Automation breakthrough

Ridgeway copper-gold mine’s mechanised bit changing system is an example of the increasing importance of optimisation through automation technology.

The technology has increased productivity at the mine, which is important with a total ore production of 5.6 Mtpa.

Located near Orange in central New South Wales, near the well-known Cadia Hill open pit operation, the mine has only been in operation since 2002.

In April 2005, Ridgeway switched from contractor to owner mining.

The mine is accessed by a decline, and a sublevel caving method is being used.

Mining commenced at the top of the ore-body and extraction levels are developed every 25 m.

Looking to further increase the productivity of their drill rigs, mine management investigated ways to achieve higher daily drilling rates with the same manning and equipment.

Having successfully used single-hole automation for several years to drill during shift changes and breaks, Atlas Copco’s Advanced Boom Control (ABC) fan automation technology was selected to further enhance this capability.

Ridgeway has two Atlas Copco Simba L6 C production rigs drilling upholes continuously, one of which is currently fitted with the ABC systems.

Cadia Valley operations manager Peter Trout, says the automation technology is well suited to the application.

“We were looking for a low-cost option to deliver extra drilling capacity,” Trout said.

“It is early days [using ABC] but it has the potential to give us a productivity improvement of up to 10%.”

Fully automated

The ABC Total version of the Atlas Copco technology employed at the Ridgeway mine fully automates the drilling process.

The boom and feed are positioned automatically according to a pre-programmed drill pattern and drilling sequence.

Following this, automatic collaring, rod changing and drilling of each hole in the sequence takes place.

The need to manually change bits during drilling or between holes has been a major hurdle for the industry in its drive to fully automate production and drilling processes.


Ridgeway is the first mine in Australia to use a mechanised bit changing system with the rig automation technology.

Comprising a bit carousel that rotates and allows drill bits to be removed and replaced without operator intervention, the bit changer is activated by the Atlas Copco rig control system (RCS) which is an integral part of the automation package.

Atlas Copco’s underground drilling equipment product manager Ian Walson, says Ridgeway’s use of the ABC and bit changing systems marked a significant point in the industry’s adoption of advanced automation technology.

He says while RCS technology is well established, the recently developed bit changing system opens the door to full automation of continuous drilling sequences and processes for many mines.

“Automation and performance monitoring and control technology is the key to harnessing all the power that we can generate with our rock drills,” Walson says.

“Drilling technology is so advanced now. Electronic systems can monitor, measure, and relay thousands of bits of performance data per minute, adjustments can only be made by a computerised control system.”

The next step would be to take advantage of Ethernet, or even wireless communications technology, in order to download drill plans from mine planning offices to drilling equipment and transfer production data back to the main computer.

“Mines will be able to see how accurately you’ve been drilling and make any necessary adjustments almost immediately,” says Walson.

Highly commended

Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM) manages the Super Pit and its surrounding mining operation for joint venture partners Newmont Australia and Barrick Gold of Australia.

The massive Super Pit, which now encompasses the historic Golden Mile, is a famous Western Australian icon.

The pit’s enormous scale and close proximity to the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder make it a truly unique operation with distinct opportunities and challenges.

This year’s Prospect Awards judges say the Super Pit’s broad approach to continuous improvement and innovation is an example for the rest of the industry.

New positioning and communications systems at the Super Pit have helped the mine increase productivity and optimise the performance of its diggers and haul fleet.

The mine has installed a broadband speed communications and positioning system that allows broadband speed data transfer across the mine and high precision positioning information on equipment.

A unique community engagement program has seen 27,000 visitors visit the mine’s own Super Pit shop, located in the town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Profits from merchandise sold at the Super Pit are transferred back to the local community through community partnership programs.

KCGM spent about $40,000 worth of profits generated from the Super-pit shop on various community programs in 2006.

Safety and continuous improvement is a feature of the mine, with a new work platform being built in the maintenance workshop.

Before the platform was installed, fitters would stand on the front bumper-bar and in the engine bay when they were working on radiators and haul truck engines.

A clearing tool was also developed by workers to minimise difficulties clearing sample points.

The clearing tool provides a safer method for clearing ball valves blockages and stubs, by reducing the risk of spray back of material on the operator.

Both the clearing tool and the maintenance platform were initiatives from mine workers at KCGM.

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