Drilling automation

24 April 2008

Atlas Copco's Rocket Boomer E2 is equipped with its BUT 45 boom, which offers 190° of rotation aroun

Atlas Copco's Rocket Boomer E2 is equipped with its BUT 45 boom, which offers 190° of rotation around the axis of the boom, and a choice of top-mounted or side-mounted feeds.

The Last 12 Months Have Seen Several significant acquisitions in the drilling equipment sector. In August last year drilling and mining equipment manufacturer Boart Longyear was sold by Anglo American to London-based private equity group Advent International for US$ 545 million (€ 454 million).

This was followed in September by the announcement that Atlas Copco South Africa had acquired Consolidated Rock Machinery (CRM), which manufacturers hydraulic boom systems and a range of pneumatic tools. Then in May this year Atlas Copco announced it had made another acquisition with the takeover of Thiessen Team Mining Products, a Canadian-based manufacturer of drilling consumables.

In January this year Terex announced it had completed the acquisition of Halco Holdings, including its subsidiaries Halco Drilling International, Halco America, Halco Drilling Equipment in Australia and Halco Drilling in Ireland from Metso Minerals.

Finally, as CE was going to press, Sandvik completed its acquisition of Australia's SDS Corporation. SDS makes drilling equipment for mineral exploration. Sandvik is also in the process of acquiring Hagby-Asahi, a Japanese company that makes diamond drilling tools and the associated drilling rigs.


While there may be room for further takeovers and consolidation in the industry manufacturers have also been busy launching new products. Having rolled out the 1000th ROC D7 surface crawler in January this year Atlas Copco has expanded the ROC range with the SmartRig ROC D7.

A variation on this basic rig is the Silenced SmartRig, which has an external noise level of just 113 dB(A). Besides this -10 dB(A) reduction in noise levels over the basic model, which makes it suitable for work in urban areas, the rig has an unprecedented amount of technology on-board, with GPS systems being employed to help various parts of the working cycle.

According to Lennart Lundin, product manager, surface drilling equipment, “SmartRigs have built-in logging and monitoring functions, together with support for diagnostics and faultfinding. Via PC software, the SmartRig control system's electrical signals are generated to control the hydraulic valves.”

Mr Lundin told CE that using the control system, including the anti-jamming function, results in higher penetration rates and longer service life of drill string components. While automatic feed positioning reduces set-up time and cancels out operator error by setting the feed to pre-defined angles at the touch of a button.

“The automatic rod adding system, AutoRAS, enables the operator to drill automatically to a given depth, allowing him to leave the cab to carry out other duties such as maintenance checks or grinding bits,” said Mr Lundin.

Also adding to increased productivity is the use of real-time GPS. According to Mr Lundin there is now no need to mark out holes manually, and the accuracy is such that all holes will be parallel.

“Using information on the cab's display, the operator can navigate the rig to the coverage position for a given hole, and the computer will give him the information to place and align the feed exactly over the collar position. The drill plan can be provided by our ROC Manager, and transferred to the rig via a PC card,” said Mr Lundin.

Surface Rigs

Another new surface rig is Swedish manufacturer Sandvik's down-the-hole (DTH) Titon 405. Capable of drilling holes from 90 to 152 mm it has a high tramming speed of 4 km/hour.

Thanks to a long fixed boom it can cover a large surface area, which means easier and faster hole spotting, according to a Sandvik spokesman. The Titon 405 is also extremely steady during drilling thanks to the curved shape of its ground support, which helps prevents hole collapse, even in soft terrain, or when drilling inclined holes.

Service and maintenance requirements have also been addressed with a special oil cleaning system with an additional high-pressure hydraulic filter. This keeps the oil pure, which in turn, increases the machine's reliability because the hydraulic system does not suffer from an accumulation of impurities.

Adding to the easy service requirements are its component layout and large service hatches. It also features a spacious ROPS/FOPS cab with large windows and excellent visibility, while operator comfort and productivity are helped by its ergonomic seat.

Also new is Italian manufacturer CMV's MK 600M. According to marketing director Rita Procaccini, the MK 600M, like the rest of the MK range - 420D to 3000F - is suitable for micro piles, anchors, tiebacks and soil investigations. Capable of air, water or foam rotary drilling with rock-drag bit they are available as either top hammer or DTH rigs.

Independent crawlers and four out-riggers provide stability during operation, while a mast parallelogram attachment gives access to tight, narrow spaces.

All the MK models are equipped with sideways shift rotary tables, giving easy drill rod connection, adjustable drilling speed and torque. According to Ms Procaccini, most of the CMV rotary tables can also be equipped with a top hammer (drifter) and drill back device.

Other optional extras include water pumps (piston and screw type), foaming pumps, core ejection pumps, lubricating liners for DTH applications and a jet grouting kit. This includes a drilling mast extension, a hydraulic mandrel fitted inside the rotary head and digital timer.

Also new for surface applications is Fraste's Multidrill XL-Max. While the compact Multidrill XL-Max's modular design means customers can have a bespoke unit standard features include direct and reverse circulation drilling, ease of switching from one system to another in a short time, a strong steel main frame mounted on a steel crawler carrier - although rubber tracks are available as an option.

Also new from Fraste is its “stand alone” casing pipe rotary table, which can be attached to almost any rig. It features a crown wheel rotation, driven by two hydraulic motors, that significantly reduces slewing wear and makes maintenance and operation easier. Clamping diameters available run from 220 to 420 mm.

Below Ground

Of course surface applications are not the only place contractors are using drilling rigs. Many new roads are underground, particularly in urban environments and mountainous regions, and contractors have plenty of new machines to choose from.

Sandvik's new “intelligent generation” of its Tamrock series tunnelling jumbos, for example, the Tamrock T9i (the i stands for intelligent), combines precision and power with a user-friendly working environment, according to Ulla Korsman, project manager, tunnelling jumbos.

“The drifter and the control system are the heart and soul of the new T9i. The triple dampening in rock drills together with sensitive drilling controls allows maximum power use in any rock, but without overloading the drill strings,” said Mr Korsman.

“The machine's strong structure, robust booms and advanced drill string guides make it a fast and accurate driller. Accurate drilling and blasting prevents overbreak and underbreak and therefore reduces costs significantly,” added Mr Korsman.

The user interface of the Tamrock T9i includes an ergonomically designed workstation, easily understood displays and built-in diagnostics. Thanks to the condition monitoring, the operator can see whether preventive maintenance is needed immediately or if he can continue until the work phase is completed. The data systems of the Tamrock T9i can interact with existing network systems, making production and rig maintenance planning more effective.

Also new for the tunnelling sector is Atlas Copco's E2 Rocket Boomer. According to Mikael Ramström, product line manager, underground drilling equipment, “The new E2 Rocket Boomer is the first of a generation of drill rigs that is equipped with the BUT 45 boom, the result of two years of intensive field-testing.”

Mr Ramström told CE the BUT 45 boom represents a complete rethink of the rotation units, resulting in the BHR 20 with its double rotation head. Offering 190° of rotation around the axis of the boom, and a choice of top-mounted or side-mounted feeds, the BHR 20 opens the way to faster boom and feed movements when drilling the tunnel face. With 135° of sideways boom rotation and higher bracing force, crosscut and rock bolt drilling requires less set-ups.

“The higher carrying capacity of the BUT 45 allows more flexibility of choice of boom-mounted options. More importantly, the increased boom stiffness permits a longer boom extension and more accurate positioning,” said Mr Ramström.

The ten new models of the new E-series will all feature the upgraded RCS3 Rig Control System RCS3, which gives improved control of the drilling process, and boom and feed movements.


Automation in the drilling sector looks set to continue, as does the use of GPS-based technologies. While these may mean increased productivity it is also worth remembering that they can also provide other benefits: higher site safety levels, lower fuel consumption and noise levels, less dust and vibration. All positive benefits for those that work in the sector, and those who live close to construction sites.

The use of these technologies is sure to grow, as are the benefits for the population in general. It is hoped manufacturers adopt these technologies for machines destined for markets outside Europe so others can benefit too.

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