Tag Archives: WebGen

Epiroc, Orica secure Newcrest Cadia trial for commercial Avatel charging system

Newcrest Mining is set to trial Avatel, a fully mechanised development charging system developed by Epiroc and Orica, at the Cadia operation in New South Wales, Australia, later this year, according to Tony Sprague.

Sprague, Group Manager, Directional Studies and Innovation at Newcrest, said this will be the first commercial trial of the Orica and Epiroc co-developed system anywhere in the world.

Orica and Epiroc, back in 2019, announced joint work on a semi-automated explosives delivery system, enabling safer and more productive blasting operations in underground mines. The companies said the partnership would “bring together the deep expertise and experience of two global industry leaders” to address the growing demand from customers mining in increasingly more hazardous and challenging underground operations.

Avatel includes Orica’s HandiLoader™ emulsion process body, Epiroc’s M2C carrier and RCS 5 control system, working with Orica’s LOADPlus™ control system and WebGen™ 200 wireless initiation system and automated WebGen magazine. Epiroc has also incorporated an onboard dewatering and lifter debris clearing system, while Orica’s ShotPlus™ intelligent blast design software is also being leveraged. These components help eliminate the need for traditional tie-ins and other physical wired connections from the charging cycle.

Orica has stated previously: “This first-of-its-kind innovation enables a single operator to prepare and charge explosives from the safety of an enclosed cabin, several metres from the face and out of harm’s way. Combined with Orica’s LOADPlus smart control system and Subtek Control bulk emulsion, customers can enjoy complete and repeatable control over blast energy from design through to execution.”

Trials with a prototype machine have been taking place at Epiroc’s Kvantorp Underground Test Mine in Sweden under controlled underground conditions. IM understands there are also plans for a machine to head to Agnico Eagle’s Kittilä Mine in Finland to complete extended underground trials in the production environment.

Newcrest’s Cadia operation is set to be the first site to trial the complete commercial offering at Cadia, commencing in the second half of 2022, according to Sprague.

Orica initiates WebGen 200 wireless blasting trial in Canada

As Orica progress towards the full commercial release of its WebGen™ 200 wireless blasting initiation platform, another milestone has been recently achieved at Moose Creek Quarry in Canada.

The team loaded and fired the first production blast for WebGen 200 on a customer site, successfully blasting 130 units.

This successful blast is a major milestone in the readiness of WebGen 200 for commercialisation, according to Orica, representing the culmination of years of research and development across technology, marketing, commercial, supply and manufacturing teams.

It comes two months after the company unveiled the product at MINExpo 2021 in Las Vegas, USA.

Global Head – New Technology Commercialisation, Nigel Pereira, said: “I want to thank all those involved in the successful trial and the team responsible for the development of our second-generation patented wireless initiating system, WebGen 200.

“This moves us one step closer to commercial release, and with over 70,000 WebGen 100 units fired across 2,500 blasts, both Orica and the industry are eager to see the program progress.”

Engineered to deliver market-leading safety and reliability, WebGen 200 has been built with enhanced capabilities, security and versatility, delivering safety and productivity gains for today’s applications and ensuring it meets the extreme mining conditions faced by surface and underground customers pushing the boundaries of mining’s next frontier, Orica said.

WebGen 200 will be available in four product variants and include a wider range of booster weights, opening up new segments, applications and opportunities in both surface and underground mining. The complete product range now includes the WebGen 200 Surface, WebGen 200 Surface Pro, WebGen 200 Underground Pro, and WebGen 200 Dev.

Orica to unveil WebGen 200 wireless blasting initiating system at MINExpo 2021

Orica says it will unveil its latest through-the-earth, fully wireless initiating system, WebGen™ 200 at MINExpo 2021 in Las Vegas next week.

A development based on more than 2,300 successful WebGen 100 blasts around the world, specifically in underground mines, Orica’s WebGen 200 technology has been designed with customers’ needs and feedback built-in as they look to further improve safety and productivity across their operations, the company says.

WebGen technology provides for groups of in-hole primers to be wirelessly initiated by a firing command that communicates through hundreds of metres of rock, water and air. This completely removes constraints often imposed by the requirement of a physical connection to each primer in a blast and importantly allows the removal of people from harm’s way, it says.

“Engineered to deliver market-leading safety and reliability, WebGen 200 has been built with enhanced capabilities, security and versatility, ensuring it meets the extreme mining conditions faced by surface and underground customers pushing the boundaries of mining’s next frontier,” Orica says.

MINExpo 2021 will take place on September 13-15 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Orica Chief Technology Officer, Angus Melbourne said: “We know that as our customers go deeper and move into more complex mining, they are requiring more advanced technology to help them mine differently and continue to extract their orebodies safely and efficiently. That’s where WebGen 200 and our broader technology roadmap comes in.”

WebGen 200 harnesses digital technology to allow advanced features including digital inventory management, delay adjustments before blasting, an improved user interface and increased quality assurance, according to the company. Reliability is further improved with the WebGen 200 primers available to endure even greater dynamic pressure.

Orica Vice President – Blasting Technology, Adam Mooney, said: “We’ve co-developed our second-generation wireless initiation technology, WebGen 200, with customers from across all segments and regions around the world.

“We developed WebGen primarily to reduce or remove employees’ exposure to hazardous environments and improve overall operational safety. But we are also seeing the technology delivering unparalleled improvements in productivity and improved recovery for our customers – it is enabling a step-change in blasting and mining like no other.

“We are excited about what the future holds for the industry with WebGen 200 and know the enhancements made to this second-generation product will improve the customer experience, broaden its application and deliver significant value for customers while enabling the first stages of blast automation.”

The hardware, software and the WebGen 200 units come together as a system that, Orica says, is easily integrated into any operation. It will be available in four product variants and include a wider range of booster weights, opening up new segments, applications and opportunities in both surface and underground mining.

The complete product range now includes the WebGen 200 Surface, WebGen 200 Surface Pro, WebGen 200 Underground Pro, and WebGen 200 Dev. All four variants will be on show in Las Vegas.

The new WebGen 200 suite of fully wireless initiating systems

WebGen 200 Surface and WebGen 200 Surface Pro are specifically designed for surface mining applications, with the Pro version designed for extreme blasting conditions, including revolutionary blasting techniques like Multi-Stratum Blasting, Mining Schedule Flexibility and Lightning Risk Reduction. The WebGen 200 Underground Pro is suited to production blasting, while the WebGen 200 Underground Dev has been designed for mechanical assembly and will enable the automation of underground development charging with Avatel™.

Orica and Epiroc have been developed Avatel, billed as a first-of-its-kind, industry-driven semi-automated explosives delivery system, with a prototype machine currently undergoing trials ahead of being commercially ready by the end of 2021.

The charging solution, enabled by Orica’s WebGen wireless initiating system technology, addresses the final step in the underground development cycle yet to benefit substantially from mechanisation and automation.

It is expected to bring a step-change in safety by eliminating the need for wired connections and subsequent exposure to crews at the face, according to Orica. Instead, the entire charging cycle can be completed by a single operator from within the safety of an enclosed cabin, several metres from the face.

The WebGen 200 development program is progressing to plan with comprehensive verification and validation product testing completed, according to Orica. Field trials are planned and will be completed across multiple mining segments and regions in Australia, Canada, Latin America and Europe, ahead of being commercially available from December 2021.

Newmont’s Canada mines hit wireless initiation milestone with Oricas WebGen

Newmont has continued to leverage the benefits of fully wireless initiation in its blasting process, having initiated its 500th blast using Orica’s WebGen™ system at its Canada mines.

The milestone was achieved at three of its underground mines in Canada, which are blasting with WebGen. Each site uses different mining methods, and all have achieved improved performance and safety in their overall mining processes with the implementation of innovative WebGen-enabled mining techniques, Orica says.

“The key to Newmont’s success was its ability to think differently and to take advantage of pre-charging with ‘no strings attached’,” the company added. “Eliminating the physical connections to each blasthole and the need for re-entry allowed the blasting sequence to be arranged for optimised outcomes.”

The blasting process changes help mines deliver significantly improved ore recovery and has simultaneously reduced interactions, cycle times and rework, according to Orica. WebGen wireless blasting technology is an innovation that enables process change unlike any other, by pre-charging blasts and firing blasts after access to the area is lost, it claimed.

Newmont’s WebGen journey started at the Musselwhite mine in late 2016 following Orica’s launch of the first-generation wireless initiation system, WebGen 100. The Orica technical team identified an opportunity to use the new technology and approached the Musselwhite team with a new concept, the “Temporary Rib Pillar (TRP) Avoca Mining” method.

Over the following months, workshops, detailed design reviews, risk assessments, crew meetings and signal surveys were completed and the first TRP stope was designed and ready to be blasted.

The initial stope was drilled and loaded in November and December 2016 and fired in January 2017.

Over the next year, the Musselwhite and Orica teams continued to use and refine the TRP method.

“As confidence in WebGen 100 increased, the teams explored other opportunities where wireless blast initiation could significantly improve safety and stope performance,” Orica said. “Several other wireless enabled mining methods were developed and evaluated through these collaborative efforts throughout 2017 and 2018.”

The results so far from the WebGen collaboration include a 20% reduction in mucking time, 14% improvement in production tonnes per day and 34% reduction in ore dilution.

Following the success of Musselwhite gold mine, the team from Éléonore Mine approached Orica in late 2018 to explore the possibilities of implementing the WebGen system on-site. The team conducted a two-day face-to-face workshop where the technical and operations teams from Éléonore and Orica met and conducted an in-depth review of Éléonore’s production mining operations.

The workshop ended with a commitment to complete a joint wireless blasting optimisation project, Orica said.

“A project charter was developed, which involved a detailed 10-stope evaluation across various geometries with the primary goal to improving stope recovery,” the company explained.

“Preparation started in early 2019 with detailed design sessions, signal surveys, risk assessments and crew information sessions.”

The first stope blast was loaded in February 2019 and fired in March. The project’s scope was completed by late summer and the project delivered and exceeded all the agreed performance metrics, according to Orica.

Sill pillars at Éléonore represent a challenge for both ground control and drill and blast teams.

“WebGen technology allowed us to safely and efficiently recover side-drilled stopes by greatly reducing worker exposure and stope cycle time,” Ugo Marceau, Drill & Blast Engineer at Newmont Éléonore, said.

Results from the WebGen introduction at Éléonore include an 86% increase in ore recovery, 72% reduction in stope time and 71% increase in drilling rates.

While the Éléonore project was underway, teams from Borden and Orica had already “white boarded” various wireless enhanced stoping scenarios to increase mining efficiency in Borden’s complex geometry.

“The main goals were eliminating as much lateral development and cemented rock fill as possible while maximising ore recovery,” Orica explained. “As with both Musselwhite and Éléonore, signal surveys, risk assessments and crew information sessions were completed to prepare the first stope.”

Borden’s first stope was loaded in early April and fired later that month. Once again, the outcomes from using WebGen exceeded those expected from a conventional approach, according to Orica.

Eric Fournier, Mine Engineering Supervisor at Newmont Borden, said: “Orica have been partners with us from the very beginning. The WebGen team is very professional, knowledgeable, and easy to work with. The technology is great but the people behind it make it happen. WebGen technology allows us to be a safer and a more efficient mine. It removes the need to send people around hazardous conditions that exist after a blast.”

Results from the Borden implementation include 98% actual ore recovery and 17% actual dilution.

Orica concluded: “Wireless-enhanced production mining has been expanded across these three Newmont mines. The WebGen system has proven itself as a reliable initiation system and enables drill and blast engineers to modify existing mining methods for substantial improvements in safety, productivity and cost reduction. This has been an exceptional journey together with Newmont and highlights the results that can be achieved through innovation and collaboration.”

Orica to deliver tech and blasting services to Glencore’s Australia copper, zinc ops

Orica says it has been awarded a five-year explosives technology and services contract for Glencore’s Australia copper and zinc operations, effective January 2021.

Glencore, one of the world’s largest globally diversified natural resource companies, produces and markets a diverse range of metals and minerals, with its Australia copper and zinc operations including McArthur River Mine (Northern Territory), Lady Loretta Mine (Queensland), Mount Isa Mines (Queensland), Ernest Henry Mine (Queensland) and CSA Mine (New South Wales). Orica has an existing supply agreement with Glencore’s nickel and cobalt operations at Murrin Murrin, in Western Australia.

As part of the contract, Orica will deliver the full suite of explosives technology and blasting services across the Glencore copper and zinc operations in Australia, including supply of the fully wireless initiating system, WebGen™, BlastIQ™ digital blast optimisation suite of products and smart explosives delivery system, Bulkmaster™ 7.

This partnership further strengthens and expands Orica’s longstanding relationship with Glencore, the manufacturer of commercial explosives and innovative blasting systems said.

Orica Chief Executive, Alberto Calderon, said: “Glencore is a key global diversified customer, and we are delighted to be partnering with them across their Australian copper and zinc operations, integrating our most advanced technologies and solutions to solve their more complex operational needs.

“Glencore’s Ernest Henry mine in northwest Queensland was the first site in the world to trial and adopt our wireless explosives technology, WebGen. This deal shows Glencore’s confidence in our technology roadmap as well as aligning with their strategic vision for technology to deliver added value to their operations.”

Orica will work closely with Glencore to ensure uninterrupted supply to each operation, during the rapid mobilisation and transition period, it said.

Orica’s WebGen cuts cycle time, reduces dilution at Nexa Resources lead-zinc mine

Orica’s fully wireless initiation system, WebGen™, has another achievement under its belt, this time helping Nexa Resources’ Vazante underground mine reduce ore dilution from 27% to 20%, resulting in a net benefit of $1.59 million.

The single blast event achieved a smaller hydraulic radius by keeping the pillar during the stope extraction which, in turn, resulted in a reduced cycle time to 20 days, down 70% from an expected 90 days, by maintaining two mucking access points to the main stope. This was only possible due to the wireless capability of WebGen, Orica said.

“The unique blasting approach dramatically improved safety by pre-loading the pillar with WebGen, minimising the exposure of personnel and removing the need to re-enter the area,” the company said.

WebGen allows for groups of in-hole primers to be wirelessly initiated by a firing command that communicates through hundreds of metres of rock, air, and water. This eliminates the need for down-wires and surface connecting wires, enabling new mining methods and blasting techniques that are safe and reliable, according to Orica.

In addition to Vazante, WebGen has improved performance and safety at several other mining operations, including Newmont’s Musselwhite operation (Canada) and First Quantum Minerals’ Kevitsa mine (Finland).

Nexa Vazante Chief Mining Engineer, Mateus Ribeiro, said: “Thanks to this technology and partnership, we recovered an island rib pillar, which is a pillar kept in the open stope for dilution control. After all the ore from the block was extracted and the pillar had completed its requirement, the pre-loaded holes were successfully initiated remotely.

“We went through a series of improvements in the evolution of blasting technology with Orica, from the first detonators until nowadays using 100% wireless detonators. The blast happened two levels below us, so we are 400 m away, above the shot. All encoded signals were sent through the rock with the safety protocols to fire the blast being followed.”

Vazante is a zinc-lead mine owned by Nexa Resources, located in northwest Minas Gerais, Brazil. Using vertical retreat mining (VRM) and long hole open stope as the main methods for ore extraction, the mine has traditionally deployed wired initiators in the recovery of ore, typically yielding around 60% ore recovery in the pillars. The application of wired initiators also required increased resources and time in the mine, according to Orica.

In 2019, Orica proposed the implementation of WebGen wireless initiating technology at Vazante to support the team in mitigating the operational and safety challenges of the mine. Enabled by the wireless technology, ore within the pillars can be recovered through pre-loading without the need to return to the open stope. With the introduction of WebGen, the mine was able to gain time in the sequencing of the blast and extract ore previously inaccessible while improving its operating productivity, according to Orica.

Orica’s Latin America Wireless and Electronic Blasting Systems Specialist, Wesley Andrade, said: “The Nexa Vazante crew and our team conducted extensive site signal surveying and applied best practices to ensure the drill pattern in the pillar was accurately loaded with WebGen 100 units, encoded and positioned as planned.

“This achievement in recovering a pillar through wireless initiation while protecting people from hazards is made possible only by the strong partnership between Nexa Vazante and Orica. We are thrilled to have Nexa Vazante successfully implement wireless blasting with our WebGen initiating system.”

The pillar pre-loaded with the wireless initiators was safely fired after 33 days of sleep time, with several ore blasts taking place alongside the pre-loaded pillar. A second application is currently being studied to allow pre-loading of an entire stope, which will reduce operational risk, the number of cycles and increase ore production and therefore profitability for Nexa Vazante, Orica says.

The new generation of wireless initiation system, WebGen 200, is set for commercial release in early 2021. A newer, improved version, WebGen 200 harnesses digital technology to allow advanced reprogramming and digital inventory management, offering mine operations an integrated user interface with improved quality assurance, according to Orica.

BHP Mitsui Poitrel becomes wireless blasting leader

BHP Mitsui Coal’s Poitrel mine, in Queensland, Australia, now holds the title of world’s largest blast using wireless technology after successfully completing the third blast in a trial series to test Orica’s WebGen technology.

The latest blast on October 13 saw 1.3 million cu.m of overburden shifted in a strata blast fired with 1920 WebGen 100 units across 534 holes, BHP Mitsui said.

Jayson Smeeton, Poitrel Mine Production Manager, said there were significant safety and efficiency improvements to be made by using the WebGen technology Orica is trialing, which features wireless in-hole primers initiated by a firing command that communicates through rock, water and air.

“Wireless blasting means we are able to really reduce our people’s exposure to dust in the pit, and eliminates the potential for misfires because they do not need to physically tie each hole in to the blast pattern,’’ Jayson said.

“Eliminating the need to tie in each hole also makes the process for loading explosives far more efficient, and less susceptible to wet weather delays, as the pit does not need to be shut down because of the potential risk of accidental ignition during thunderstorms.”

The first trials conducted in May and June were small shots to test the technology. The latest blast involved a more complicated strata blast, with the top and bottom decks of the shot fired at different times to maximise fragmentation, and preserve the coal below, according to the miner.

Further production blasts, including through-seam blasts are planned for the next 12 months, BHP Mitsui said.

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.

Orica keen to collaborate on path to blasting automation

Orica’s Angus Melbourne told a packed Austmine 2019 crowd in Brisbane this week that the blasting specialist is committed to developing automated solutions for both the underground and surface mining sectors and is working with both customers and industry partners to make this aim a reality.

During his speech on Wednesday, Melbourne, Orica’s Chief Commercial and Technical Officer, walked delegates through a number of achievements the company had achieved over its 140-year history, but also looked ahead to how Orica is focused on revolutionising the drill and blast operations of the future.

“Blasting is one of the few processes in the mining value chain that remains largely untouched by automation,” Melbourne said. “As mines go deeper and orebodies become more remote, the case for blasting automation becomes clearer.”

Among a number of benefits of blasting automation were the ability to remove people from harm’s ways, grant access to difficult ore reserves and reduce operational delays, he explained.

“Due to the complexities associated with a typical blast operation, this is no trivial endeavour,” he said.

Melbourne said progress was already being made with Orica’s automation efforts, singling out its Orica’s WebGen™ wireless initiation technology, in particular. Launched in 2018, WebGen improves safety by removing people from hazardous situations and enhances productivity through the removal of constraints previously placed on operations by wired connections.

“Since its release, more than 130 WebGen wireless blasts have been executed globally across four industry segments,” Melbourne told delegates.

Newmont Goldcorp’s Musselwhite mine has been an advocate of the wireless initiation technology, recently saying the blasting tests it has carried out at the Ontario mine were “a decisive step on the path towards full automation of drill and blast operations in the future”.

The wireless initiation technology is leading to the development of new blasting options, according to Melbourne, who said, in the last 12 months, Orica has co-developed more than seven new techniques that are “revolutionising the way our customers are planning and executing their mining operations”.

On stage, Melbourne then played a short video from CMOC Northparkes in New South Wales, Australia, a miner that recently converted its entire sub-level cave copper mine to WebGen wireless initiation blasting; an Australia and world first, according to Melbourne.

He said Northparkes has seen significant improvements in safety, productivity and ore recovery since the transition. Melbourne’s words were echoed later that day when Orica received the Austmine METS Innovation Award for the use of WebGen at Northparkes.

Melbourne pointed to a second collaborative development that was helping shape the company’s blast automation efforts during his time on stage; this time with an original equipment manufacturer.

The company has been working with MacLean Engineering out of Canada to test the first fully-mechanised drawpoint hang-up blasting solution, he said.

Capable of drilling and charging up to eight blast holes remotely, the solution is underpinned by WebGen wireless technology and, once again, removes people from harm’s way.

“Hang-up blasting is a major issue for block and sub-level cave mines around the world,” Melbourne said. “In fact, at any one time, up to 30% of all drawpoints can be unavailable due to oversize material. All current solutions are either high risk mining activities or are highly inefficient to implement.”

He then played a video highlighting this industry-first solution, before remarking: “This is a significant step towards fully-autonomous production in underground mines. It’s an exciting time for everyone involved and is just one example of an industry collaboration to deliver blast automation.”

Melbourne concluded his presentation by saying, in the future, integrated, automated and intelligent systems will deliver the critical data necessary for executing real-time change and quantifiable impact on all parts of the value chain “through an ‘ecosystem of insight’ never seen before in mining.

“To capture the full potential of rapidly-evolving technology will require new ways of thinking, new ways of working, and a new spirit of collaboration across the industry.”