Industry Q&A: The Challenges of Drilling in the Current Mining Market
With the mining sector under continuing pressure to increase efficiency and lower costs, much of this responsibility is passed onto the Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) companies. Austmine decided to catch up with Dave Shellhammer, CEO of the Driconeq Group, to get his insights from a global company’s perspective on some of the biggest challenges the sector faces and how critical it is that company such as Driconeq continue to work with miners to improve mining operations.
Mining companies are continuing to search more deeply and remotely for higher ore grade. What challenges does this create in the drilling process? How have you managed to negate these issues?
Remoteness and depth have an enormous influence on the drilling and mining process. Remoteness in general means that there will be challenges in recruiting competent mining personnel at a cost efficient level. It also means that your supplier base will have greater challenges to support their product. Usually, tailor made product support packages are required and/or a greater investment in working capital for things such as machine parts and inventories.
In order to reach targeted pay-backs for new mine projects, remoteness also means the ore bodies commonly have to be of high grade and large volume/size. This, in turn, leads to mass mining methods – underground most commonly uses block caving. Block caving is a mining method where the extensiveness from a drilling and blasting viewpoint is in the mine preparation stage; establishing the mine infrastructure footprint needs to be completed before you can begin the ore production phase.
This means that, as mine development is an expense without yet achieving any revenue, the speed and time to finish the development work is of great economic importance. The demand on the drilling equipment suppliers is on equipment with high productivity, high reliability, high quality and the best possible product support. Once the development of the block cave infrastructure is in place, the ore production puts more emphasis on a highly productive and efficient ore transport system. This can be traditional LHD equipment, but also conveyors, train systems, or a combination of multiple transport systems.
If the remote mining project is a surface mine, where depth is therefore not a factor, then the biggest aspects are again recruiting competent personnel and logistics to support the mine and the suppliers’ products. The trend is to apply modern mine equipment technology: GPS technology and autonomous equipment, operated from remote control rooms. An example of this would be Rio Tinto’s mining control centre in Perth, where they operate autonomous drilling equipment at remote mining locations.
Returning to underground mining, the biggest challenge with the depth of the ore body is high ambient temperatures. The deeper the ore body, the higher the costs are for ventilation and cooling, and the work environment for machine operators is more difficult. The aim is therefore to keep as few miners underground as possible and also to avoid as much diesel driven mining equipment as possible. Diesel powered equipment contributes to additional heat and higher ventilation requirements. Therefore, besides high productivity and reliability, mining companies are also looking for mining equipment suppliers who have the latest technology in remote controlled equipment (controlled from surface operator stations), and clean burning engine technologies or battery powered equipment.
Driconeq’s products are not commonly used underground, but more in exploration, both greenfield and brownfield, and in-pit grade control and open-pit mining production. As the technological content in our product is much more limited than the drilling equipment itself, we focus on supplying a high quality product that is cost efficient. Our product, being a consumable, is part of the mine’s operational costs. This means that the greater life-length our product can achieve, the lower the operational costs are. Therefore, we focus on using high quality materials and our own heat treatment techniques, to produce a consistent, high quality product. The other factor to point out is that, specifically for our RC and DTH products, by applying air flow simulations, we focus on having a smooth inner air flow through the product, with as little restriction or turbulence as possible, which also contributes to the drill economy.
How has the nature of the marketplace for drilling products and services changed with the growing influence of advanced technologies and data analytics? Can clients now gather more information from drills than previously?
The development of GPS systems, satellite telecommunications and autonomous drill equipment has heavily influenced the development of drilling equipment over the last ten years. Today, drilling equipment has rig control systems and data analysis capabilities that can support mine planning and production with online information about actual drilling pattern geometries, volumes and rock type, to name a few. There is theoretically also technology available to make continuous, on-line ore mineral analysis when drilling through the application of x-ray diffraction of drill cuttings or XRD. However, this is typically a product that is limited commercially on today’s drilling equipment, but will most likely be a technology that will be developed further in the future.
I understand that Driconeq will be taking part in the Queensland Mining Exhibition, taking place in July in Mackay. Can you provide some insights into what you will be showcasing here?
Driconeq will be show-casing the fact that we offer products of high quality and efficiency for almost any drill application, with the exception of tophammer drilling consumables. We are one of very few manufacturers to specialise only in drill pipe and accessories, with the largest global manufacturing footprint. We have manufacturing facilities on 3 continents; Europe, Africa and Australia. We supply our products through a network of over 70 authorized distributors around the globe and support them via sales support offices in Sweden, South Africa, Australia (Perth), Brazil and the USA.
We enjoy participating in these kinds of events for the chance to network with our peers and pick up on the most recent needs and challenges, as well as current trends in the industry.
Driconeq use a range of techniques that can be altered to the needs of clients, including DTH drilling, RC drilling, raise drilling and rotary drilling. Could you give a brief overview of the most effective circumstances to use each of these and what sets Driconeq’s methods apart from competitors?
A very good question – I think there have been books written on this subject! There are many contradictory technical arguments and opinions on drilling, but very briefly:
DTH method – in terms of mining, probably most effective in pre-split drilling in open-pit mining. The method itself lends to better hole straightness at greater depths, which is important in forming the mine contour wall. It can also be used in some applications of mine production drilling, depending on hole size, depth, rock characteristics etc., but is not as common as rotary drilling when it comes to mine production. DTH is also very effective for well-drilling of deeper holes – water-well, geothermal and Oil & Gas.
Our competitive advantage – 40 years in the pipe business means we are more than competent in selection of steel materials and heat treatment of our products, so our quality is very high. For example, we use seamless, cold drawn tubular material for our DTH mid-bodies. This enables us to have an extremely durable product, at a lighter weight, which is more favourable for the drill rig and operation. We are lucky to enjoy a worldwide reputation for a product with low cost of ownership. We are also an innovative company, and are launching onto the market a new DTH product for geothermal drilling applications, xFlow, which, due to its internal design, improves the overall drilling rate and decreases compressed air consumption in the drill string, lowering energy costs. In addition, it decreases the noise level when operating.
Rotary – primarily used as production drilling in open pit mines – often single pass.
Our competitive advantage – our global manufacturing footprint means we are never far away from our customers. We are also innovative with our product, applying DHC technology to our tool joints, which can improve pipe life length.
RC – used mainly for green-field and brown-field exploration, and in-pit grade control. There is also a growing trend for use in water wells and other deep hole applications where it is necessary to maintain high integrity of the drill hole wall. Driconeq acquired Perth-based Drillstar in 2012. This gave us one of the most recognized RC products on the WA market, which we are now taking successfully to the global market (recently to Latin America and Central Asia).
Our competitive advantage – a range of highly efficient and innovative RC consumables and components, with efficient inner and outer pipe design to facilitate air-flow in the annulus between the two pipes, this improving quality efficiency and productivity.
Driconeq are active in many parts of the world, including Zambia, Sweden, Brazil and Iran. Where do you believe the best global opportunities are for Australian METS and what advice can you give them for accessing supply chains?
I think the Australians know as well as anyone where the global opportunities lie. The mining community in Australia is highly developed and has a strong reputation, with Australian METS already operating in areas from the likes of Mauretania to Mongolia. I think the mining opportunities remain very global, with a big focus on the African and South American continents. The only advice I could give, as a supplier, is to recognize the need of setting up good supplier preparations and agreements in time, based on business partnerships for the long term. An open dialogue is needed and clear expectations need to be established in order to create a win-win situation. This gives the supplier the confidence to make sure he or she has the proper investments to support their customer as best as possible. If there is one constant in this industry, it is the demand on customer support.