Tag Archives: drilling and blasting

MACA wins 12-month extension at Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora lithium project

MACA Ltd has announced the extension of its mining services contract with Pilbara Minerals for a further 12 months at the Pilgangoora lithium project, in Western Australia, following Pilbara Minerals exercise of its 12-month option.

The Pilgangoora project consists of open-pit mining services including drilling and blasting and loading and hauling, and the extension is expected to generate approximately A$70 million ($51 million) in revenue for MACA over the 12-month term through to November 2022. MACA’s work in hand position as of September 21 is A$3.1 billion, it says.

MACA CEO, Mike Sutton, said “MACA is very pleased to be able to continue working with Pilbara Minerals at the Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project, having commenced operations on site in 2017. We strongly value the collaborative working relationship established with the Pilbara Minerals team over the previous four years and are proud to be an ongoing part of this project.

“For MACA, this extension secures our strong position in the Pilbara region and also provides continued involvement in the lithium industry.”

Sandvik adds new layers to iSURE underground rock excavation software

Sandvik is looking to further optimise the drilling and blasting process with an updated version of its iSURE® underground rock excavation software.

iSURE, Sandvik says, works seamlessly with its i-series drill rigs, providing accurate analysis functionality to improve the work cycle and process. It has evolved into a renowned computer program for tunnelling construction and mining drill and blast process control, helping produce the data needed for optimising the drilling and blasting cycle.

iSURE 8.0 added a template-based drill and blast plan generation tool that considered rock blastability, tunnel profile quality target and explosives used, not forgetting designer capability to easily edit and tune the result based on the feedback of the drill and blast process, Sandvik says. iSURE 8.1 builds on this, including an in-built three-day training program to cover steps from simple concepts to the more advanced cases.

A key development sees iSURE 8.1 having a toolset for specifically covering “advanced metrics”. This helps the user increase knowledge and reveal points of improvement in face drilling rigs usage and in the tunnel excavation drill and blast process via producing high level key performance indicators from collected rounds and respective design data. These consist of production, realised schedule and heuristics analysis of the data addressing the feedback received regarding version iSURE 8.0. They are targeted to improve excavation (face drilling) production capability, plan future activities such as new projects, and to raise awareness when problems or difficulties occur.

The new and existing features found with iSURE 8.1 are designed to improve the entire drill and blast process through data collection. It will also hint if any rig adjustment is required, or if rig misuse is suspected. It shows the change in rock mass drillability, drill steel consumption, face shape after blasting and scaling, any operator deviation from the plan while drilling, and, based on scanner data, the realised profile and production volume. All this results in improved production and productive feedback that can be assessed and built upon, empowering the entire drill and blast process, the company says.

iSURE 8.1 is not the final development of this solution from Sandvik. New improvements and developments are planned based on further sharing of knowledge and experience with customers and drill and blast professionals globally, the company says.

Currently, iSURE is used with Sandvik’s i-series face drilling rigs, the original construction i-series and newer bedrock-style i-series, TCAD+ and bolting instruments.

Epiroc and Orica announce world first semi-automated explosives delivery system

Orica and Epiroc Rock Drills say they have successfully co-developed a prototype of the world’s first semi-automated explosives delivery system.

A sought-after technology by customers in the underground hard-rock mining sector, Avatel™ will deliver a completely new way of approaching development blasting operations by eliminating charge crew exposure at the face, according to the companies.

Orica and Epiroc expect to commence commissioning on Avatel, the first-of-its-kind, industry-driven explosives delivery system, in the coming weeks, meaning the solution could be deployed at underground mine sites as early as the end of 2021.

The solution provides safe access for an operator in cab to execute the development cycle while reducing the reliance on costly, time-consuming and, at times, ineffective controls put in place to manage the risks to personnel working in one of the highest risk areas of an underground mine, the companies said.

Orica’s Chief Commercial and Technology Officer, Angus Melbourne, said: “The mining industry is moving rapidly toward a digitally integrated and automated future, and Avatel will fulfil our shared vision of developing safer and more productive blasting solutions.

“Achieving this significant development milestone, despite COVID-19 disruptions, shows the strength of our collaboration with Epiroc and our collective ability to deliver the future of mining.”

Epiroc’s President Underground division, Sami Niiranen, said: “With this partnership, we continue to raise the safety bar by combining world leading technologies that will make a difference in underground mines.

“The Avatel prototype represents the first step towards autonomous charging – a vital step in the journey toward safer and more productive blasting operations underground. We are looking forward to bringing this ground-breaking solution to customers worldwide.”

A key enabling technology of Avatel and Orica’s automation vision is WebGen™, Orica’s fully wireless initiation system. When combined with Orica’s LOADPlus™ smart control system, specifically designed on-board storage, assembly, digital encoding capability and Subtek™ Control bulk emulsion, Avatel provides customers with complete and repeatable control over blast energy from design through to execution, the companies say.

Built on the foundation of Epiroc’s Boomer M2 carrier, and integrated with Orica’s latest explosives technology, Avatel is a twin boom, semi-autonomous and fully mechanised development charging solution that, Epiroc and Orica says, allows a single operator to complete the entire charging cycle from the safety of Epiroc’s enclosed ROPS and FOPS certified cabin.

“Avatel is equipped with the most sophisticated version of Epiroc’s acclaimed Rig Control System (version 5),” they said.

“Through its intuitive interface, with a large touchscreen and dual multifunctional joysticks, and, combined with Epiroc´s computer assisted boom positioning features, it can be easily handled. Integrated with Orica’s LOADPlus, charge plans and other important data will be communicated between the systems.”

The design of Avatel builds on Epiroc’s application design experience, further adapted to match conditions this new solution will face. Future developments can be extended to other Epiroc carriers including battery drivelines, they say.

Other advantages include flexibility at the face through Epiroc´s dual diesel/electric plug-in power solution.

“The convergence of these technologies ultimately ensures that the right explosives will be safely delivered into the right holes and given the right timing to achieve optimal efficiencies and the desired outcomes,” the companies said.

Extensive trials of Avatel will take place throughout 2021, before the first commercially available systems are expected to enter service.

Orica announced in November 2019 that it had entered a partnership with Epiroc to develop a semi-automated explosives delivery system.

MAXAM looks to improve engagement with global customer base

MAXAM has announced the launch of a new online channel to address customer needs worldwide as part of the company’s transformation process towards becoming a global technology leader present in over 50 countries worldwide.

The new website offers improved user experience navigation with a responsive design, according to MAXAM.

Fernanda Cardama, MAXAM Global Head of People and Resources, said: “This new online channel has been envisioned to meet the costumer’s online journey to better reach and engage with our global audiences all over the world.”

The new global domain (www.maxamcorp.com) will, according to the company, enable access to:

  • Customised solutions supported by MAXAM’s best in class technology platform of energetic materials, focusing on mining, quarries, infrastructure construction, seismic prospecting and special applications;
  • Case studies of MAXAM global operations carried out in the most challenging conditions such as the expansion of the Panama Canal and the Port of Singapore, demolition of the Puertollano Tower and the construction of the Brenner Tunnel; and
  • In-depth insights developed by MAXAM technical experts and leadership team tackling industry trends and management visions: co-creation with customers to generate value, digitalisation and underwater blasting.

Orica turns wireless blasting dream into a reality at Europe’s deepest mine

In Europe’s first demonstration of wireless blasting, Orica has enabled First Quantum Minerals’ (FQM) Pyhäsalmi underground mine in Finland to recover ore it previously thought inaccessible.

Orica’s WebGen™ 100, the first truly wireless rock blasting system, has been used in trials at the zinc-copper-pyrite mine since September 2018, with FQM, to date, carrying out five blasts.

Since the invention of the safety fuse by William Bickford in 1831, there has been three revolutions in blast initiation methods – electric detonators (1930s), shock tube (1980s) and electronics (~2000s). Every new initiation method development has increased the safety, precision and possibilities of initiating blasts.

The new Safety Integrity Level 3 certified WebGen system could end up being the fourth revolution in this line-up, Orica believes.

Still in its infancy with, as of August, more than 250 blasts fired using wireless initiation, the WebGen technology has already led to the development of several new mining techniques such as Temporary Rib Pillar (TRP), Temporary Uppers Retreat Pillar, Reverse Throw Retreat, Longitudinal Transverse Retreat and Pre-Loaded Retreat that would not be viable or possible without wireless blasting technology.

WebGen comprises the following components:

  • WebGen primer and accessories – including the high explosive Pentex™ W booster, i-kon™ plugin electronic detonator, the Disposable Receiver (DRX) and the encoder controller;
  • Transmission system – including transmitter, antenna and transmitter controller; and
  • Code Management Computer (CMC) – including the unique global blast and arm codes.

The system achieves wireless blasting through very low frequency magnetic induction (MI) signals communicated to the in-hole primer, with the special site-specific group ID, arm and firing codes embedded in the MI signals. The system eliminates the lead wires of conventional initiation systems, thereby also eliminating the ‘hook-up’ process at the blastholes.

The operation works as follows: The i-kon plugin detonator plugs into the DRX, energising the device and initiating a self-test. After passing the self-test, the device can be encoded with the blast code and the delay timing. The booster is attached after encoding the device. At this stage the WebGen primer is ready to be placed into the blasthole.

The transmitter controller – a magnetic induction system connected to an antenna – sends the arming signal to the transmitter. Once the arming process is successful the firing window is presented to the blaster.

The CMC is the data hub of the system and supplies the identification and firing codes as well as the mine specific codes. Orica explained: “It culminates in the ready to fire file for transmission.”

Game changer

With the elimination of lead wires, it is possible to pre-charge a full stope (eg sub-level caving mining method) and fire every ring when required without sending personnel back to the dangerous brow area to connect lead lines, Orica says. “Misfires related to damaged wires are eliminated and primers can be fired regardless of any dislocations of blasthole and/or charge.”

The Ernest Henry mine, in north-eastern Australia, engaged Orica in 2016 to perform a demonstration of sub-level caving using WebGen. The mine wanted to reduce the time spent by personnel at the brow of the cave. With the use of WebGen they were successful in pre-loading the stope production rings and eliminating the need to return to the brow for hooking up.

At Newmont Goldcorp’s Musselwhite mine, productivity and ore recovery were the main drivers for looking into wireless blasting. Together with Orica, Musselwhite developed the TRP mining method where a temporary pillar is used to withhold backfill while the second mass blast (i-kon electronic detonators) of the stope is mucked out.

Orica explained: “Once the stope is mucked out, the TRP is fired remotely and the ore can be recovered.”

With this method the mine established a 93% reduction in dilution, increase in mucking of 27% and a two-week saving in time per stope, the company said.

FQM – Pyhäsalmi

In March 2018, a team of Orica Technical Services Engineers commenced preparations and planning for the first wireless demonstration in Europe with the FQM Pyhäsalmi mine, in Finland, the deepest mine in the continent.

At the time, the mine was scheduled to close in September 2019; most of the stopes had been mined out and the remaining stopes and pillars were becoming increasingly challenging to mine. Orica said: “Pyhäsalmi had developed a system to mine the stranded pillars, but this was incurring considerable time and costs. Pyhäsalmi mine acknowledged that WebGen 100 could be a solution for the problems in retrieving remaining ore in difficult areas.”

As a first stop, the Orica team of blasting specialists had to assess if the WebGen system would successfully function in Pyhäsalmi mine. “Before firing the WebGen shot it was important to investigate if the system would work in the mine and what the maximum signal reach would be for both the quad loop and cable loop antenna,” the company said.

Signal strength testing provides positive confirmation of coded signals being received through the mine and also validates if there are any parts of the mine where the system has a reduced range.

A smaller antenna and a larger antenna were tested.

Pyhäsalmi experiences occasional sulphur dust explosions and, therefore, personnel are not allowed to be underground while blasting, Orica said. As a result, blasting takes place at the end of the shift after the shift explosives supervisor checks everyone has vacated the mine.

Initial signal testing with the smaller antenna validated the system was working with a range of at least 200 m. Further signal testing was performed using the larger antenna.

It was validated the system could send and receive signals from the production level to the furthest stope, which was 450 m away, Orica said.

After assessing the MI signal test results, it was decided it would be more convenient to use the smaller antenna.

In September 2018, the EMEA WebGen team returned to Pyhäsalmi mine for the first wireless blast in Europe. The final three rings of stope 18b10-11 on Level 1,175 were selected for the demonstration blast.

On September 4, 2018, at 22:00, the first wireless blast in Europe was fired without any issue.

Since the introduction of wireless blasting, Pyhäsalmi mine has fired a total of five blasts in challenging areas.

For one of the wireless blasts, a stope would not be accessible after the first blast, but, as the stope could be pre-loaded with wireless detonators, the mine could blast and produce 4,000 t of extra ore that otherwise would have been sterilised.

Katja Sahala, Mine Planning Engineer, FQM Pyhäsalmi mine, said she saw the WebGen wireless system as helping operations in several applications such as when ore needs to be left behind to support pillars, or where there is weak rock, or fill and selective mining is required.

She said: “In uphole charging, you need to work close or even below an open face during drilling and blasting. If it’s possible to drill and charge an entire stope before the first hole is fired, then safety will surely be improved.”

Orica said wireless blasting is a new and exciting technology that eliminates the use of cumbersome and complex wiring hook-ups while having the accuracy of an electronic detonator. It has already enabled safer work methods and mining techniques that increase recovery, productivity and efficiency, according to the company.

It concluded: “Many technical and regulatory challenges will be faced by wireless blasting, but it is a fundamental step in the automation of the explosives charging and blasting process. With the first WebGen blasts at FQM Pyhäsalmi mine, wireless blasting is no longer a dream in Europe, but a reality.”

Orica’s WebGen and BlastIQ technologies gaining global references

During Orica’s investor day last week it became apparent that its innovations – namely wireless initiation technology and a digital drilling and blasting platform – are gaining traction across the globe.

Orica has made investments in technologies such as WebGen™ and and BlastIQ™ as part of a shift towards automated drilling and blasting, realising that the days of fully mechanised operations are still some way off.

Alberto Calderon, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, set the scene by saying that the world is expected to extract around 3.6 billion tonnes more material in 2023 compared with what was achieved in 2018.

In addition to increased demands being placed on companies involved in mining when it comes to environmental and social responsibility, ore deposits are becoming more difficult to access, he said.

“[They are] often found in remote, difficult to reach parts of our world, and sometimes in the harshest of settings,” he said.

Orica is well equipped to deal with this, having technical expertise, logistics, and experience to allow blasting to continue, he said. He cited Indonesia, and near volcanic earth where the ground is hot and reactive, as an example of the company’s ability to negotiate tricky conditions.

“We can deliver blasted rock to a defined size specification in polar conditions, within the environmentally-sensitive Arctic Circle, and we can ensure miners’ licence to operate is maintained by ensuring that blasting can go ahead as scheduled, without negatively impacting nearby sensitive receptors, like communities.”

The company provided an update on just how successful its WebGen wireless blasting technology has been since launch last year.

The company said there had been growing market interest for this wireless initiation technology, with more than 220 blasts fired globally. This included securing four commercial services contracts and demonstrations underway currently across 11 customers, with another 17 customers in planning. Overall, the company has targeted 20-28 trial sites across all regions by the end of its financial year.

So far, WebGen wireless blasts during these commercial and trial operations had seen a 34% increase in ore recovery, a 20% boost in increased productivity, improved safety and reduced costs, the company said.

In addition, the company has trials in place for expansion into surface applications (gold, coal, iron ore, copper) and Orica is making good progress made on its next generation WebGen200.

When it comes to BlastIQ, Orica said it had, so far, implemented the technologies on 35 sites, with 25 customers. It had three BlastIQ-enabled optimisation service projects to its name, it said.

In terms of customer value, adoption of these technologies had seen a 5% increase in productivity, a 10% reduction in drilling costs and improved safety and regulatory compliance, Orica said.

The company’s regional managers then broke down some of these numbers, as well as mentioned some developments that could lead to higher market uptake.

Darryl Cuzzubo, Group Executive and President for Asia Pacific & Asia, said the underground and open-pit site introduction of WebGen was taking place ahead of plan, with its largest commercial blast and first strata blast taking place in Australia. On top of this, the company had seen licences for the technology approved in Indonesia, with trials to begin in August/September.

Thomas Schutte, Group Executive and President of Europe Middle East and Africa, meanwhile said the company saw potential growth from technology implementation for WebGen, automation and BlastIQ within the mining sectors in Sweden, Finland, Spain and Turkey.

So far, the company had conducted two underground sites of WebGen in the Nordics, while it was planning a large open-pit trial in Europe in the first half of 2020. Africa trials were also on the horizon. In the meantime, the process to gain EU certification and country approvals was underway, he said.

For BlastIQ, Schutte said the company had completed successful trials and commercial sales in the CIS and Africa.

James Bonnor, Group Executive and President of North America, said five sites had, so far, converted to WebGen use across North America (one being Newmont Goldcorp’s Musselwhite mine), while BlastIQ had found its way into over 100 mining and quarry sites in the US, in particular.

Germán Morales, Group Executive and President, Latin America, had 18 site trials of WebGen technology (in progress/planned) to report on, with the company servicing both surface and underground mines.

In terms of BlastIQ takeup, there had been 12 site implementations, eight of these being successfully converted into contracts and four being trials. Overall, the company expected around 20 implementations for the 2019 financial year.

In addition to this, Morales was able to report back on the first worldwide commercial OreTrack™ implementation in Chile and FRAGTrack™ in Colombia. OreTrack provides RFID-based tracking of rock movement from the blast, while FRAGTrack provides blast fragmentation data with auto-analysis capability.

Mine automation starting to take hold, RFC Ambrian says

In its second report in a series on innovation and new technology in the mining industry, RFC Ambrian has tackled the subject of autonomous mining equipment, which, the authors say, has reached an “important level of maturity”.

The report considered both surface and underground equipment, but most notably surface mine haulage trucks where there has been an area of significant focus for major mining companies.

As the authors said: “This has reached an important level of maturity, although it is still evolving and its penetration across the industry is still in its infancy.”

AHS

The Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) have evolved from improvements in GPS for positioning and navigation, developments in sensors and detection –particularly radar and LiDAR, improved computing power and on-board monitoring, faster and more reliable networks and internet connection, and the development of effective and accurate algorithms and software, the authors said.

“AHS has appeared , first, at large mine operations where the benefits have the largest impacts, due to the high component of fixed costs in an AHS operation, and in developed countries where there is a shortage of skilled workers and labour costs are higher,” they said.

Outlining the potential benefits of AHS is straightforward, but finding hard data to support it is more difficult, according to the authors.

“Companies have made suggestions about the scale of improvement, but they are light on detail, definitions are not clear, and the data varies between companies,” the authors said.

Suggested improvements in productivity have come from Caterpillar (15-20%), Fortescue Metals Group (30%), Komatsu (15%), and Rio Tinto (15%), according to the authors.

“These improvements are still meaningful, and corporate companies would argue that every mine is different and that the mining companies and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that have so far implemented AHS have the right to guard this proprietary information and hold on to the competitive advantage,” the authors said.

Autonomy in other surface equipment

The authors said they are also now seeing this same technology used to automate other operations in the surface mine. This includes drill rigs, dozers, loaders and ancillary equipment.

“Much of this equipment is currently, at best, semi-autonomous, although a few mines have implemented fully-autonomous drill rigs and dozers,” they noted.

“Moving this equipment to full autonomy offers significant production improvements, although the scale of actual savings is not likely to be as great as those achieved with AHS,” the authors said.

“However, we have not yet seen quantified the downstream benefits of the resultant improved drilling and blasting.

“The automation of earth moving machines provides another step to increased productivity within the mine. However, loaders face additional challenges as a result of the variability of the loading face and the risk of collisions with the haulage trucks.”

Due to the complex nature of the bucket-media interaction, developing automatic loading functions that are better than or equal to expert manual drivers with regard to performance is a highly difficult task, according to the authors.

“As a result, fully-autonomous loading is not yet commercially available. Some observers suggest that the implementation of fully-autonomous surface loading is still some five years away, while others believe that full automation is unlikely.”

Underground mining

When it comes to underground mining, the authors of the report said, as with surface mining, full autonomy remains the goal.

“Mining companies and contractors are constantly looking to use technological developments to better utilise their investment in equipment and human resources and improve safety,” the authors said. “Particular features of traditional underground mines are: long unproductive periods caused by re-entry times required for operators after blasting; and higher health and safety risks due to geotechnical and environmental challenges.

“The use of autonomy underground aims to increase the productivity of the equipment and improve the safety of the operators.”

While the aims remain the same, full autonomy in the underground mine is not as advanced as in the surface mine, according to the authors.

“Haul trucks are used less frequently in underground mines, although a few mines are using haul trucks with AHS. More underground mines perform a short cycle of loading, hauling and dumping from a draw point to a tipping point with LHD equipment.

“Implementation of autonomous systems underground for LHDs is occurring, however, as with surface loading, one of the major hurdles to automating LHDs is replacing human judgement required for filling the bucket.”

This has seen full autonomy being used for the hauling and dumping cycle, but semi-autonomy usually used for loading, according to the authors. “Successful trials of fully- autonomous LHDs have been achieved and Sandvik i-series now offers an automated bucket filling assistant as a standard function,” they said.

Underground drilling operations, meanwhile, are achieving increased levels of autonomy but are also presently only semi-autonomous.

Robotic rail operations

The authors then looked at autonomous rail haulage systems, a segment of the market that has gained in prominence in the past few years thanks to initiatives such as Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The authors said: “There has been some form of automation on worldwide metro systems for many years, but one area where autonomous technology has yet to gain a foothold is rail freight. Trials are underway in Holland and Germany but implementing autonomous train driving on a complex rail network, with passenger trains and freight trains, is more difficult than on a metro system.”

The one exception to this is in the mining sector and AutoHaul, they said, where Rio has completed commissioning of the world’s first fully-autonomous, long distance, heavy-haul rail network which is now in full operation.

Pace of implementation

Despite the acclaimed success and the relative level of maturity of the technology, the wider implementation of AHS does not appear to be happening very fast, the authors argue.

“The systems of both the two main suppliers (Caterpillar and Komatsu) are well proven and have delivered positive results, although, according to consultants, both systems also have examples of less-than-expected performance.

“Nevertheless, the technical issues appear relatively minor and there is interest right across the industry but, in spite of the potentially significant benefits, more mines are not now using AHS.”

There are a number of likely reasons for this, the authors said, explaining that one of the most important is a lack of skilled personnel.

“We believe there is a lack of in-depth knowledge of the technology and limited personnel with the requisite experience, skills, and training throughout the industry’s hierarchy,” they said.

“Further, there is a shortage of skilled autonomous operators, developers, and consultants, some of who are moving to the autonomous auto market.”

Important factors in the success of AHS appear to be the level of management commitment, planning, and focus in the implementation, with the best results reported from well-operated mining sites, the authors said.

“Another factor is likely to be limitations on equipment supply from OEMs for new equipment and truck conversions, either due to manufacturing backlogs or maybe market caution, limiting investment. This is allowing the OEMs to be more selective in their customers.”

The authors cautioned: “However, if the existing suppliers do not develop additional capacity quick enough this could create opportunities for additional entrants in to the market.”

Capital availability in the mining industry could also be an issue holding back AHS advancement, they said, although it is less tight than it has been in recent years.

“Certainly, some lower-margin operations might struggle to finance the capital, although the uplift in relative profitability could be transformational, with relatively quick paybacks,” they said.
And the historical conservatism of the mining industry is also likely to be a factor, the authors said.

“There is still a natural reluctance within the industry to adopt new or unproven technology due to the high capital cost involved and the potential operational and reputational risks involved.

“This will be compounded if the organisation has limited experience and limited access to the technology.”

You can read the full report here.