on-site operating centre, issuing commands to the three drill rigs simultaneously to instruct them to commence single-row autonomous drilling.

Apart from the operator instructing the rigs to move to the next row and commence drilling according to the pre-defined pattern, all operations are carried out using Cat autonomous technology. Ultimately, the program will see drill rigs completing entire drill patterns across multiple rows in fully autonomous mode.

Since the program went live earlier this year at a project in New South Wales, Australia, Thiess has reported a 20% improvement in drilling performance, including increased rig utilisation with operating times above 20 hours per drill per day, according to WesTrac. Accuracy has also improved with no re-drilling required since the solution was rolled out.

According to WesTrac Project Manager, Joanne Henry, the project involved an iterative rollout and collaborative approach between Thiess, WesTrac and Caterpillar that included phased development and implementation of various new technologies.

“As the OEM, Caterpillar, developed the drills and the technology layer to a certain point, but, as a development partner, Thiess drove a lot of the requirements for ongoing improvements and there’s been constant collaboration throughout the project,” Henry said.

The phased approach allowed Thiess to progressively upskill workers, verify the technology in stages and move smoothly towards the desired final outcome, WesTrac says.

Starting with a single drill rig and staged implementation of technology, Thiess progressed from manual operation to Operator Mission Assist (OMA) functionality that still involved an operator being stationed in the cab but introduced a range of automated functions. This allowed operators to build their understanding of new functions before the next stage – removing them from the cab and locating them in the remote operating station – was implemented.

Following successful evaluation of the single rig operating in autonomous mode, a second rig – albeit a different size to the first – was fitted with the same autonomous operating technology and Thiess operators were able to simultaneously control both rigs. A third rig was fitted out with the technology earlier this year, enabling Thiess to have three rigs working in unison. This has seen one multi-pass MD6250 rig and two single-pass MD6310s operated simulataneously from a single remote operator station.

According to Thiess, there were multiple benefits in relocating operators from the cab to the remote station. The obvious one was reduced risk by taking those operators “out of the line of fire”, however improved fatigue management also occurred as operators were freer to take short breaks and move around without impacting drill operations.

“Thiess also realised a higher level of engagement because team members had the opportunity to upskill,” Henry said.

“That has the potential not only to drive retention of existing staff, but to attract younger generations who see the appeal of working with world-leading technology.”

Another beneficial outcome derived from the collaborative approach was the development of new strata visualisation software that allows operators to see a 3D view of each hole profile they have drilled.

“That’s another piece of technology that in itself could revolutionise the way drilling operations are carried out,” Henry said.

“But, more importantly, it is a powerful addition to the overall solution that’s enabling Thiess to realise significant people, technology and process benefits.”

Thiess Head of Asset Management & Autonomy, Matt Petty, said: “We’ve been on our autonomous drilling journey since 2019, when we mobilised our first Caterpillar MD-series drill, equipped with OMA technology, moving through to ‘single-row’, with the goal of full pattern, multi-pass autonomous drilling using multiple drills at a time with one controller.

“Our close collaboration and a controlled, phased rollout of the technology with operational insight has meant piloting, implementation and refinement of the technology has been safe, efficient and successful.

“We’re now looking to expand our application of autonomous drill technology, ultimately graduating to off-site remote operating centres, from which controllers can operate multiple drills across multiple projects.”

Rio Tinto details technology leaps at Gudai-Darri upon official opening

A week after delivering first ore, Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine, in Western Australia, has officially been opened, marking a major milestone for the company’s most technologically advanced mine.

Pilbara Traditional Owners, the Banjima People, and Western Australia’s Minister for Mines and Petroleum; Energy, Bill Johnston MLA, today joined Rio Tinto employees as well as valued partners and suppliers to celebrate the official opening.

Since development commenced in April 2019, more than 14 million workhours have culminated in the delivery of Rio Tinto’s 17th and most technologically advanced iron ore mine in the Pilbara. Development of the mine supported more than 3,000 jobs during the construction and design phase with the operation requiring around 600 permanent roles.

With an expected life of more than 40 years and an annual capacity of 43 Mt, Gudai-Darri will underpin future production of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara Blend™ product. It’s expected to increase iron ore production volumes and improve product mix from the Pilbara from the second half of this year, the company says. The mine is expected to reach capacity in 2023.

To optimise mine safety and drive productivity, Gudai-Darri features an unprecedented deployment of technology, much of it industry-leading. This includes the use of robotics for the ore sampling laboratory as well as for distribution of parts in the new workshop.

This goes from autonomous trucks, trains and drills, standard across many Rio Tinto mines in the Pilbara, to a full digital replica of the processing plant which allows teams to monitor and respond to data collected from the plant. The same digital asset data is used to provide a feature rich, interactive 3D environment for virtual reality training. These autonomous assets are monitored remotely from Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre 1,500 km away in Perth.

The technology spread includes 23 Caterpillar 793F autonomous haul trucks and three Caterpillar MD6310 autonomous drills. The trucks, in this case, implement real-time ore tracking using sensors to provide live dig face progression, while data-informed modelling from the drills helps to build more accurate assessments of existing ground conditions and improve safety. In collaboration with Caterpillar, Rio Tinto is advancing the development of zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks. Once development is complete, it is anticipated the world’s first operational deployment of Caterpillar 793 zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks will be at Gudai-Darri.

Gudai-Darri also hosts the world’s first autonomous water carts.

The new vehicles, developed in partnership with Caterpillar, are primarily used for dust suppression on site, enhancing productivity by enabling mine operations to digitally track water consumption and reduce waste. The vehicle’s intelligent on-board system detects dry and dusty conditions on site, triggering the application of water to roads to keep them in good condition.

And, of course, it has autonomous trains under its AutoHaul™ system, which has been fully operational since June 2019.

The company has also invested in what it says is its first “rotable bucketwheel reclaimer”.

It explained: “Traditionally reclaimer maintenance requires a prolonged shutdown while several components are removed. This patented world first will enable the entire bucket wheel module to be changed out for maintenance, improving safety and efficiency.”

With the help of Scott Automation, the company has also introduced a robotic ore sampling lab on site, while its heavy mobile equipment warehouse is the home to four automatic guided vehicles.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive, Simon Trott, said: “We’ve worked closely with both the Banjima and Yindjibarndi People through the planning and development stages of Gudai-Darri and we look forward to partnering with them into the future to ensure the project achieves significant social and economic benefits.

“Gudai-Darri represents a step-change in the deployment of automation and technology within our iron ore business and a fantastic demonstration of the talent, ingenuity and capability that exists in Western Australia, a region which is now known globally for its technical excellence and innovation. Gudai-Darri’s combination of data and analytics, machine learning and automation, will make this mine safer and more productive.

“Gudai-Darri is our first greenfield mine in the Pilbara in more than a decade and a multi-billion-dollar investment in the State of Western Australia that will operate for decades to come.”

Western Australia’s Minister for Mines and Petroleum; Energy, Bill Johnston MLA, said: “I’m impressed by Rio Tinto’s innovation and sustainability; this is a prototype of the mine of the future. Once the new solar farm (a 34 MW farm consisting of about 83,000 panels) is complete it will be able to power one-third of Gudai-Darri’s operational needs with renewable energy.”

A total of A$3.2 billion ($2.2 billion) in goods and services were sourced within Western Australia during the construction phase of the Gudai-Darri Project with contracts valued at A$1.5 billion awarded directly to Western Australia-registered businesses such as NRW, Primero, DTMT Construction Company, Southern Cross Electrical Engineering and Monadelphous Engineering Associates.

This includes over A$100 million awarded directly to local Aboriginal businesses including White Springs, Lorrex Contracting, Hicks Civil & Mining, Brida, Karijini Development, Yurala Contracting Services, and Karlka FenceWright WA.

Anglo’s digital vision for Quellaveco takes shape with Epiroc autonomous drill rig arrivals

Anglo American’s automation plans for its Quellaveco mine in Peru are starting to take shape, with its first automated trucks having started up in “pre-mining” mode last year and now automation-ready drills on site ahead of first ore production later this year.

The company’s most digital and autonomous mine yet, Quellaveco is expected to produce 300,000 t/y of copper over the first 10 years of the mine from an orebody that currently has around 1,300 Mt of reserves.

In the company’s December quarter production results today, it said construction of the project was progressing to plan, with first ore mined in October and first copper concentrate production expected in the middle of 2022.

In the first half of 2021, the operation started up four of a planned fleet of 27 autonomous Cat 794AC haul trucks as one element in a range of technologies that will help to make Quellaveco Anglo American’s first 100% digital mine.

Anglo American plans to deploy a fleet of 27 autonomous Cat 794AC haul trucks at Quellaveco

Now, the company has drill rigs on site that, by the end of this year, should be fully integrated into its in-country remote operations centre. The rigs – six fully autonomous Epiroc Pit Viper 351s and three tele-remote SmartRoc D65s – will eventually be overseen from this remote operations centre.

IM put some questions to Tito Cacho, General Manager of Quellaveco, to find out more about these rigs and what led to the planned automation leap at the mine.

IM: How did your experience with Epiroc on developing and implementing a new tele-remote drilling project at Los Bronces influence the decision to implement a fully autonomous drill fleet at Quellaveco? Did many of the people that implemented the Los Bronces project come over to Quellaveco?

TC: One of the objectives of Anglo American has been building a modern and fully digital mine at Quellaveco, incorporating the latest technologies to make this an even safer, productive and sustainable mining operation. A team of Anglo American engineers that were involved in the Los Bronces implementation have assisted in some aspects of the project in Quellaveco, bringing the benefits from our experience gained in Chile.

IM: What qualities does Quellaveco as an asset have in terms of applying autonomous drilling (aside from the fact it is a ‘greenfield mine’ you can design around automation)?

TC: We believe that Quellaveco will set a new standard. Through our experience with automation, the industry is driving towards safer and more reliable operations. This can make a significant difference not only to the mining operations itself but for our stakeholders who increasingly demand more sustainable operations.

Our team has been developing processes and procedures to build autonomy into the operational culture from day one. We are developing multifunctional skills in our operators and technicians, so that they learn about new roles and equipment operation, giving us the flexibility for people to work in any part of the process. The enthusiasm and willingness to learn and work with this new technology that we have seen in all the groups in Quellaveco has been an incredible asset.

IM: What other benefits stood out to you when evaluating fully autonomous drilling at the asset (safety, productivity, etc)?

TC: Safety is the primary benefit, and, as you know, is our most important value at Anglo American. We can distance an operator from areas of risk and put them in an environment that is safer, with less exposure to dust, noise and vibration. The operator becomes an autonomous drilling controller and is more comfortable and in a better ergonomic position. In addition, we have been able to improve the use, efficiency and precision of the equipment, and the ability to control multiple machines per person are notable benefits over manual operation.

Anglo plans to deploy six fully autonomous Epiroc Pit Viper 351s at the operation

IM: How easy is it to implement fully autonomous drilling operations in Peru from a regulatory perspective? How does it compare with other countries?

TC: Anglo American’s approach is engaging with regulatory authorities from the beginning, and that is what we have done in Peru. We believe our stakeholders see the advantages of having a modern and fully digital mine operating in the country, from a safety, efficiency and sustainability perspective.

IM: How many rigs out of the “multiple” drill rigs you ordered from Epiroc will be autonomous? What does the timeline look like from here in terms of them reaching their capacity? When will their control and oversight be integrated into the remote operations centre?

TC: Quellaveco will have six Pit Viper 351s that operate fully autonomously and three SmartRoc D65s that operate in tele-remote (operator controlled from a distance with some autonomous functions). We aim to integrate full control and oversight of the drill fleet into the remote operations centre by the second half of this year.

Epiroc to provide IAMGOLD’s Côté mine with autonomous blasthole drills

Epiroc says it has won a large order for surface mining equipment from IAMGOLD Corp in Canada that will optimise safety and productivity through advanced automation at its greenfield Côté Gold operation in Ontario.

The order includes several Pit Viper 231 and SmartROC D65 drill rigs for the open-pit gold development, which is currently under construction and expected to start production in the second half of 2023. The Pit Vipers will be fully autonomous, while the SmartROC D65 rigs are prepared for remote operation.

The order is valued at approximately SEK130 million ($15.1 million) and was booked in the September quarter of 2021.

“IAMGOLD, a returning Epiroc customer, is taking safety, sustainability and productivity extremely seriously,” Epiroc’s President and CEO, Helena Hedblom, said. “As IAMGOLD is preparing a new exciting mine project, we are proud to contribute to their success with our advanced machines and solutions for autonomous operation.”

IAMGOLD has previously employed different levels of autonomous drilling at its other operations using Epiroc Pit Vipers. It launched the first automated drill rig in West Africa with assistance from Epiroc back in February 2020 at its 90%-owned Essakane mine in Burkina Faso. 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.

The Pit Viper 231 and SmartROC D65 surface drill rigs are built to face the toughest conditions while optimising productivity, safety and fuel efficiency, according to Epiroc. Advanced features include Epiroc’s telematics system, Certiq, which allows for automated and intelligent monitoring of productivity and machine performance.

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.