DRILLING AUTOMATION HOLDS PROMISE FOR AFRICA’S QUARRIES

Globally, the quarrying sector is embracing a trend in the automation of surface drill rigs; operations in sub-Saharan Africa are not expected to be left behind.

Vanessa Hardy, business line manager surface drills at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, says she looks forward to growing interest especially in Southern Africa, with many quarry customers already owning Sandvik drill rigs which are automation-ready.

“The move towards autonomous drilling will be increasingly difficult to resist, especially as more users see the benefits in terms of productivity and cost-saving,” says Hardy.

She highlights that Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions offers a high level of flexibility, allowing customers to select the level of automation that best suits their operation.

“Where the customer still wants an operator in the cab, for instance, there are various one-touch buttons to improve performance and accuracy,” she says. “These functions include the rig being able to level itself before operation, to automatically bring the drill up into a drilling position, and to auto-collar the drill.”

The on-board technology also allows the operator to set, store and recall operating ‘recipes’ for different drilling applications. These recipes – which apply a certain predefined combination of rotations, pressures and other variables – can be automatically implemented at the push of a button.

“We have made safety, efficiency and productivity the main focus areas of our iSeries range of intelligent drill rigs, and these all help customers reduce operating costs,” she says. “Our automation technologies have also opened doors for remote working; this may involve an operator standing on the bench while watching the rig, or working from a control room far from site.”

She emphasised that the key advantage of these remote operation options was to enhance operator comfort and safety, while at the same time raising the performance of the machine. The sensors and automatic settings also protect the equipment from being pushed too hard, reducing the total cost of ownership by bringing down maintenance costs.

“It is important to remember, though, that the automation journey is not simple – and usually means many organisational and other challenges,” says Hardy. “With our experience in this field, Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions commits to work closely with customers to ensure a positive outcome to this journey.”