Tag Archives: LTE

Redline to supply CBRS spectrum and Private LTE solution to Salt Lake City mine

Redline Communications Group Inc is set to provide industrial-grade Citizens Broadband Radio Systems (CBRS) spectrum and Private LTE connectivity solutions for what it says is a leading salt and minerals mine in Salt Lake City, Utah. USA.

The provider of mission-critical data infrastructure for remote and harsh environments is supplying the company with its 150 MHz mid-band CBRS spectrum, enabling the mine to access its Private industrial LTE (iLTE) service and maximise spectral efficiency, it says. Leveraging Redline’s industrial-grade broadband wireless solution, using the CBRS spectrum, the mine can harness the power of superior broadband access, increased network stability and mobility, according to Redline.

“With Salt Lake City being an extremely harsh environment for equipment, the company chose Redline because of its consistent capability to deploy durable products and best-in-class wireless solutions in some of the most challenging working conditions,” Redline says.

Redline’s iLTE is currently deployed at the mine connecting a wide variety of Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) devices, pumps and laptops to support operations. The partnership will eventually expand connectivity services to mining trucks by early 2022.

Reno Moccia, Redline Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, says: “While Wi-Fi coverage is great for some businesses, it has some limitations and is not always the best choice for demanding business and mission-critical applications. The CBRS band combined with Redline’s private iLTE solution overcomes those limitations and provides the mines with two times the capacity and up to four times the range of Wi-Fi.

“With a more reliable, secure and efficient network capability, Redline ensures continuous connectivity for all of their real-time applications and PLC devices.”

MTS, Ericsson deploy Russia’s first commercial 5G-ready private network at Polymetal’s Nezhda

Mobile TeleSystems PJSC, a leading provider of media and digital services, has completed the construction and launch of operations of what it says is Russia’s first commercial 5G-ready Private network at Polymetal International plc’s Nezhdaninskoye gold deposit in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

The planned installation of the network, built on the Ericsson Dedicated Networks solution, was announced last year.

Within the project, MTS deployed a wireless network for Yuzhno-Verkhoyansk Mining Company JSC, affiliated with Polymetal. The network supports integrated mining dispatching systems, positioning, remote and automated control of various equipment, including excavators, drilling rigs, measuring devices, monitoring systems for remote equipment and video monitoring.

Within the project a full range of turnkey works and services has been implemented, including site inspection, network architecture design, supply and installation of radio base stations, network core and auxiliary equipment, network testing and commercial launch, MTS says. At the first stage, the network built on Ericsson solutions will operate in the LTE standard with the possibility of smooth and fast upgrade to 5G, according to the company.

The network is built on Ericsson Dedicated Networks solution, which complies with the 3GPP standards and includes a full-fledged carrier-grade network core. It supports 4G and 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) simultaneously and allows dual-mode core capability to support 5G New Radio Standalone (5G NR SA). An enterprise can use all the carrier grade packet network functions for its own mission-critical applications, MTS says.

Georgy Dzhabiev, Director, Digital Solutions, MTS, says: “We are grateful to our partner Polymetal for cooperation that resulted in the creation of the first commercial Private LTE network in Russia for remote monitoring and managing critical processes in difficult geographic and weather conditions. I am sure that the competence and experience of MTS in the implementation of unique network and IT solutions, digitalisation and automation of production processes will help our customers to increase their business efficiency and improve the working conditions.”

Alexander Laguta, Head of Information Technology and Communications department, Yakutsk branch of Polymetal, says: “The system is already showing its effectiveness and is ready to move to next stage of introducing innovative technologies in production. The Private 5G-ready network will significantly increase the speed of transferring large amounts of data and reduce the cost of maintaining the technological network. One of the first projects on the basis of this network will be launch of dispatching systems, remote control of drilling rigs and video monitoring.”

Alexander Romanov, Head of Private Networks, Ericsson Russia, says: “The Private Network is the backbone of critical communications infrastructure and the Industrial Internet of Things, not only in mining, but also in other industries with a high demand for seamless coverage, performance, security and reliability while supporting mission-critical business processes in a new digital reality.”

At the next stages of the project, the implementation of a dispatch radio communication system based on MC-PTT (Mission Critical Push-to-Talk) over LTE network is planned, along with integration with the internal telephone network of the enterprise.

Rajant launches global LTE radio, personnel and asset tracking solution at MINExpo

Rajant Corporation, the provider of Kinetic Mesh® wireless networks, has announced two new products on day one of MINExpo 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The latest enhancements include the addition of a global LTE radtio to its fourth-generation BreadCrumb® Peregrine product line, and the launch of MeshTracer a software-based personnel and asset tracking solution that, Rajant says, can monitor Rajant BreadCrumbs, AeroScout tags and any Wi-Fi device that uses a static MAC address.

The addition of the global LTE radio means that with one 2.4 GHz radio, two 5 GHz radios and LTE, the enhanced Peregrine can provide up to 2.633 Gb/s of aggregated capacity, the company says.

Geoff Smith, EVP of Sales and Marketing for Rajant, says: “Improving the safety and productivity of mining operations is the by-product of Rajant Kinetic Mesh. It is the only industrial wireless network enabling machine-to-machine connectivity and mobility in markets like open-pit and underground mining”

“Adding an LTE client now allows all mining companies that have invested in LTE to leverage that infrastructure while benefiting from the mine-wide mission-critical coverage Kinetic Mesh provides.

He added: “Tracking personnel and assets is mandatory underground, making Rajant’s latest MeshTracer a logical addition to the BreadCrumb portfolio. Adding the ability to track BreadCrumbs both above and below ground allows a mine to observe areas for process improvements. Finally, supporting Wi-Fi devices allows for two-way communication in emergencies.”

Chris Acton, General Manager for Acubis Technologies, the largest Rajant Kinetic Mesh “Premier Partner” in Australasia, said: “We are ecstatic with the performance we have seen in the new Peregrines that we have deployed throughout Australia. Our customers see as much as four times the increase in capacity over the previous generation.

“Rajant provides unique value by maintaining backward compatibility with previous generation BreadCrumbs deployed in the field. This allows sites to upgrade between models knowing that there will be no loss to communications.”

He added: “We also have many customers in Australia who have invested in LTE solutions but are experiencing coverage and data upload issues. These customers are very anxious to deploy the latest LTE-equipped Peregrines. And being able to now track BreadCrumbs as well as personnel above and below ground provides critical new benefits for our customers.’’

Aqura to take on Australia’s 5G LTE underground mining challenge

Aqura Technologies has been awarded a grant from the Australian Government under the 5G Innovation Initiative to, it says, augment the organisation’s own development work to address the challenge of delivering underground 5G LTE.

The grant is an important step to overcome the technical and commercial barriers associated with operating next-generation broadband wireless networks in sub-surface environments, according to Aqura.

Aqura Chief Executive Officer, Travis Young, said the project was founded on extensive customer and industry feedback as critical to enable mining operators to unlock the benefits that surface operators had been enjoying for a number of years.

“With over 50% of mining in Australia being conducted underground and increasing, the industry is still playing catch-up with technology that is being widely utilised to great benefit in surface operations,” he said.

“Our track record and development work, coupled with the 5G Innovation Grant, will enable our team to work to deliver technical architectures and a validated commercial model which will enable and accelerate adoption.”

The 5G Innovation Initiative grant will complement investment already made by Aqura to deliver technical architectures, commercial model development and installation of a live Private 5G LTE network in an operating mine. The project leverages a lot of learnings from a 2017 project where Aqura successfully delivered Private 4G LTE in an underground mine in the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia, Aqura said.

The focus of the program is to fast-track the enablement of applications and processes that are being adopted in surface operations so underground operators can realise the benefits of enhanced environmental, safety and productivity outcomes that advanced wireless communications can deliver, it added.

Aqura’s Chief Operations Officer, Alan Seery, said underground operators are wanting a kick-start to advance their technology capabilities.

“Many underground mines use processes and technologies that are decades old and operators want to leverage the latest technology, but the technical challenges and the commercial model to acquire can be prohibitive,” he said.

“We’ve learnt a lot through our previous work in underground, and we believe our new LTEaaS (LTE as a service) platform optimised to deliver next-generation private industrial operations networks will support a new commercial approach that will better suit the business models utilised by mining operators.

“And with new advances in radio access, we’re excited to have the opportunity to work with some very motivated partners to develop and make available new architectures which will bridge the underground connectivity gap.”

Many of Aqura’s core team were behind the first Private 4G LTE network in Australian resources, delivered Private 4G LTE underground and supported delivery of one of the first above-ground Private 5G LTE networks in north Queensland earlier this year, it said.

The project has kicked off with Aqura working with a large gold operator to commence scoping. Various partners have indicated support to validate applications, devices and processes around autonomy, condition monitoring, safety systems, data access, PTT communications and IoT sensors.

Gold Fields keeps modernising Granny Smith with Mobilaris solutions

Gold Fields has implemented both Mobilaris Onboard and Mobilaris Situational Awareness at its Granny Smith underground mine in Western Australia as part of an ongoing modernisation program.

In 2018, Gold Fields launched a five-year modernisation program for the site. The first phase’s ambition is to ensure cost efficiency, productivity and a safe work environment by integrating data-driven solutions into the mine.

Michael Place, Mine Manager at Granny Smith, said Gold Field has three dedicated full-time personnel to work on the modernisation program. It has also employed external consultants and contractors to assist with the integration.

“Together, we integrate an underground LTE system to have full connectivity in the mine,” he said.

Gold Fields’ investment will also have environmental effects over time as its digitalisation allows the company to work more sustainably.

“Moving into a more digital world is going to make sure that we are sustainable long-term,” Place said. “For instance, we can maintain our cost profile during expansion and follow up on our environmental footprint.”

Historically, underground blasting has been one of the biggest time thieves in the Granny Smith Mine, with the operation currently losing four hours of production in a 24-hour period due to the firing. With the ongoing modernisation program, Place looks for the mine to become more efficient than before.

“Integrating technology into the mine allows us to look at options to reduce the inactive time,” he said. “We can increase efficiency through autonomous equipment, remote operations, and digital solutions. The expected outcome is a 5-15% increase in productivity.”

The Granny Smith Mine has close to 4,000 different locations, with over 100 employees underground at the same time. It already runs 1.2 km deep and, like many mines, is under constant development.

Michael Place, Mine Manager at Granny Smith

In 2019, a group from Gold Fields Granny Smith, including General Manager, Andrew Bywater, visited Boliden in Sweden to study the use of the Mobilaris product suite, with focus on Mobilaris Onboard and Mobilaris Situational Awareness in the Kristineberg mine.

Mobilaris Onboard, working as a machine navigator underground, creates traffic awareness and a safe and effective traffic flow, according to the company. Based on real-time data, Mobilaris Situational Awareness enables transparency and awareness. The information makes it possible to control the operations and resources, and people can quickly act upon what is happening and make smart decisions faster, Mobilaris says.

Because Mobilaris data and positions were shared in real time, the operation had seen an increase in safety and efficiency, according to Mobilaris.

This visit has since led to Gold Fields implementing both Mobilaris Onboard and Mobilaris Situational Awareness at its underground operations at Granny Smith.

Place said: “Mobilaris Onboard allows us to navigate to all locations underground quickly and efficiently. It will improve our productivity and decrease inactive time by reducing traffic congestion and finding equipment and machines faster.

“We are a haulage-constrained mine and, by reducing the cycle time of our haulage fleet, we can raise our productivity. It is a significant benefit.”

Strong customer relations allows Mobilaris to develop and test all products in real environments, as well as the possibility to bring companies to customer’s sites to experience the products in use, Mobilaris said.

“Our close relationship with the customer is a crucial success factor for Mobilaris,” Pascal Hansson, Sales Director, Mobilaris Mining & Civil Engineering, said. “All our solutions are tested in Boliden’s and other companies’ underground mines. This gives us the confidence to deliver what we promise to our customers.”

Gold Fields has plans to use Mobilaris Situational Awareness as its number one source of information and integrate it with fleet management, inventory systems, and the daily shift scheduler, according to Mobilaris. The mine’s digital investment is expected to pay off within a year, it added.

Place explained: “The location data will synchronise with daily schedules to ensure real-time data is captured from the time jobs are planned and executed. We are looking at efficiency improvements, but we are currently introducing this technology to maintain our production profile with the increasing depth and costs.”

The Gold Fields modernisation program has full support from top to bottom and is expected to be finished over the next two years, Mobilaris said.

During the research process, Gold Fields discovered that Mobilaris Onboard addresses specific safety issues. By sharing positional data and navigation in 3D, drivers can avoid traffic congestion and find shelter during emergencies.

Place said: “We have installed tablets in all our heavy vehicles. With Onboard’s traffic awareness feature, we can minimise the vehicle-vehicle interaction and the vehicle-personnel interaction. The application also tells us where to find the three nearest refuge chambers to our location. So, if there is an emergency, we can get the quickest path to safety.”

3DP confronts mining-specific challenges with tailiored LTE solution

While LTE provides undeniable benefits to users of all kinds – including a high level of predictability, quality of service and connectivity at longer distances than Wi-Fi style networks – its application in mining creates some specific challenges regarding its use, 3DP reports.

First, LTE has been developed with a bias for consumers to download information from the network (using the downlink) while mining applications typically upload data to the network (using the uplink). So, there is an asymmetry aspect at play with LTE.

This is exacerbated as most industrial LTE User Equipment (UE) is not operating in a MIMO antenna configuration in both downlink and the uplink, 3DP says. As the technology is geared towards downloading from the network to the UE, the UE (alternatively called the LTE modem or CPE) will use both of its antennas to receive the signal, which aids in higher throughput transmission of data. When operating in the uplink mode only, one antenna will transmit to the LTE network. “Another way of explaining it is that with two antennas typically available, both are physically capable of receiving but only one is physically capable of transmitting,” the company says.

This can be problematic in mining as the size of the vehicles can effectively shadow the single transmit antenna on one side of the vehicle from the LTE base station it needs to connect to.

This issue is solved with the Osprey Intelligent Endpoint®, according to 3DP, as the company has designed an intelligent dynamic switch for the transmit function of the endpoint. This RF switch is implemented independently from the LTE modem, providing flexibility in the choice of modem integrated into the Osprey.

The RF switch implementation includes a hysteresis algorithm to prevent flapping between transmit antennas.

“This means that if the switch’s decision to change antenna was based on just connection quality every time the machine moved it would switch antennas, flap, and create a loss in performance,” 3DP says. “The hysteresis algorithm has a configurable threshold so that a switch will not happen unless the performance increase is significant. We’ve also implemented a configurable delay that can be set to match the dynamics of the movement of the environment. The result is an endpoint that is responsive to the mining environment but not at the cost of performance.”

As an example, miners that only have access to public LTE will typically be dealing with network coverage and capacity that was never intended for the purpose of mobile mining applications. In contrast, purpose designed and built private LTE networks should be more performant in relation to these applications, 3DP says.

“The ability to configure the Osprey to adapt to either scenario, or anything in between, means that our customers will get the most out of their network regardless,” the company says.

Challenging the L2/L3 VXLAN solution

The second challenge refers to the fact current mining applications are layer 2; that is, they operate at the MAC level of the network, according to the OSI 7-layer model.

LTE is a layer 3 technology, which uses segmented routing over IP.

To solve this issue a layer 2 fabric needs to be created on top of the layer 3 network. Traditionally there are multiple ways of doing this: GRE, L2TP and IPSEC are all examples of “old school” tunnels very much like a VPN.

“The problem with these options is that they aren’t ‘stateless’ and this creates more complication around how detection of broken tunnels is performed and connection re-establishment time,” 3DP says. “This incurs lost connection time and ultimately dropped packets – which equals poor performance.”

The mining industry looked to L2 technologies that came about from large-scale data server deployments. A tunneling protocol called VXLAN has become the prevalent solution in mining but the solution isn’t cut and dry, according to 3DP.

“VXLAN doesn’t support packet fragmentation and reassembly, and that creates problems for our miners using LTE as the network technology,” 3DP says. “Typical LTE deployments only support a maximum MTU packet size of 1,500 bytes so if a packet from an application operating over the network is larger than that, the packet will be dropped. One somewhat clunky workaround is to manually set applications to send smaller packets or to lower MTU size on a per device basis.”

Tunneling solutions require a back-office appliance that supports the tunnel creation and operates as a concentrator for all connections out in the field, according to 3DP. It needs to know what client devices are operating over the network and, again, this is not a seamless problem to solve with VXLAN. The appliance needs to be constantly updated with the list of operating devices.

“We’ve chosen a different approach, and importantly, one that solves both of these issues natively, without any additional manual effort or per-device configuration of the layer 2 fabric,” the company says.

Comilog enlists help of JRC, Geka Telecom for Moanda 4G/LTE infrastructure

Comilog, a leading manganese miner and part of Eramet Group, has decided to build a Private 4G/LTE network in Moanda, Gabon, as part of an effort to modernise the operation.

JRC (Japan Radio Co Ltd) and Geka Telecom were selected to provide a turnkey solution. JRC will provide the LTE infrastructure for hundreds of subscribers and 4 RF sites, while GEKA Telecom will provide the full services.

Comilog, as part of its modernisation efforts, is investing in a modern and secured LTE infrastructure. This will see field staff equipped with ruggedised tablets and smartphones, with a target to digitalise the various processes to increase efficiency and reduce its use of paper. This is part of an overall project called Comilog 2020 to increase the capacity of the mine and to enhance the operation’s local added value.

JRC LTE infrastructure was chosen for the quality of its offer, JRC said. The proposed LTE infrastructure is designed to meet mission critical environment and performance. GEKA Telecom will provide its expertise for the settings of the network and the installation.

“We are very proud to contribute to the Comilog 2020 project,” Sato Katsuhiko, General Manager of 5G Project at JRC, said. “We are a specialist of wireless communication for mission critical networks. Projects such as Comilog 2020 are crucial for us. We aim to grow our private LTE/5G business significantly in the EMEA region.”

The Moanda mine is currently undergoing an expansion that will see a new mine open up on the Okouma plateau, 13 km to the north of Moanda. This could lead to 7 Mt/y of products being available for sale in 2023, compared with just over 4 Mt/y currently.

JRC, or Japan Radio Co Ltd, is a specialist of wireless infrastructure founded in 1915. Based in Japan and with offices across the world, it has provided complete Private LTE/5G networks since 2015.

GEKA Telecom, founded in 1982, has specialised in telecommunication networks in Africa, the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, to facilitate access to communication for all.

Aqura to supply LTE equipment to Iron Bridge magnetite project

Veris Ltd subsidiary, Aqura Technologies, has secured a contract to supply advanced LTE equipment for the Iron Bridge Magnetite project, a joint venture between Fortescue Metals Group subsidiary FMG Magnetite Pty Ltd and Formosa Steel IB Pty Ltd, in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The A$2 million ($1.4 million) contract reflects Aqura’s strong focus to understand the evolving technology needs of the project and demonstrate its industry-leading capability to identify and design robust technology solutions that will support clients’ future operational strategies, the company said.

Aqura Technologies CEO, Travis Young, said: “This contract award is a great validation of the strategy the Aqura team are pursuing to leverage their expertise to enable other organisations to achieve positive business outcomes with leading-edge technology. We are very pleased to be supporting the great work of FMG and look forward to assisting them with their longer-term technology transformation program.

“Aqura continues to lead in high-performance industrial connectivity with advanced engagements for new rollouts, and other developments such as the imminent completion of our first 5G-enabled LTE network to bring the benefits of private LTE to a broader spectrum of businesses.”

The $2.6 billion Iron Bridge Magnetite project is expected to see a new magnetite mine developed to support production of 22 Mt/y of high-grade concentrate, according to Fortescue. First concentrate is expected to be produced by mid-2022.

Revolutionising operations through the ‘Connected Mine’ of the future

With mining operators under growing pressure to perform in the face of falling ore grades, the need to drill deeper in search of new resources and an industry-wide skills shortage, the ability to leverage reliable and flexible communication systems is growing in importance, writes Martin Killian*, IoT Solution Architect at Speedcast.

Leading mining operators have already started on a digital transformation, as they look to create the so-called ‘Connected Mine’. Building on the necessary communications required for every day workings of the mine with layers of applications and systems such as sensors and surveillance systems, this concept will transform their overall performance. In fact, the World Economic Forum forecasts that $425 billion of value will be added to the industry over the next five years through digitalisation.

As the industry looks to improve efficiency and worker safety, several technology trends have emerged – three of which we explore below:

Digital twins for optimised production

NASA introduced the concept of creating a digital replica of an asset or system to help enable operations, maintenance and repair of physical assets in space. When applied to mining, data from operations can be harnessed through different technologies to create a replica in which certain scenarios can be tested. Operators are beginning to adopt this technology at a rapid rate and are harnessing the benefits of eliminating errors and hazards before on-site implementation, while enabling the ultimate predictive maintenance to minimise downtime of any equipment.

Environmental monitoring for occupational health and safety

Using sensors, such as those which detect combustible gas levels, airflow velocity, and temperature variations for example, to check environments are safe to work in is not new. But the increasing use of sensors on a range of devices, such as when Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is embedded into miner’s safety helmets, puts strain on the networks that support them.
When RFID readers are deployed within the mines, the connected mine then becomes aware of who is in different locations at a given time. This data can be combined with data from environmental sensors to identify exposure to a potentially hazardous condition. The key to extending the range and applications of environmental monitoring solutions is the introduction of new sensors and technology which are compatible with the wireless solutions being used.

Martin Killian, IoT Solutions Architect at Speedcast

Private LTE enabling big data connectivity

Unlocking the power of the connected mine takes more than just the technology involved – it requires a shift in connectivity. Due to the mission-critical communication in mines, any service must be reliable and able to flow at high volume with no interruptions. For years, the staple of on-site connectivity has been Wi-Fi supported by point-to-point microwave, but now LTE technology is being rapidly adopted, bringing advantages such as wider and deeper coverage, more predictable performance for multiple users, and military-grade security using SIM authentication and E2E encryption, as well as providing one network for all applications. It also provides a roadmap for future upgrades to 5G which will drive productivity to new heights with super-low latency and high bandwidth.

Mining operators must also consider integrating multiple communication technologies, which deliver high-performance connectivity to remote locations. Incorporating key elements such as multi-mode terminals, a dedicated global network and intelligence that identifies the best transmission routes and automatically switches services for best performance at lowest cost will deliver the best return.

Theory put into practice

One of the world’s largest gold mining company, Australia’s Newcrest Mining, collects data from over 100,000 sensors to create digital twins and to build predictive maintenance models. The company’s CIO estimated these data initiatives will have saved the company over $50 million in 2018. Being able to diagnose problems straightaway has also reduced machinery downtime at one of Hecla Mining’s operations in Canada and added an extra hour per day to its operations.

Huge advantages for efficiency were seen when Goldcorp (since acquired by Newmont) incorporated environmental monitoring remotely controlled underground ventilation at one of its mines in Canada. This created better control of potential ventilation hazards and more efficient energy usage, which saw its electrical consumption cut in half.

While a private LTE deployment by Telstra at the Lihir mine in Papua New Guinea has improved levels of safety, remote operation and automation thanks to the connection of equipment, such as excavators, bulldozers and excavators. The network’s reliability, speed and latency has delivered significant performance improvements and is designed to meet Lihir Gold Ltd’s long-term plan.

The future

Mining is an industry which will remain cyclical in nature as commodity prices, productivity levels and access to reserves change. However, the connected mine puts predictability within the grasp of operators, helping to make mines safer and more responsive to changes within the market. The deeper insights afforded to managers bring many benefits, which signal a bright future for the sector, by making best use of assets and employees and being able to best manage safety and environmental impacts.

*Martin Killian has more than 16 years in the satellite communications industry and is currently the IoT Solutions Architect at Speedcast.

Macmahon, Flanders help automate Cat drills at Tropicana gold mine

The rollout of a A$6 million ($4.3 million) autonomous drill fleet at the Tropicana gold mine in Western Australia is believed to be an industry first for hard-rock mining, according to the mine’s contractor, Macmahon Holdings.

Macmahon says the use of hammer drilling versus the more traditional rotary concept when it comes to blasthole drilling is unique in the hard-rock space.

AngloGold Ashanti Australia (AGAA), with support from Flanders, a technology innovator and leader in autonomous drilling, and Tropicana Mining Alliance partner, Macmahon Holdings, now has five autonomous CAT MD6250 drill rigs and seven manned rigs as part of its drilling fleet.

Mining at Tropicana, which is 70% owned and managed by AngloGold Ashanti Australia and 30% by IGO, is carried out by Macmahon.

The fit out of the fifth rig in August comes only four months after the first rig was commissioned on April 27 and incorporates the ARDVARC drill control system with multi pass and down-the-hole modes to provide seamless operations with the site’s recently-installed long term evolution (LTE) telecommunications network, Macmahon said.

The project was initiated by AGAA Manager: Technology, Martin Boulton, who developed the original project scope before engaging Macmahon to further develop the business case.

He has been integral in developing the roll out schedule and managing the various technical linkages such as running the solution on the Tropicana LTE platform, according to Macmahon. This work led to the project taking out the AngloGold Ashanti Zero HARM (Hazard & Risk Management) Award in 2020.

“The autonomous drill fleet roll out has had many benefits with increased operating efficiency and asset utilisation as the equipment can operate through lightning and inclement weather, explosive detonation and eliminates the need for operator fatigue breaks,” Boulton said.

It also introduces a safer, risk-reduced method in production drilling, increases asset availability and operating efficiency and decreases asset wear, according to Macmahon.

While still early days, the autonomous fleet has already recorded an 8% increase in instantaneous penetration rates compared with the manned rigs, along with a 14% reduction in delay times in June compared with May.

These improvements can be attributed to the rigs’ ability to continue to drill safely during live blasts and lightning storm, while delays have also been removed from water refills and shift changes, the company said.

Tropicana Autonomous Drilling Systems Specialist, Richard Hill, said the autonomous project was testament to the team on site and at Flanders, and had come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

One person (drill controller) can operate up to five rigs from the one console located in the administration building at Tropicana with the automated rigs supported by two ground crew on the pit floor. To date, up to three rigs have been operated from the one console.

With roster changes on a two weeks on and one week off swing, that equates to three crews (with one back-up per crew).

“The plan is to have six drill controllers when fully mobilised, one main controller and a backup per crew,” Hill said.

However, like any new concept, it was not without some early teething problems.

The first was rod feed rates, particularly when it came to transitional ground, but the solution came with development of a new bit chasing logic and the plan is to also develop an automated bit changer that would further reduce delay times, Macmahon said.

Another challenge was managing the autonomous operating zones, which are currently required to run separately from the manned rigs as they were not equipped with collision avoidance software.

“We are working on that now and within the next couple of weeks should be able to incorporate those in the collision avoidance, and that will then increase our production as we will not have to change work areas as often,” Hill said.

Manning has also been an issue in terms of availability of ground crews to support the drill controller, but the role will now be classified as an entry-level position with a clear career pathway progression for new entrants.

Macmahon General Manager Plant & Maintenance, Mark Hatfield, said the company was thrilled with the overall performance of the fleet having achieved full conversion from design to installation and commissioning of the drill and remote operation centre in just eight weeks.

“The Flanders team have worked alongside our people providing specialist support for the duration of the trial on site, and remotely, and will work to provide continuous improvements in the coming months,” he said.

“The system provides an agnostic solution with a customisable capability, with all available drill data providing valuable insights for analysis and improved planning, and importantly, improving site safety conditions for our people.”