Underground mining: Training up to drill down

Despite what many outside the industry seem to think, you can’t just walk up to a truck or a drill rig on the first day and run it like a pro.

As the skills shortage bites, there are just fewer and fewer trained and experience people on mines around the world.

One contractor has found a way to overcome this skills gap on site by utilising semi-autonomous drill rigs on its sites.

Speaking to Barminco’s manager for diamond drilling, David Miitel, he told Australian Mining that it has been employing a number of Atlas Copco mobile carrier rigs (MCR) with automated pilot control (APC) technology, and has seen positive results.

Mittel explained that the technology has allowed it to train and familiarise inexperienced drillers quicker than ever before.

"We have been putting more inexperienced drillers on these rigs, as it helps to train them at a faster pace.

"What used to take around two weeks to learn, on the automated system now only takes three to four days to train workers how to operate, and within a couple of weeks these guys are as good as anyone – it really reduces the time it takes to get these guys dry," Miitel said.

The machine reportedly drills a straighter, more consistent hole due to its mechanical control and set parameters, and is easier for younger drillers to use due to its touch screen.

Integrated rod handling systems as well as a function for machine fault finding, which can download the rig’s service information and any operating issues and send it to maintenance for monitoring, also come as part of the new automated system.

These rigs are also known for better handling in poor ground conditions compared to similar rigs.

Miitel went on to say that it also has a control sequence that must be entered when operating, which if entered incorrectly will stop the rig.

"It takes over when drilling so that drillers can’t push it on further and potentially go wrong."

He said that when the rigs "were first brought into the field we tested it by running it against a pilot control rig.

"The more experienced drillers operated it first and had average results, but then we put the inexperienced drillers on the new rigs and within three days they were operating as well as the more experienced drillers, in three months they recorded a ten per cent increase in production compared to previously," Miitel told Australian Mining. 

By using the new technology on the MCR APCs, the contractor has "had success at some of our mines with much straighter holes, and been able to extend on holes that other contractors have found difficult to do due to poor ground".

From here, Miitel says Barminco is looking to trial unattended drilling so that drilling can occur while blasting is going on nearby.

"These advantages are not far away," he added.

However, it still needs to develop a safety system so that if it hits a pre-programmed barrier the rig automatically shuts down.

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