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Automatic bit changing

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This new mine has already produced an impressive performance, both in terms of profitability and production.

The Ridgeway mine is one of Australia’s largest underground mines with a total ore production of 5.6 million tonnes per year.

Located near Orange in central New South Wales and near the well-known Cadia Hill open pit operation, it has only been in operation since 2002.

In April 2005, Ridgeway switched from contractor to owner mining.

Looking to further increase the productivity of two, long-hole production drill rigs, the management investigated ways to achieve higher daily drilling rates with the same manning and equipment.

The mine is accessed by a decline and a sublevel caving method is being used.

Mining commenced at the top of the ore-body and extraction levels are developed every 25 metres.

Having successfully used single-hole automation for several years to drill during shift changes and breaks, Atlas Copco’s Advanced Boom Control (ABC) fan automation technology was selected to further enhance this capability.

Ridgeway has two Atlas Copco Simba L6 C production rigs drilling upholes continuously, one of which is currently fitted with the ABC system.

Peter Trout, Cadia Valley Operations Manager – Mining Underground, says the automation technology is well suited to the application.

“We were looking for a low-cost option to deliver extra drilling capacity,” says Trout.

“It is early days (using ABC) but it has the potential to give us a productivity improvement of up to 10%.”

Fully automated

The ABC Total version of the Atlas Copco technology employed at the Ridgeway mine fully automates the drilling process.

The boom and feed are positioned automatically according to a pre-programmed drill pattern and drilling sequence.

Automatic collaring, rod changing and drilling of each hole in the sequence then take place.

The need to manually change bits during the drilling of some long holes, or between holes, has been a major hurdle for the industry to overcome in its drive to fully automate production and development drilling processes.

First in Australia

Ridgeway is the first mine in Australia to use a mechanised bit changing system in conjunction with the rig automation technology.

Consisting of a bit carousel that rotates and allows drill bits to be removed and replaced without operator intervention, the bit changer is activated by the Atlas Copco rig control system (RCS) which is an integral part of the automation package.

Ian Walson, Atlas Copco’s Product Manager, Underground Drilling Equipment, says Ridgeway’s use of the ABC and bit changing systems marked a significant point in the industry’s adoption of advanced automation technology.

He says while RCS technology is well established, the recently developed bit changing system opens the door to full automation of continuous drilling sequences and processes for many mines.

“Automation and associated performance monitoring and control technology is the key to harnessing all the power that we can generate with our rock drills,” Walson says.

“Our drilling technology is so advanced now. With electronic systems able to monitor, measure and relay thousands of bits of performance data per minute, adjustments can only be made by a computerised control system.”

The next step would be to take advantage of Ethernet or even wireless communications technology in order to download drill plans from mine planning offices to drilling equipment and transfer production data back to the main computer. “You will be able to see how accurately you’ve been drilling and make any necessary adjustments almost immediately,” says Walson.

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