Pass the remote

Ernest Henry copper gold mine has commissioned Australia's first radio remote controlled drill rig. Jessica Darnbrough writes for Australian Mining.

Xstrata’s Ernest Henry copper gold mine has added a new drill rig to its burgeoning fleet.

The metalliferous mine, located around 38 kilometres north-east of Clon curry in north-west Queensland, was officially opened in October 1997, with commercial production commencing in May 1998.

The mine plant provides for up to 10 million tonnes of ore to be extracted each year from an open cut operation to produce approximately 360,000 tonnes of concentrate containing 100,000 tonnes of copper and 125,000 ounces of gold.

More than 700 Mt of ore and waste will be mined from the open cut mine during its planned 15 year life, leaving a final pit with a 5 km perime ter, 1.3 km diameter and a total depth of 570 m. The mine’s Mount Isa con tractor Rutherfurd commissioned an Atlas Copco radio remote controlled production drill to help the mine achieve its high production targets.

Ernest Henry’s mining manager Paul Turner told Australian Mining the rig had been on-site since February.

“We bought a remote rig last year; however, it was operated via a cable, so even though it was considered to be ‘remote’ it still had an operator working in fairly close proximity,” Turner said.

“We purchased the D9 rig through our contractor who has a small-diam eter drilling contract.

“The rig completely strips the oper ator away from hazardous areas includ ing high walls where rock falls can occur.”

Remote control

According to the drill rig’s manufac turer, the rig is the first of its kind in Australia.

Atlas Copco’s Mount Isa regional manager Alf Lawrence said Rutherfurd had five other Atlas Copco drills in its fleet; however, this rig was the first with remote control capabilities.

“With the stability issues you’re not allowed to have people working too close to the pit wall, so they remote con trol the equipment to do the pre-split holes and the drill pattern,” Lawrence told Australian Mining.

“The drill rig allows all functions, including tramming, drilling and rod handling, to be controlled remotely. The controls provide smooth, precise move ments from a position with a clear view,” he said.

Lawrence said the rig had a low centre of gravity with ground clearance of just 455 mm.

“The rig also comes equipped with a hydraulic support leg which promotes stability and safety,” he said.

“Another function of the rig is its versatile boom head which enables the drill feed to be set up in many different positions.

“The ROC D9RRC provides accu rate drilling in all kinds of rock. A 21 kW COP2165 rock drill offers plenty of drilling power while 280 cfm C106 compressors ensure efficient hole cleaning.”


Ernest Henry mine invested in the remote controlled rig in a bid to eliminate staff exposure to high risk areas, the mine manager said.

“The rig has provided us with an invaluable safety benefit; however, its productivity achievements are what sur prised the team at Ernest Henry the most,” Turner said.

“It is a relatively small rig when you compare it to some of our other rigs, so we had some early concerns that pro duction and penetration rates would suffer, but on the contrary, it is quite capable of keeping up with some of our other drill rigs.

“Even the fact that it is remotely operated doesn’t seem to restrict it.

“In fact, because we are able to put the rig in areas where the others cannot go due to safety restrictions, it has sped up production.”

The rig is equipped with Atlas Copco’s patented Automatic Drill Stop which halts drilling and loosens the rod threads at a preset depth.

Drilling quality is improved and the time required to retract the rods and move to the next set-up is reduced, according to Atlas Copco.

“One of the biggest positives this machine has is its ability to travel into remote, unstable areas where the oper ator can remain at a distance and pro tected at all times,” Lawrence said.

“The remote controlled rig has a range of 50 m, which allows the oper ator to sit in a light vehicle and operate the machine without being anywhere near the wall of the pit.”

Other features of the machine include its engine and fuel tank.

The rig is equipped with a CAT engine that is said to meet all the new exhaust emission limits in Tier111/Stage3.

The rig also comes with a sizeable fuel tank that can secure 12 hours of continuous operation and start-up through the generator and batteries.

Xstrata said the rig had served the Ernest Henry mine site well to date and they were strongly considering intro ducing another couple of rigs to the fleet.

Paul Turner

Ernest Henry Mine

07 4769 4500

Alf Lawrence

Atlas Copco

1300 366 880

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.