Productivity push: The latest global drilling products and projects
By Becca Wilkins16 February 2009
The global financial climate has forced drilling equipment manufacturers to re-address the issue of enhancing machine productivity. Using electronic controls and improving operator comfort are some of the ways this can be achieved. Becca Wilkins reports.
As the economic crisis tightens its grip across the globe it is vital that drilling equipment manufacturers remain competitive in readiness for the return of a more stable market. This is increasingly achieved by integrating the latest software into equipment, enabling processes to be performed automatically and therefore increasing efficiency and productivity.
Sandvik's new DTi-series intelligent tunnelling jumbos - the DT920i, the DT1120i, the DT1130i and the DT1230i - feature the company's iSure tunnel planning software - a system offering a new way of simultaneously working with blasting and drilling patterns.
A spokesman for Sandvik said the iSure system offers an efficient way to analyse and manage tunnelling project information and consists of three modules: iSure Tunnel, iSure Report and iSure Analysis.
He added, "A major strength of the Sandvik iSure is that, as opposed to the traditional approach where the initial drilling surface is used, it utilises the level of the hole ends - where the excavation is at its most demanding and where more energy is needed to break and loosen rock - for calculating the hole spacing and burden. This means optimised blasting as per plan, which in turn, leads to better pull-out, decreased need for scaling, increased rock loadability and smoother collaring in the following round."
In the drill pattern, Sandvik stated the iSure can define a range of different hole types such as contour holes, field holes and grouting holes that use their own parameters - increasing the accuracy and speed of the excavation process. The software also features plans which can be edited - an advantage which "greatly speeds up the planning process".
Meanwhile, the intelligent features on the DTi jumbos also improve productivity. According to Sandvik, data collection of production and process information such as round data, cumulative production data and drilling parameter logging helps with planning production logistics and maintenance schedules.
Jorma Kalliomäki, Sandvik's market and offering manager for tunnelling and underground civil engineering, told iC, "The i series was also developed for automatic drilling in order to achieve greater accuracy and speed."
Working in automatic mode, the DTi series jumbos follow a designed drill plan and drilling sequence, which "greatly adds to the predictability of the tunnelling process," the company said. For flexibility in special rock conditions, there is a range of features allowing the operator to fine-tune the process on line.
Boart Longyear has also incorporated electronic controls into its drilling equipment to improve safety and productivity.
Kevin Bates, global product manager for the company said, "We have recently focused more on de-coupling the operator directly from the drill rig when drilling and moving the equipment. This has been achieved through the use of radio control or cable control systems that position the driller safely outside the drill operating area.
"Additionally, all of Boart Longyear's new drill rigs use Rexroth's CANBUS systems to control the engines. These systems assist in meeting engine emissions requirements and help boost fuel economy," he said.
Meanwhile, the company said its new 4200 surface exploration drill features the industry's first hands-free rod management system comprising a rod-handler, an auto adjusting breakout tool and a hoist plug spinner. The company said the rod handler is equipped with "fail safe jaws" and level sensors which limit release positions and eliminate accidental rod drops.
It also uses wireless remote control to position the operator outside the operating area. Mr Bates said the new rod handling technologies for mineral exploration and reverse circulation drill rigs will soon find their way into the company's construction and geotechnical drill rigs.
The 4200 also features the company's new drill operating system, featuring Rexroth CANBUS technology for self-monitoring and efficient rig operation. A spokesman for the company said the self-monitoring valves provide real-time status information to operators and the system's large LCD screen guides operators through start-up, drilling and troubleshooting procedures.
Elsewhere, Atlas Copco's rock drill control system (RCS) for use on its SmartRig range of drills adjusts drilling power to suit the ground conditions, with the three vital control parameters being rotation pressure, drill dampening pressure and penetration rate. The company said the system also improves the service life of drilling consumables, such as the shank adapter and drill steel by more than +20%.
In addition to better economy in consumables, the risk of drill strings getting stuck in blast holes is reduced, resulting in increased rig availability and overall drilling productivity, the company added.
The company's Hole Navigation System adds a new dimension to the "extensive" automation already available on a SmartRig to complete pre-planned drill patterns after initial set-up. Meanwhile, Atlas Copco's PC-based ROC Manager can be used to design drill patterns and analyse drilling results.
Mr Bates told iC electronics will continue to play an important role in the drilling equipment sector.
"The increasing requirements for more real-time information about drill rig performance as well as the requirements for control over the major drill rig systems can only be achieved through electronic systems," he said.
Electronic controls are also used to help improve the operator's working environment. The theory is the safer and more comfortable the operator is the more productive he and therefore, the equipment, are likely to be.
According to Mr Kalliomäki, operator comfort will remain a major area of focus for Sandvik in future. He said the key developments in underground drilling can be seen in the i-series line-up.
"In the development phase, one of the focus points was definitely user-friendliness which means ergonomic operator environment and therefore also improved safety," he added.
He said when drilling and blasting is carried out correctly, the excavation result will be of better quality and safety is improved.
The cab in the new tunnelling jumbos features a +20% larger window surface providing improved visibility in every drilling application. It also has high power xenon lights for drilling and tramming and an operator seat is placed as close to the windshield as possible to further enhance visibility.
A spokesman for the company said, "An ergonomically designed workstation with integrated, sophisticated armrest controls, advanced air filtration and optimised flow together with excellent noise - under 75 db (A) - and vibration control system offer the operator a pleasant and ergonomic working environment."
Meanwhile, noise and oil leakages are "considerably reduced" by using Atlas Copco's SmartRig control system which introduces the concept of a "dry cab", which means there is no hydraulic pipe work and gauges. This is achieved via electrical signals which control the hydraulic valves, the company stated.
It added control gauges and instruments are replaced by a display unit which frees up cab space increasing visibility and therefore improving operator ergonomics.
Perhaps more so now than ever drilling equipment manufacturers are looking at ways to differentiate their products from the competition. Incorporating the latest electronic controls into the machines and therefore increasing overall machine productivity is one way of achieving this.
Mr Bates told iC electronic systems will be needed in future to develop safe drilling practices.
"Safety measures for rig stability and general operation benefit from the use of advanced sensors and real-time feedback," he said.
He added the company sees a continuing need for real-time data of drilling parameters and ground conditions, including recommended actions to be taken by the operator, based on the data collected.
"Drilling and driller productivity is always dependent on the conditions of the ground. The better the ground conditions are understood, the more productive the driller can be," he explained.