Manufacturers are working hard to improve drilling technology with the aim of producing better, faster, and easier-to maintain equipment.
They face several challenges in doing this – not least developing the right products to meet specific market demands in different regions in
On the one hand, new models are being developed to accommodate more environmentally friendly engines required under stricter engine emissions legislation in the US, Japan and Europe.
Manufacturers are also using this opportunity to introduce other new technology, supporting drilling operations with advanced machine automation.
This includes increasing accuracy by following computerised plans, and tackling a range of other environmental factors such as noise reduction.
For example, Ditch Witch has added two new horizontal directional drills (HDD) to its line-up – the JT20 Mach 1 and JT30 All Terrain – that it claims are not only the quietest HDDs in their horsepower class, but also the narrowest, at 80 inches (2.03 m) wide.
Each drill is equipped with a 119 kW, US Tier 4 Interim-compliant engine and produces a maximum of 85 dBA operator sound, minimising their environmental impact both in terms of diesel exhaust emissions and noise pollution. A range of on-board technology is also in place, including an assisted makeup and breakout system that enables the machines to automatically adjust carriage thrust speed when making up and breaking out drill pipe.
While these highly tuned models are intended for sale in the strictly regulated US and EU markets, other manufacturers are turning their attention to different regions where demand is not influenced so much by regulation.
Sandvik, for instance, has introduced the DH350 down-the-hole (DTH) drill rig – the first rig to be designed and built at its Chinese production facility near Shanghai. It is intended purely for the Chinese market, where Sandvik said it has seen a pronounced increase in demand for its products.
The DD350 is designed for 3 in to 5 in (89 mm to 152 mm) hammers, and has an operating weight of 7.3 tonnes without any optional extra equipment. Part of the weight saving has been achieved by not including an on-board compressor on the machine.
Pekka Nieminen, president of Sandvik’s surface drilling and tunnelling products, said, “If the terrain is difficult it’s easier to bring a small drill rig onto site.”
He added that the machine had simple hydraulic and electrical controls, with “No fancy electronics,” to make it easy to maintain and service.
Despite the differences in engines and on-board technology between machines targeted at these different regions, all new launches are united by one thing at least – a drive for increased uptime.
For instance, Altas Copco plans to introduce upgrades to its new computerised Boomer rigs from the second quarter of 2013. This includes an improved control system with a user-friendly interface, a larger 15 in (381 mm) touch screen, two multi-functional joysticks instead of four, and the latest rig support planning software - Underground Manager.
This new software package incorporates functions that were previously separated into individual products, such as Tunnel Manager for face drilling and Ore Manager for long-hole drilling. It also introduces functions and features that were not previously supported, such as blast design and blast simulation, a new drill plan generator and a complete 3D view of the tunnel.
Caterpillar has also focussed on increased automation with is new drill launches – equipment now available from the manufacturer in the wake of its acquisition of Bucyrus. Following on from last year’s introduction of the MD5050 tracked rig, Caterpillar has launched the new MD5150 tracked rig, a machine which it said has a customer-inspired design for fast, efficient drilling of holes up to 152 mm in diameter.
Setup time for the MD5150 is also said to be dramatically reduced thanks to its carousel rod changer – a design which holds six rods and accommodates multiple lengths and diameters of drill steel.
To further improve operator productivity, the machine is equipped with a smart drill monitoring system that tracks changes in rock formation and automatically adjusts impact and feed pressure based on hardness of the rock.
Other on-board technology on the new tracked drill includes Caterpillar’s Product Link system, which allows remote monitoring of the machine’s location, service meter hours, fuel usage and other critical factors. The MD5150 is powered by a 287 kW Caterpillar C11 engine, meeting US Tier 3 and EU Stage IIIA emissions standards.
Soilmec has also been busy this year, and introduced a new micro-drilling rig – the SM-28, which is the largest in its range. It claimed that as a result of previous studies and models, it was possible to provide a rig with “the best performance and flexibility with minimum operating costs”.
The company said the use of a 194 kW Cummins QSB 6.7 diesel engine, high quality components and advanced circuit design enabled it to increase performance under extreme conditions.
The SM-28 can be radio-controlled either in the set up or drilling phase and is also available in a jet grouting version. This set up has a rod diameter up to 114 mm and 34 m maximum treatment depth.
Drill bit launches
In addition to new drill launches around the world, a raft of new hammer and bit designs have also been introduced. Here, the focus has been on increasing durability and efficiency.
Boart Longyear focused on increasing the flexibility of its DTH drill bit offering with the launch of 18 new product configurations that are compatible with over 26 third-party DTH hammers.
Jay Klinko, senior product manager for Boart Longyear, said, “We designed the new DTH bits after receiving an increase in requests for our technology to fit multiple DTH hammers that have recently come into the market. By adding these bits to our rock drill and blast product offerings, we have created one of the most comprehensive lists of DTH bit options in the marketplace.”
And Rockmore also launched a new DTH hammer for its Deep Hole series, the ROK 500DH. This hammer is the first release of the new range, and is targeted to drill 5.5 in (140 mm) to 6 in (152 mm) diameter holes of more than 300 m deep.
Rockmore said the ROK 500DH had been designed specifically to handle such challenges by incorporating new airflow and component design advancements, primarily in the air ports of the wear sleeve and piston.
It is clear that manufacturers are looking at every detail to see if improvements can be made to the efficiency and productivity of drilling equipment. But if demand in developing markets continues to grow as it has been in the last few years, more and more producers are likely to want a slice of the action, and this will require more basic products.
However, demand in developing markets is not just limited to budget ranges of equipment – fuel efficiency and reliability are also important factors, for instance. It will be interesting to see how manufacturers continue to tackle this two-tier market challenge going forwards.