Some 16 months after launch, Sandvik’s AutoMine® Concept Underground Drill, also known as ‘Amelia’, is having the impact Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions was hoping for, influencing most forward-looking conversations it is having with new and existing underground drilling clients.
The AutoMine Concept Underground Drill, launched at the company’s Test Mine in Tampere, Finland, in September 2022, is a fully autonomous, twin-boom development drill rig capable of drilling without human interaction. The cabinless unit can plan and execute the entire drilling cycle from tramming to the face, setting up for drilling, drilling the pattern and returning home to charge for the next cycle – all on battery power.
Amelia – a name that was attached to the vehicle due to its industrious connotations – was designed to showcase next-generation intelligent automation and other new technologies and features that will be introduced for current and future Sandvik offerings.
Sandvik’s underground drilling team is now that much closer to having identified what these features are.
“Amelia was always designed as a conversation starter, and that has certainly proven true,” Patrick Murphy, President, Underground Drilling Division at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, told IM and a select group of trade journalists during a recent visit to the Test Mine. “Hundreds and hundreds of clients have seen this vehicle since launch, and we have had a lot of feedback; much of it proving very valuable.”
From speaking to Murphy and the AutoMine team, it is apparent many customers would have liked to acquire one of these concept machines upon launch in September, however its true value remains as a technology demonstrator for testing and development purposes.
The self-contained drill has no cable, being powered instead off an on-board battery. It uses and optimises power and electricity based on need, making that power supply last even longer. Automated tramming, mission management, drilling and bit changing are some of the elements Sandvik highlighted upon launch, and much of the initial customer discussion has centred around these features.
“Having a machine that is sitting here in the Test Mine, is tangible, functional and can be demonstrated, allows us to have these practical conversations with customers, more so than any model we could put up on a screen,” Murphy said.
One of the elements that has caught the attention of customers is an automated lifter tube installer that removes personnel from the face charging procedure.
“When speaking to many operators, the potential to automate lifter tube installation keeps coming up,” Murphy said. “These tubes – installed in the bottom rows of a drill pattern to ensure no cuttings or muck from the holes above fill the previously-drilled holes – typically require a ‘nipper’ or ‘offsider’ to come in beside the face of the drill for installation. The potential to remove this person from this hazardous environment has really captured the attention of customers.”
The automated process Amelia currently uses for lifter tube installations is unlikely to be commercialised, but a variant of it could feature on the underground development drills in the future.
Some other elements included on the concept vehicle likely to come into the commercial drilling line-up include an artificial intelligence-guided automatic drill bit changer to identify when bits are worn and then, changed automatically, a SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping)-based algorithm to improve tramming and localisation accuracy and, of course, battery-backed drilling.
Amelia is designed to drill a whole round off battery power, and Murphy says a commercialised, economic option would be of interest to customers.
“If we can offer that cost-effectively compared with a diesel-powered machine, then there would be a market pull,” he said. “The solution isn’t there yet, but the flexibility showcased with Amelia – in not having to supply cables or water hoses during operation – has been highlighted by many customers we have interacted with.”
Johannes Välivaara, Vice President R&D and Product lines in the Underground Drilling Division at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, says the commercialisation of RockPulse technology for continuous rock mass feedback to optimise drilling performance will be on the underground drilling roadmap, too.
“Rock Pulse has been built to measure the stress vibrations going in and out from the hole through drilling consumables,” he said. “This is a future upgrade for our drills as this real-time rock information will allow operations to make plans for ground support and get the geotechnical information off the unit in real time.”
RockPulse technology already featured on Amelia could be further integrated on commercial drill rigs with geoSURE, a rig-integrated, high precision, online rock mass analysis and visualisation system initially developed for tunnelling process optimisation. geoSURE is an important tool for the assessment of rock reinforcement or injection requirements, as well as serving as an assisting tool for charging and blasting control and geological mapping, according to the OEM.
“This (geoSURE) could be further enhanced when RockPulse is integrated into it,” Välivaara said. “It is currently only available for face drilling applications but will come into the longhole drilling space, too.”
Amelia, in this case, has not just lived up to her ‘industrious’ and ‘hardworking’ traits, she has also acted as a catalyst for change.
For example, since launch, automated options for longhole drilling have risen to the surface in customer discussions. And it is hard to see AutoMine for Underground Drills having been introduced as quickly as it has without this concept vehicle having launched.
This platform, which enables operators to remotely and simultaneously control and supervise multiple automated Sandvik underground longhole drills, can increase efficiency, safety and overall productivity in mining operations.
It has also put Sandvik in a club of its own; being the only OEM able to offer a unified traffic management system for drills, loaders and trucks. This means all three types of automated equipment can be operated and tram within the one AutoMine-controlled zone.