Emerging technology makes drilling and blasting easier

By |  March 17, 2020
Drill and blast contractors such as General Drilling and Maine Drilling & Blasting have adopted the Strayos technology. Photo: Strayos

Drill and blast contractors
such as General Drilling and
Maine Drilling & Blasting have adopted the Strayos technology. Photo: Strayos

Managing the energy released in blasting activity is being made easier because of an emerging technology.

Strayos, a St. Louis company, developed software that employs artificial intelligence to provide drilling and blasting companies highly detailed 2-D and 3-D virtual models of blasting sites. Information supplied through the models provides blasting crews additional information about variables on a specific blasting site.

Ravi Sahu, Strayos’ founder and CEO, says his software program analyzes physical site data collected either by a drone or other field machines. Once gathered, data is uploaded to a cloud where blasters can store and access blasting data in their company account.

“I worked in the software industry for 14 years before I started my own company,” Sahu says. “My work primarily involved buildings. Over time, I recognized there was potential for developing software that could be used to resolve some issues in the quarry and mining industry.”

Pushing a change

Because drones collect the data used to analyze a blast site, safety for blasting crews is greatly increased. With the in-depth data, blast results can also be more satisfactory.

General Drilling, a contractor offering quarries blasthole drilling services, is among those utilizing the Strayos technology.

“General Drilling has always been [at] the forefront of innovation and adopting new technology,” says Gus Diehr, treasurer at General Drilling. “We learned about Strayos three years ago when we were searching for a way to improve the drilling software we already had.”

Among other things, Diehr sought to create a drilling log he could provide to customers and retain in his own blasting records. His search revealed that some software companies already engaged in gathering blasting data were not willing to dedicate time or resources to expand their program features.

“What we were looking for wasn’t perceived as a high demand in the drilling industry,” Diehr says. “One foreign company was willing to work with us, but the logistics weren’t feasible.”

When Diehr’s search led him to Strayos, he found that Sahu already intended to expand his software’s photogrammetry features to accommodate the needs of blasting companies.
“There haven’t been many changes in drilling and blasting equipment or processes for a century,” Diehr says. “We use the same approach and same equipment our grandfathers used. But in our world today, you either adapt or you die. Today’s engineers want specific data and measurable results.”

How it works

In using the Strayos program, Diehr typically flies a drone for about five minutes to collect as many as 100 images. Once gathered, the images are uploaded to Diehr’s Strayos account, where they are quickly analyzed.

Ravi Sahu worked in the software industry for 14 years before founding Strayos. Photo: Strayos

Ravi Sahu worked in the software industry for 14 years before founding Strayos. Photo: Strayos

Once the analysis is complete, Diehr downloads the generated model and uses the information it provides to design his drilling activities.

“The images give us very accurate information about the distance between potential drilling points so blasting crews can design a blast,” Diehr says.

Once holes are drilled according to a blast design, Diehr flies the drone again to determine if the holes were accurately placed. If necessary, adjustments are made so the blast yields the desired results.

“After the blast, we analyze the results to determine if the burden results were as expected, how the blastholes affected one another and fragmentation results,” he says.

When a blast goes well, the precise data recorded with the Strayos program – including GPS information – makes the blast results repeatable. Companies such as Diehr’s can more accurately assess the results of their work, gain valuable insight into specific drilling activities, and make adjustments to achieve the same or similar results.

“We can also use the recorded data to modify a portion of the blast or the entire blast design,” Diehr says. “That ability gives both our company and the quarry an important advantage and saves both of us time and money.”

Additional benefits

Precise data generated through the Strayos software, with 2-centimeter accuracy, also verifies the quality of both the drilling and blasting activities for customers, leaving no question about the blast’s design or drill hole placement.

Diehr believes the rock quarries that adopt the technology will find additional ways to utilize it.

“One quarry was searching for a geological seam that was between 1.5 and 2 in. thick,” Diehr says. “They used a geological assessment to determine that it was there, but it took the Strayos program to isolate the seam and identify its elevation. You couldn’t see it in the face of the formation.”

Diehr is utilizing both the Strayos 3-D photogrammetry and his drilling equipment’s data to create a more complete picture of a site and “see what’s happening on the inside and outside of the site.”

“In the past, we used experience and intuition to project site elements,” he says. “Now, we can be more certain of what we’re working with.”

Another perspective

Maine Drilling & Blasting’s Pete Bennett started his company in 1966. He works in the Maine region and as far south as Tennessee.

Bennett has worked with Strayos over the past three years to assist in identifying the features of the software that will help fulfill the needs of drilling and blasting companies like his.

“A joint-venture partner of ours connected us with Strayos,” Bennett says. “We wanted to update our platform for 3-D imaging and bore tracking. Ravi has relied on us to help identify what a drilling/blasting contractor would want in this kind of software. We’ve helped him develop it.”

In the past, laser scanning – which required passing over the surface of a specific site – was used to gather the information drones now collect. Utilizing a drone, however, is faster and requires less manpower.

“On the equipment side, drones are becoming very cost-effective,” Bennett says. “Strayos charges an annual user license for use of their software and storage. For us, this is a suitable price point.”

In spite of the advances Strayos brings to drilling and blasting companies, Bennett appreciates the fact that the company isn’t sitting still in terms of the features of its software program.

“Ravi is always working to make the product better,” Bennett says. “One feature he incorporated for us was hole deviation measurement. We have more precise information about the hole we load explosives into. That’s so important to our safety.”

Bennett has also seen producers utilize the technology to better plan a quarry’s future and develop an accurate drill and blast budget.

“Strayos is very user friendly and efficient,” Bennett says. “Quarry engineers will easily navigate through the data the program provides and will find it very beneficial for planning the future of the quarry.”

According to Sahu, Strayos is being used by more than 40 U.S. customers and 15 companies in other nations.

“This is a very new technology,” Sahu says. “Our vision is to make every drill and blast operation data driven and provide measurable results for better business decisions.
For now, we are focused on the quarry and mining industry. In coming years, we will be mindful of how the technology might be used in other industries.”

Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer in Yankton, South Dakota. She produces material on a variety of topics, serves as a ghostwriter, and has authored her own books.

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