Los Bronces teleremote drilling project

23 June 2020

Anglo American, British multinational mining company, partnered with Epiroc to develop and implement the new teleremote drilling project at the largest and most prominent copper mine in Chile, the Los Bronces mine. Using the Pit Viper 351, Epiroc developed a remote operation system that made it possible to increase safety, drill more accurately, and increase overall efficiency.

The ever-fluctuating price cycles of commodities, the scarcity of qualified operators, the high cost of critical inputs such as water and energy, and environmental requirements are all challenges that the operation faces on a daily basis. Despite these challenges, the Los Bronces management team is dedicated to improving production processes and performing with greater efficiency.


The overall goals of partnering with Epiroc on the teleremote drilling initiatives were reducing operational costs, increasing worker safety and maintaining operational continuity. Those in the mining industry know all too well the significant impacts on productivity that occur as a result of personnel or process delays.

Understanding the challenges facing the industry, Epiroc, through its Drilling Solutions business line, has worked to develop innovative technologies that seek to reduce costs, improve safety and increase productivity. According to Charlie Ekberg, General Manager of Epiroc Chile, the solution to address a number of these challenges revolves around one specific initiative. “In our company we look at the future of mining in Chile, and we understand that automation is key.”

Fernando Depix, representative of Epiroc Chile, believes the first step in implementing automation is getting people comfortable with teleremote operation. "Today we have focused specifically on the first step of the process that can help boost productivity within an open pit mine — drilling, but operated remotely."

"There is a lot of value that can be added to the operation by implementing technological solutions that allow remote operation from integrated centers away from the site. Because operators are not in the pit, they are not exposed to the inherent risks of the site like blasting, noise, and dust. Additionally, there are substantial savings in eliminating the transfer of personnel from the pit to the surface during shift changes or blast schedules. Remote operations deliver more accurate drilling and greater operational efficiency."

Fernando Depix, Representative Epiroc Chile

Depix also explains that there aren't any major requirements on-site to implement remote drilling solutions. In fact, we really only need proper communication and navigation infrastructure (network/GPS). "With these simple requirements, an operator can manage up to three drills simultaneously from a control room kilometers away. Another alternative is full autonomy, where there is no interaction during the operation because the drill unit is programmed to fulfill its predesignated drilling function. The operator can monitor the performance of the equipment from anywhere," he claims.

 

Depix also affirms that proper training is essential to achieve success with teleremote drilling operations. "Epiroc has an Application Center, responsible for training the customer's operators before, during, and after the implementation of automation projects."

 

Regarding the partnership with Epiroc, Hennie Faul, Anglo American's Executive President of Copper, affirms that integrating remote drilling into their operations is a positive step. "Our goal as a mining company is to continue to innovate. We need to be reimagining the way we do business constantly, and the remote drilling initiative responds precisely to that challenge," says Faul.

"Our dedication to innovation has not only allowed us to define the most appropriate and efficient level of technology according to the cost but also to select the best equipment for Los Bronces to achieve operational excellence."

Hennie Faul, Executive President Copper - Anglo American
The partnership with Epiroc began in 2016 when two remote operation consoles were installed in a vehicle, and a point-to-point communication system was installed on a pair of Epiroc Pit Viper drills. These units were able to communicate through "line of sight" and at a distance of up to 1,000 meters. Soon after, wifi communication systems and fiber optic networks were implemented to operate six drill units from the newly-appointed Operational Management Room in the Los Bronces mine offices.

Strength through automation

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