Sunday, 19 January 2020
BHP buys Atlas Copco robot drills
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BHP buys Atlas Copco robot drills

This article was originally posted to Mining Monthly

ATLAS Copco is converting 18 of BHP Billiton Western Australia Iron Ore’s Pit Viper 271 rotary blasthole rigs to fully autonomous operation, joining two autonomous drills already in operation.

This follows a two-year trial the mining giant has been conducting with Atlas Copco at its Yandi mine in WA. During that trial drills were operated autonomously for more than 15,000 hours, drilling more than 1 million metres.

There will be 20 PV-271 autonomous drills deployed across BHP’s five Pilbara iron ore sites Yandi, Mining Area C, Jimblebar, Mt Whaleback and Eastern Ridge. The roll-out will occur in a staged process between now and July 2017.

All blasthole drilling at those sites is to become autonomous.

The drills will initially be operated from site but will become remotely operated from BHP’s Integrated Remote Operations Centre in Perth from December. Atlas Copco will also base staff in the IROC to help monitor the drills.

Atlas Copco has also been working with Rio Tinto on various drilling automation projects.

It is understood BHP Billiton, while not as far down the autonomous haulage and data analytics paths than its Pilbara rival, is much further ahead on the autonomous drill front.

BHP’s autonomous PV-271s can tram themselves out to where they need to drill, locate where they have to drill much more accurately than a human operator could, drill the hole and move to the next. They can drill an entire pattern autonomously, even managing jamming issues within the hole. The rigs can also call for water and fuel as they need it.

Should the rig get into problems, an operator can take control of it remotely and help it out.

Speaking at the Drill and Blast Summit in Brisbane in April BHP mine automation readiness engineer Jack Chaston said autonomous drilling had led to increased machine utilisation and consumable life.

He said the autonomous PV271s were 16% faster per hole, had 20% additional utilisation and one third extra drill capacity.

Rio Tinto has previously said its “autonomous” drills were 10% more productive.

Automating blasthole drilling makes sense. It is one of the most tedious tasks on the mine site and, when the dust starts flying, finding the next hole to drill can be challenging. Thanks to GPS technology these robot rigs can positions themselves extremely accurately hole after hole in daylight or at night.

There is a growing understanding that optimising the blasting process can have massive productivity benefits further down the mining process. Adhering to the drill plan is a key to this.

BHP Billiton WAIO asset president Edgar Basto said technology was having a significant impact on productivity across the industry.

“Through our trial at Yandi we were testing how this was going to work in our operations and making sure there was a business case, and then we started to see the benefits,” he said.

“We were able to do this relatively quickly because they [Atlas Copco] had already done the work.

“We are creating a safer working environment for our people … they will now be operating in our control room so we are driving collaboration with this.

“The predictability of the drilling operations is going to be a lot better – we have seen that already. There is consistency in the way that autonomous drills are performing.”

The Atlas Copco system is a modulated automation system that can be adapted from semi-autonomous teleremote to fully autonomous operation depending on the mining operational requirement.

The automation system can be adapted across all Atlas Copco’s Rig Control System-based Pitt Viper blast hole rigs.

It so happens Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group, Roy Hill and Newmont are among those using Pit Vipers, and PV-271s in particular. Those operations could quite easily convert their existing rigs to autonomous operation.

Atlas Copco Australia business line manager for drilling solutions Dustin Penn said this was a matter of installing some hardware and software.

He said the rigs were already designed to be run fully autonomously.

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