Tag Archives: blasthole drills

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.

Epiroc combines large diameter drilling with small platform on Pit Viper 291

Epiroc has introduced the Pit Viper 291 blasthole drilling rig at MINExpo 2021, in Las Vegas, today.

The large diameter, single-pass drill delivers productivity, application flexibility and enhanced operator safety with autonomous drilling options, according to the company.

Epiroc’s Pit Viper 291 is designed to tackle larger diameter drilling in soft- to medium-ground conditions. Capable of 279-311 mm diameter holes with 38 t bit load capacity, the new rig brings, Epiroc says, unsurpassed performance to any drilling operation and further extends the Epiroc Pit Viper range.

With Epiroc’s Rig Control System (RCS), the Pit Viper 291 can be configured with scalable automation features. Options like AutoDrill and AutoLevel or the optional BenchREMOTE package allow an off-drill operator to run one or multiple units. The Pit Viper 291 is also capable of fully autonomous drilling with almost no human interaction with the drill for improved mine safety and productivity.

The Pit Viper 291 takes the Pit Viper series to another level with maximised force and torque for greater drilling efficiency and decreased downtime, the company says. The drill rig offers 356 kN of pulldown capacity, 156 kN of pulldown force and 11,000 ft-lb of torque.

Adrian Speer, Product Line Manager, Blasthole drilling, says: “The Pit Viper 291 is the perfect combination of large diameter drilling on a small platform. With proven performance throughout different regions and conditions, plus advanced autonomous features, the Pit Viper 291 will further exceed any drilling production requirements.”

For ease of maintenance, the deck layout on the Pit Viper series offers convenient access to all major service components. Ground level, fast fuel fill connections are standard, and optional ground level live sampling is available. Spool valves are also centrally located above the deck for accessibility.

Along with the larger diameter capacity, the Pit Viper 291 offers more than 100 different options to configure the perfect drill rig for the specific application.

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.

Capital builds up mining fleet for Sukari gold mine work

Capital is well on the way to securing a suitable fleet to carry out the open-pit waste mining contract at Centamin’s Sukari gold mine, with additional trucks recently arriving in Egypt and payments “significantly progressed” for all major long lead equipment required to service the operation.

Equity proceeds from the recent $40 million share placing were received in late December 2020, facilitating these further payments, according to Capital.

The 120 Mt open-pit waste mining contract at Sukari will see Capital provide load and haul and ancillary services over a period of four years. At the same time, the existing drilling contract at Sukari has been extended to December 31, 2024, (from September 30, 2023) and expanded by nine additional blasthole rigs, bringing the rigs operating at Sukari to 24 in total.

Included in the long lead items are 17 Cat 785 dump trucks, seven blasthole drill rigs, three excavators, and all major ancillary support equipment including dozers, graders and water trucks. Capital said additional trucks had recently arrived in Egypt, supplementing the initial truck fleet that arrived during the December quarter of 2020.

Capital also said it has made substantial progress on several of the debt facilities contemplated in the capital raising prospectus related to the Sukari contract including:

  • Executing the $2.6 million vendor finance agreement with Epiroc with full draw down against the purchase of three new blasthole rigs;
  • Fully drawing down on the remaining tranches of the $10 million Macquarie facility following finalisation of the Sukari contracts and security registration in Egypt; and
  • The committed and available vendor finance facility with Sandvik for $8.5 million is expected to be used over the course of the March quarter against the purchase of four new blasthole rigs.

Jamie Boyton, Capital Executive Chairman, said it was pleasing to note that site activity was progressing well with the continued expansion of its extensive on-site facilities, “further asset arrivals and the recruitment of key personnel to prepare for the commencement of preliminary mining activity in late Q1 (March quarter) as planned”.

Queensland’s first Cat MD6250 drill delivered to Bluff coal mine

In what Hastings Deering says is a first for Queensland, a Caterpillar MD6250 rotary blasthole drill has been delivered to contractor Mining and Civil Australia (MACA).

The delivery to Bluff coal mine, east of Blackwater, is the first drill of its kind to enter the territory for works in the open-pit coking coal operation and was done with precise logistical planning, according to the Cat dealer.

Commencing its journey in Caterpillar’s Denison factory in Texas, US, the MD6250 was transported in components to Brisbane where it launched a 615-km journey by road to Rockhampton.

The transportation of the machine was done across three trucks, including two large prime movers to haul the chassis and mast, as well as a smaller truck to transport the smaller accessories and parts.

In Queensland, heavy vehicles and road trains are restricted to 80 km/h speed due to safety regulations, with the journey from Brisbane to Rockhampton taking two days to complete.

“The MD6250 doesn’t have the size of footprint of an off-highway haul truck, for example, but it is still big enough that we required a pilot vehicle and police escort to make the journey safely,” Adam Davis, Product Manager for Drills and Large Motor Graders at Hastings Deering, said.

Once the components were delivered, Hastings Deering’s team of engineers set aside a week to assemble the drill before delivery to the Bluff mine site to the west of the city.

Thanks to a 10-year contract with Carabella Resources (now owned by Wealth Mining), MACA manages both the drill-and-blast and load-and-haul operations at the Bluff mine, in what was a A$700 million ($487 million) deal for the company.

The advanced features on the crawler-mounted Cat MD6250 drill are set to maximise fuel efficiency and improve drilling for the contractor, Hastings Deering says. Its features include a Cat C27 engine, variable compressor output controls, drill depth indicators and virtual head stops for operators.

The drill is likely to offer far more than just the expected productivity benefits at Bluff, though.

Davis explained: “It’s an interesting site as there are restrictions around noise. MACA had experience with the MD6250’s predecessor model and believed they could get the same value and production out of the new model.

“The MD6250 has proportional hydraulics, which means the machine makes less noise during operation and the fan circuit only operates when it needs to. The machine only creates horsepower when needed, which cuts down on heat, noise and energy.”

Davis says the mine’s purchase of the MD6250 drill is in line with an industry trend towards using high-tech, mid-size drills suited to drilling holes smaller than the 270 mm sizes.

The MD6250 is equipped with a hole diameter range of between 152–250 mm.

“In places like the Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, it’s the norm to go for mid-size machines with this kind of technology, and it’s possible that this could also happen in Queensland in the future,” Davis said. “Once the larger coal seams begin to shrink in size and the work moves to higher-grade coal seams, smaller machines are used as they are better suited to such applications.”