Boliden says it has completed a world first with the trial of an autonomous electric Epiroc 351 Pit Viper drill at its Aitik copper mine in Sweden.
The trial ran through the month of March and was part of a three-year staged approach to autonomous drilling in Aitik that started in April 2017, Boliden said. The first part entailed tele-remote drilling, with the results from that setting the stage for stage two; a trial of single line autonomous drilling. “The third stage will evaluate the extent to which a whole pattern can be drilled with an electric autonomous drill,” Boliden said.
The drill, an Epiroc Pit Viper 351, is currently running successfully and achieving 30% increase in productivity compared with the manned equipment (190 m/d), according to Boliden. With the success of the project and positive feedback from the operators, a trial of autonomous drilling on two single passes (as opposed to multi-pass drilling) was expected to be performed shortly. There will also be a test performed with the soon to be commissioned LTE network in Aitik.
The KPIs were to be reviewed at a steering group meeting on May 7 when a decision was expected on whether to approve the investment to upgrade the remaining fleet, which could start as early as October. It is not yet known what the results were.
Shane Leighton, Senior Engineer Technology/Mine Automation at Boliden, said the trial represented a world first using an autonomous electric Pit Viper drill.
“There are a quite a few mines in the world running diesel-powered automated drills; this is the first automated electric 351 Pit Vipers. What we have learned from the trial in Aitik will support an upgrade to the 4 x 271 Pit Viper fleet in Kevitsa to an automated fleet that is scheduled to start in 2020,” Leighton said.
The trial must achieve a number of key performance indicators covering three different areas – safety, production and arctic weather conditions – to move onto a full investment. Currently, only single line drilling uses autonomous mode, the company said.
“Since we have never used this type of technology before, we wanted to be 100% certain that we could be successful before deciding to upgrade our entire fleet of Pit Vipers. The trial addresses that,” Leighton explained.
With regard to the safety, the same call-up procedures will apply when approaching the autonomous drill as for a manned drill. In addition, overview cameras mounted at various locations around the pit will allow the operator to gain a full overview of what is happening around the drill with four cameras located on the drills, Boliden said. A laser-based system for obstacle detection and a proximity detection solution are also new features designed to detect personnel; these will require staff to wear a tag that vibrates when entering the drill pattern.
The project team includes Boliden Project Manager Peter Palo, Niklas Johansson, representing the drillers, Shane Leighton from Technology, and Fredrik Lindstrom, Product Manager for Automation at Epiroc, Boliden’s supplier for the drills and technology. The project was partially funded by Boliden’s Mine Automation department.