Comfortably automatic

20 March 2008

Using the latest in technology, great strides are being made in the drilling sector to increase automation, and operator comfort and safety by transforming the cab into a more pleasant and easier working environment.

Sandvik has demonstrated the trend towards improved operator working conditions in many of its machines including the new member of its intelligent tunnelling jumbo series – the Sandvik DT1130i – a three-boom jumbo for excavation of 20 to 183 m2 cross sections, which was launched recently at Bauma 2007.

Sandvik's vice president for tunnelling, Pekka Nieminen, said that excellent working conditions and safety have been the focus in the design of the Sandvik i-series DT tunnelling jumbos.

Mr Nieminen said, “The modern cabin with +20% larger-than-before window surface gives a feeling of space and provides excellent visibility in all drilling applications, even when the cabin is not elevated. Adding to the visibility, the operator seat is placed as close to the windshield as possible, and there are high power xenon lights for drilling and tramming.”

He added the easy-to-use screen views for different functions make drilling and fine-tuning while drilling easier due to the addition of the QuickStep system, which allows the operator to either speed up or slow down automatic functions when necessary.

The Sandvik i–series jumbo features an ergonomically designed workstation with armrest integrated controls, air filtration and optimised flow and reduced noise emissions inside the cab (under 75 dB (A)) and vibration suppression.

The Sandvik Dpi1500i is the first to be launched in a new series of surface top hammer rigs, which offer advanced, practical features that use the latest technology in order to help operators control the machines, a company spokesman said.

Pekka Kesseli, Sandvik's market and offering manager for surface top hammers and down-the-hole (DTH) drills, told CE, “We have tried to build a machine that makes an average driller a good driller.”

The company said that the rigs are equipped with “practical intelligence” that puts an end to guesswork in quarries and open pits. A fully equipped rig provides the user with information on the drilled metres and holes, engine and percussion hours, the amount of burned fuel and on the condition of the drill.

Mr Kesseli said the new machines had quieter, air-conditioned cabins, with “comfortable seats” and joystick controls.

He said customer demand shaped the design of Sandvik machines – whether that is increased operator comfort and safety or enhanced automation.

“Nowadays, in this business if you don't listen to your customers you can't survive and these are the things that our customers are highlighting and bringing up in meetings with our sales people.” Mr Kesseli said.

He added, “When we talk about safety it's not an option it's a must. Automation is another thing and customers' productivity requirements are increasing all the time – it's not just our customers, but also their customers who want more. They are facing tougher requirements and they transfer the same things to us.”

Changing Regulations

Mr Kesseli added that the constant changes to industry legislation and regulations make it increasingly challenging for both the manufacturers and their customers.

“Right now there are a lot of things which our customers are not so keen on yet, but their clients are pushing forwards,” he said.

Some jobsites in Europe would not accept contractors if they had failed to meet all the requirements, he added.

The rock-drilling sector is also affected by strict dust emission regulations, particularly in Sweden. But this law is becoming more common in other countries such as Finland and Norway, as well as in France and Germany, Mr Kesseli said.

“Today there are certain jobsites where no visible dust is allowed at all,” he added. Noise emissions were just as important a consideration for manufacturers across Europe, he said. Sandvik's most recent major development in this area is a new silencer mechanism, which was due to be launched at the Maskin Expo in Stockholm, Sweden at the end of May.

“This is a system which reduces the drilling noise by -10 dB (A) which is an eighth of the original audible noise – it's a huge difference,” Mr Kesseli said.

In September 2005 Atlas Copco launched its Silenced ROC drill rig, which the company said had a noise level of approximately 10 dB (A) below other rigs on the market.

Mikael Ramström, product line manager for Atlas Copco underground drilling equipment, said implementing new legislation, which forced manufacturers to change or redefine their products is not helpful in the current ‘high demand' climate. However, he said by complying with new engine emission regulations, increasing safety and comfort for the operators, it helped to attract much-needed employees to the industry.

The Future is Automatic

Mr Kesseli added that automation is the key for the future development of the drilling sector, adding that the technology which started off in the underground mining sector is starting to break through in to surface drilling.

However, he said, “It will be a long time before the whole world accepts automation and there are places where they will always want basic machines.”

Atlas Copco has incorporated automation and operator safety and comfort features in the design of new machines and equipment.

The major development in automation for the company in recent years is the SmartRig system - a PC-based control system – intended for all kinds of automation in simple and advanced drill rigs. The hardware is designed to operate in all weather conditions and the software can be upgraded on site. SmartRig has built-in logging and monitoring functions together with support for diagnostics and faultfinding.

According to Atlas Copco, its SmartRig Crawler is fast becoming a favourite among surface drillers in the Czech Republic with six drilling contractors ordering eight rigs from the company.

Mr Ramström said the latest in operator comfort and automation can be found in the cabin of the Rocket Boomer E-Series – Atlas Copco's series of face drilling rigs for medium to large tunnels. The latest member in the series is the Rocket Boomer XE3, which, with its added boom has a larger coverage area of 206 m2.

All the rigs are equipped with an adjustable seat with armrest controls and a control panel with a large colour display.

The wide front window with no visible frames, gives excellent visibility for both drilling and tramming. The sound level inside the cabin is down to 80 dB (A) and the air-conditioning unit makes sure that the temperature stays at a comfortable level.

Mr Romström said operator comfort and safety as well as automation are very important factors in the drilling industry especially in more mature markets such as Europe and Australia.

The trend for customers to demand operator comfort, safety and automation in new machines has been strong in the last five to six years, Mr Romström added. He attributed this to the fact that the mining and construction industries had become more aware of the general public and vice versa.

“You have to take these things seriously if you want to have a good reputation as an employer and also as a company in the industry,” he said.

A number of options have been added to the list of features available on the Rocket Boomer E Series in order to increase efficiency and productivity. The rig can now be delivered with its upgraded Tunnel Manager software, the Atlas Copco Tunnel Profiler and a new rod handling system.

New Machines

Rockmore International has launched a new design of down-the-hole hammers, the patent-pending ROK, which is based on their development of SonicFlow technology.

Offered in 76 to 203 mm diameter ranges, for drilling applications in mining, quarrying, water-well and gas fields, these hammers are designed to maximise the high-pressure airflows for overall greater efficiency, a company spokesman said.

Previous to the ROK, airflow paths in DTH hammers have been subject to making more multiple turns through angled orifices, which often creates flow-turbulence and pressure changes, the company spokesman said. New SonicFlow Technology increases airflow efficiency within the ROK hammer and ensures that the high-pressure paths are optimised to deliver the greatest amount of energy to the piston, the spokesman added.

The new patent pending Top Sub is at the centre of the SonicFlow concept.

Atlas Copco's D-series Drill Rigs, including the ROC D5, ROC D and ROC D9 have been upgraded and now boast some new additions to the range including the ROC RRC radio controlled rig, and the ROC D7C/D9C Silenced SmartRig.

A spokesman for the company said, “An even stronger and stiffer boom design on the D-series rigs facilitates perfect collaring and stable drilling. It is designed to carry optional equipment, such as the silencing kit.”

A durable cylinder-operated aluminium feed system gives optimal penetration and drill steel life, the spokesman added. The rigs are compliant with the Stage IIIA exhaust emission limit that also ensure lower fuel consumption.

The cabin has improved balance and stability for tramming in rough terrain and a higher capacity air conditioning system offers improved comfort for the operator.

The ROC D7C/D9C SmartRig is prepared for upgraded software and the optional silencing kit enables the rig to be used in restricted areas.

Boart Longyear has introduced the new DeltaBase 105 geothermal drill rig, which has configuration options for geothermal or anchor drilling, jet grouting or mini piling jobs. Equipped with up to 20 tonnes of pull back force, high capacity flushing, a double head drilling system and a depth capacity up to 400 m the DeltaBase 105 can take on the most difficult of jobs, a company spokesman said.

The DB105 is designed to provide the operator with many tools to meet the challenges of each individual drilling site. It is equipped with many features, which maximise productivity, including a modular mast design to allow for drilling in low overhead clearance areas or extension, of the mast up to 18 m and compact double head system, which allows additional feed length and maximises rod length capabilities. It also features an adjustable control panel position or optional remote control capabilities to allow the driller a clear and safe view of the work site.


The mining and construction industries have expanded incredibly fast in the past year and like most other machinery and equipment in the industry sales of drill rigs and drilling equipment have soared.

Pekka Kesseli, said, “Right now demand is bigger than supply for some of the components and of course that affects the delivery time of machines. It's getting tougher and tougher because this upswing seems to continue.

“We don't really see any global signs of it slowing down – all the indications are very positive. Someday it has to come down – it's a cyclical business – but we don't know when.”

Mr Romström added that there are waiting times for the company's rental fleet as well because demand is so high. The company will be expanding its production facilities to try and help overcome the long waiting times.

Mr Kesseli said he did not predict any major growth in the market except for perhaps in Eastern Europe, where the EU would probably help finance construction projects for new EU member states.

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