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How drilling, blasting tech continues to advance

By |  January 19, 2023

Another wave of innovation is coming early this year when manufacturers and technology providers unveil their latest products at ConExpo-Con/Agg.

Developments in drilling and blasting will undoubtedly be part of the rollouts showcased at the March 14-18 trade show in Las Vegas. The past year, however, brought a number of drilling and blasting developments to the market. Here’s a look at four that surfaced in the second half of 2022:  

1. Fragmentation monitoring technology

An example of a FRAGTrack Gantry installation. Photo: Orica

An example of a FRAGTrack Gantry installation. Photo: Orica

Orica launched a fragmentation monitoring technology that combines real-time oversize detection alerts and accurate particle size distribution of fragmentation for all haul truck models and sizes.

According to Orica, FRAGTrack Gantry uses advanced machine-vision and machine-learning technologies to enable autonomous triggering and processing – without interfering with hauling operations.

FRAGTrack Gantry leverages real-time oversize detection through AI, Orica says. The machine-learning capability is applied to real-time detection that’s accomplished within seconds. Alerts are syndicated via fleet management systems, email or SMS for the rerouting of trucks.

Operators can predetermine customizable oversize limits, enabling a reduction in crusher blockage and damage frequency due to oversize material.

“The full adoption of AI technology into our architecture, coupled with our strategic partnership with Microsoft, allows us to expedite the delivery of capabilities that were not previously possible,” says Raj Mathiravedu, vice president of digital solutions at Orica. “FRAGTrack Gantry is another example of how we are leveraging AI to help deliver intelligence and value to our customers.”

Orica says the fragmentation information from FRAGTrack Gantry enables customers to optimize their drill and blast operations for downstream processes without impacting the haul circuit operation. The addition of a Gantry option complements the suite of FRAGTrack measurement systems currently available for shovel-, crusher- and conveyor-mounted configurations.

2. Blasting analytics

BlastVision offers a variety of capabilities, including flyrock identification. Photo: Orica

BlastVision offers a variety of capabilities, including flyrock identification. Photo: Orica

GroundProbe, a member of the Orica Group, also unveiled an innovation it characterizes as a “world first” in blasting analytics.

BlastVision is a solution delivering actionable blast performance insights so optimal safety and productivity can be achieved. According to GroundProbe, the data BlastVision collects aids in the detection of potential misfires and out-of-sequence firing, as well as in identifying and tracking flyrock. 

Intra-blast monitoring adds wall control insights, the company adds, including the monitoring and mapping of instantaneous blast damage to slopes. Monitoring also identifies movement on significant structures.

“Through talking to mine site engineers responsible for blasting on the ground, we identified that many sites were still quite simple and sometimes using unsafe methods for blast analysis,” says David Noon, CEO of GroundProbe. “From this, the idea of using drone footage and automated algorithms to quickly identify key areas of interest was born.”

As GroundProbe describes, BlastVision takes custom, high-speed drone footage of a blast as it happens. Using algorithms and modern AI frameworks, BlastVision converts the footage into analytics data.

Data is then analyzed remotely within a custom software platform, and insights are quickly reported back to sites. From there, GroundProbe says mine personnel can optimize blasting and monitor its impacts.

“BlastVision provides an increased level of safety, efficiency, accuracy and productivity through our software algorithm automatically identifying key areas and issues,” says Fernanda Carrea, vice president at GroundProbe. “Data is also able to be captured before, during and after a blast, and [it] covers the blast area in its entirety.”

GroundProbe says BlastVision has been tested, trialed or demonstrated at more than 60 mine sites around the world. 

3. Electronic initiation system

BME recently achieved the first blast outside of South Africa with its new Axxis Silver electronic initiation system. Photo: BME

BME recently achieved the first blast outside of South Africa with its new Axxis Silver electronic initiation system. Photo: BME

BME, meanwhile, continues to expand its use of the new Axxis Silver electronic initiation system.

The Axxis Silver system is a slimmed-down version of the company’s Axxis Titanium product, employing a dual basis of safety with a dual-voltage and dual-capacitor configuration. BME says the design reduces the risk of uncommanded firings. 

The company’s detonators now contain a Swiss-designed application-specific integrated circuit chip, giving the system more internal safety gates against stray current and lightning. 

Axxis Silver allows up to 1,800 holes to be detonated in a single blast following an initiation from two blast boxes that are linked. The company says mines are asking for larger blasts to reduce downtime from pit stoppages during blasting.

Also, BME says Axxis Silver performs in all weather conditions – including extreme cold, snow and ice.

“We have had Axxis successfully tested in the U.S. for operating in temperatures below minus 40 degrees in anticipation of growing business opportunities in the U.S. and Canada,” says Hennie du Preez, BME’s Axxis support manager.

4. Automatic bit changer

Epiroc says the automatic bit changer option is designed to change rotary tricone bits significantly faster than manual exchanges, eliminating human interaction with the drill string for a safer, more efficient way to operate a drill fleet. Photo: Epiroc

Epiroc says the automatic bit changer option is designed to change rotary tricone bits significantly faster than manual exchanges, eliminating human interaction with the drill string for a safer, more efficient way to operate a drill fleet. Photo: Epiroc

In drilling, Epiroc introduced an automatic bit changer for hands-free bit changes on the Pit Viper 270 and Pit Viper 290 series drill rigs used in rotary drilling. 

The automatic bit changer option is designed to change rotary tricone bits significantly faster than manual exchanges, Epiroc says, eliminating human interaction with drill string for safer, more efficient operation.

According to Epiroc, operators can do bit changes with a single touch of a button and stay informed on their screen. Operators can make or break joints, select drill bits and add or remove them. Bit changes can be done either from a control room or from the cab. 

“The early collaboration with customers and cross-functional teams resulted in an auto bit changer that is repeatable, keeps the operator out of the line of fire and improves machine uptime,” says Matthew Fosler, senior design engineer of Epiroc’s surface division.

A carousel design allows up to four bits to be changed faster and safer than a single manual exchange, Epiroc adds. The removable bit carousel can store rotary tricone bits in varying sizes and cutting structure.

The automatic bit changer is available for new drills and retrofit of drills already in the field, the company adds.

“Through its development and trial, the automatic bit changer has proven to be the safest and most efficient way to change bits that is currently available,” says Carla Chaname, product manager of automation for Epiroc’s surface division.

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