Drilling and Blasting are probably two of the more attention-grabbing words used in all of mining. After “Exploration and Development,” nothing else describes what’s happening more clearly than the combination of the words “drill” and “blast.”
Drilling, without question, is certainly one of the more common occurrences in mining today. In fact, as every mining company knows, without drilling, there wouldn’t be mining. The days of picks and shovels are long gone. Drills and drill cores are the tools of discovery and regardless of whether it’s for a future open-pit mine, or a deep and sometimes sub-marine operation, drilling and the equipment used to tap into the resources is a key in today’s mining technology.
Not only does drilling make the extraction of minerals easier and more profitable because of what its samples quickly unveil, it also makes working on mine sites safer. Unlike the past when uncovering the unknown meant physically sending a person into the ground, today’s machines can safely penetrate the ground and report back to the surface what’s hidden below. The entire process is safer, faster, and in these tough economic times, it’s far more productive and cost effective.
As mentioned at the outset, drilling and blasting are “attention-grabbers” and nothing is more exciting, or more productive, than “blasting” because as almost everyone will agree, there’s an emotional rush attached to it.
The physical act of ‘blowing something up’ gets the adrenalin going. It doesn’t matter if it involves the blasting an old beaver dam, a bridge and its piers and abutments, or a not-so-old casino in Las Vegas, the shear act of using explosives and witnessing their power to destroy is something that few have ever experienced. The shockwaves and noise alone are hard to describe, but impossible to forget.
In any event, blasting is probably the most exciting, and potentially dangerous thing that ever happens on any mining site. Without it, as alluded to earlier, the act of mining would not be profitable.
Blasting, however, is far more than a tool to break up rocks and other minerals. It’s also a science and bit of an art form in its own rights because of the planning that’s involved. Drilling patterns, blasting sequences, load weights, and knowing where the shot materials will end up after the explosions occur, all takes a great deal of skill and understanding of blasting technologies; and the earth itself.
Unlike digging a hole or moving piles of earth and rock, blasting is an act of precision; one that most mining companies around the world consider to be a key to their success. Without blasting and more importantly, the teams of “blasters” required to perform this act safely, mining as we know it today wouldn’t exist.
The tools and techniques required to unearth the world’s minerals have come a long way in a relatively short period of time but nothing can match the impact that “Drilling and Blasting” have had on the mining industry and its performance.
One of the leaders in the world of drilling technology is Boart-Longyear, a company that provides a full range of drilling products and services ranging from exploration products, to complete drilling rigs and rig spares and support solutions, to drilling services involving proven drilling methods such as reverse circulation, sonic, percussive, and underground and surface coring.
The following information from Boart-Longyear confirms the company’s knowledge and thorough understanding of drilling and serves to illustrate why it is so respected by the Canadian mining community.
Whether it’s exploration, production, or a mine closure, efficient, productive drilling is critical to mining operations. As drilling contractors continue to push for smarter, more powerful rigs, better designed tooling that can travel down the hole faster and less frequently, and stronger bits that last longer in the hole, manufacturers are focusing on a few crucial fundamentals to drive product engineering and development: increasing customer productivity and safety, and designing intelligent systems to better manage drilling activity and rig performance.
In addition to producing robust and reliable products, there has been an explosion of product development and innovation that places operator safety at the centre of design.
Research indicates that manual rod handling is the single largest cause of drilling injuries in the field. And with drillers handling up to 15,000 rods per year — an equivalent of approximately 750,000 pounds — safety has quickly become one of the top concerns.
In addition to potentially tragic consequences, project downtime sustained as a result of injury is something contractors and mining companies can ill-afford in today’s economic climate. With mining companies scaling operations to remain profitable, embarking on deep cost-cutting initiatives and looking to drilling contractors to maximize already-thin exploration budgets, new products that accomplish the job faster, safer and more accurately are in increasing demand.
With significant investment in capital equipment on the line, drilling contractors can’t afford under-utilized rigs. Even during boom times, many drilling contractors realized that it wasn’t always practical to add rigs that are only capable of one application to their fleet. Smart manufacturers have responded by continuing to invest in multipurpose rig lines, capable of performing different kinds of drilling methods. Australia still leads the way in multipurpose rig usage, but other regions, including North America, have quickly responded as well. For example, although multipurpose rigs are often used in deep-hole diamond drilling exploration, contractors have realized a competitive advantage in using rigs with reverse circulation (RC) capability -especially for pre-collaring work and smaller RC contracts on the side. Within the Environmental & Infrastructure market, project requirements often demand extremely adaptable equipment. Contractors meet these sitespecifi c requirements by using multipurpose rigs to perform geotechnical and subsurface investigation work, geothermal drilling and wireline coring all from the same drill.
However, functionality is only one part of rig utilization -availability is also key. Contractors with a higher percentage of multipurpose drill rigs often realize quicker mobilization.
As manufacturers work to develop common functionality across product lines, many of the same requirements still exist in the field. Drilling contractors continue to demand rigs capable of delivering more power per pound, with increased mobility and smaller overall footprints. These rigs provide contractors with better access to remote or confined spaces, whether the application is surface or underground. The most powerful rigs on the market now utilize load-sensing hydraulic systems that deliver the maximum amount of power to the drill heads, in addition to better fuel economy. Hoses, pumps and hydraulic coolant have also significantly developed to ensure better power management and increased oil and engine life.
Similar productivity requirements exist for tooling and consumables in the field. Bit life is a critical concern in drilling and exploration applications, whether drilling into hard rock, like mentioned in the story on page 22, or softer formations. Bits that last longer deliver incremental savings by maximizing the amount of time operators spend “in the hole” while reducing the number of bits required to complete a project. This is especially important on deep-hole jobs where a significant amount of time is required to extract the rods and replace the worn out bit. In addition, wireline coring technology has significantly developed in the last 50 years since it was introduced. The best assemblies on the market now allow operators to travel down the hole faster, with less resistance, while better handling fluid. This technology not only increases shift capacity, but also significantly
reduces mud replacement costs and prep time.
Using the most efficient rods also decreases operational cost and improves overall rig productivity. Heavy rods take more time to set in place and put a greater burden on drill strings, directly affecting a rig’s depth capacity. Stronger, lighter rods are now on the market that significantly increase drop speeds while increasing operator safety.
Focus on the Operator
In addition to lighter rods, the most advanced rigs on the market now feature hands-free rod management systems, capable of rod transport and making and breaking joints. This technology completely removes the operator from the process, and eliminates the risk of injury through manual rod handling. Some of the latest drills on the market feature innovative new designs that further protect the operator by simplifying guarding, enclosing moving parts and utilizing sound dampening material to make the drill run quietly. In addition to safety precautions in the drilling area, significant work has also gone into decoupling the operator from the rig through remote and cable control systems, and advanced electronics. Rigs that utilize this technology position the operator out of harm’s way.
Electronics are also being used to help drillers more accurately and efficiently manage rig operation. Smart technology is being developed that will monitor drilling to ensure optimum performance based on conditions, ground formation and other parameters. By better controlling rig power, electronics help manage fuel consumption and emissions, adjusting rig power to meet application demands. These systems are capable of providing operators and remote offices with real-time data acquisition on rig performance to better show trending information.
Onsite, smart technology can provide self-diagnostic capability, and guide the operator to the appropriate corrective action, in addition to preventing costly downtime by keeping track of scheduled maintenance, directing operators to the correct parts manual and replacement part if necessary.
Technology that boosts productivity and safety is always at a premium. But like opposite sides of the same coin, this technology also delivers cost efficiencies that position mine operators and drilling contractors at a competitive advantage in today’s economy.