“Epiroc has always prided itself on taking the needs of the customers into account,” says Hedley Birnie, Regional Business Line Manager of Epiroc’s Surface and Exploration Drilling, the division that brings the legendary SmartROC and FlexiROC rigs to the drilling industry. “In listening to and understanding our customers’ requirements, we have applied our many decades of experience to implement advanced digitalisation and automation technology in our products, adding tremendous value for the customers and differentiating Epiroc as a reliable productivity partner.”
Equipped with leading-edge smart technology and featuring full drill cycle automation, Epiroc’s SmartROC Down-The-Hole and Top Hammer drill rigs optimise the drilling and blasting experience from end-to-end, completely transforming the drilling procedure. Better planning, predictability, semi-autonomous drilling with improved drilling cycle accuracy, increased efficiencies, consistent operation and quality, extended machine availability and lifecycle, improved operational and maintenance costs, and reduced carbon footprint lead to sustainable productivity and profitability in mines, quarries and plants. “Most importantly, automation technology enables us to remove personnel from the work face, taking them out of harm’s way, enhancing worker safety and performance,” notes Birnie.
“We believe that the success of automation technology lies in a holistic approach and we therefore apply it across equipment, systems, operations and services,” explains Birnie. “Everything starts with the planning and drilling of the holes. If done correctly, it will lower the total cost of the entire operation and Epiroc has the complete solution in the form of digitalisation and automation which perfectly complement each other.”
Digitalisation in the form of ROC Manager and Surface Manager enables the creation of drill plans, drill patterns, hole angles and depths which are sent directly to the drill rigs from the planning office with GPS coordinates via a Wi-Fi network (or data stick for mines and plants that do not have a WiFi mesh or network over the pit).
Here, automation in the form of the Hole Navigation System (HNS) takes over and drilling can be performed according to the exact coordinates included in the drill plan providing accuracy on the X, Y and Z axes. HNS delivers a faster set-up, improves precision and reduces non-drilling time, fragmentation and explosive quantities. In addition, fewer people are required in the working area because there is no need for the manual marking of holes nor for the manual measuring of the drilled holes since this data can be retrieved from the Drill Quality Log File. HNS also minimises the risk of drilling in undetonated explosive material since the drill pattern coordinates are saved.
Using Rig Remote Access (RRA), the rig drills holes semi-autonomously and ‘knows’ to drill in the right place at the right depth, at the right angle and at the desired hole depth every time while drill tubes are added and extracted automatically. Using an option called single hole automation, also referred to as ‘one touch’, the rig can be set up in such a way that when all of the drilling plan parameters have been installed and the hole positions and depth are entered, the operator can select a hole on the plan. Then, with the press of one button, the operator can leave the drill rig to drill the hole in the correct place and to the correct depth after which rig will, on its own, extract all the rods back to the carousel and notify the operator that he may now select the next hole closest to his current position. This automation also allows for automatic overburden drilling.
During drilling, Measure While Drilling is performed and this data is logged and sent back to ROC Manager/Surface Manager for further analysis. MWD enables the rig to determine changes in the ground formation based on performance and penetration rate. Using Surface Manager, a 3-D model can be formulated showing the ground formation detailing the position of the ore layout within the inter-burden over-burden and waste partings.
The Rig Control System (RCS) on the SmartROC is a built-in auto-rod handling control system that helps to extend rig lifespan and subsequently improve uptime and availability by limiting extreme usage to safeguard the rig against operator abuse, and reducing wear on the rig as well as on consumables. A state of the art fuel saving device controlled by the RCS, can reduce the SmartROC’s fuel consumption by between 15 and 25%, depending on ground conditions and the commodity being drilled.
BenchREMOTE, an additional option from Epiroc, is ideal for drilling in hazardous areas and near the high wall. The BenchREMOTE can be placed in an air-conditioned, vibration-, dust- and noise-free environment up to 100m away within the line of site of the drill rig from where the operator can safely and conveniently monitor progress. Furthermore, up to three SmartROC drill rigs can be operated from one BenchREMOTE base station. Information on up to ten drill rigs can be stored in the BenchREMOTE’s memory so that if and when needed, the BenchREMOTE can be moved from one block or area to another and control the rigs in that area.
All the latest drill rigs from the Epiroc factory are now also fitted with CERTIQ, a web-based management control system that allows remote access to critical drill rig information in real time. In addition to critical warnings, the system also reports on fuel burn, idle time, tramming time, drilling or production time as well as standing time.
Epiroc’s tried and trusted rig ranges such as the Power and FlexiROC offer a solution for those contractors and customers who do not have the need or the desire to have drill rigs with higher technology levels. The FlexiROC is available with CERTIQ, ROC Manager and Assisted Trouble Shooting.
Epiroc designs, maintains and supports all hardware and software and offers theoretical and practical aftermarket technical and operator training. The SmartROC and FlexiROC rigs are backed by extensive aftermarket support both locally as well as in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
According to Birnie, some technology can be retrofitted to the SmartROC and FlexiROC. He points out that while automation technology is still fairly new to Southern Africa, mines and quarries are recognising that automation technology is crucial to a sustainable and profitable future. “We are seeing a noticeable increase in interest in our rigs and their automation features. We are investing heavily in R&D and constantly updating automation technology on our equipment to further our endeavour in ensuring the highest and most efficient rig performance possible while creating an ever safer and more productive operation and working environment.”