Blast drilling only meters from civilian towns is now easier, thanks to a unique Epiroc solution developed for Roc-Drill, a long-standing Australian customer.
March 10, 2022
There are mining towns, and then there’s Ravenswood. This tiny hamlet 150 kilometers inland from Australia’s northeast coast has been a center for gold exploration since 1868. Back then, it was panning and sluicing for alluvial gold. These days, it’s the gaping Buck Reef West open pit, 500 meters long, which operates 24 hours a day just 200 meters from Ravenswood’s beautiful heritage pubs, post office and school buildings.
Mining here comes with strict environmental constraints, so when Roc-Drill, an Australian leader in open drilling and a longstanding customer of Epiroc, tendered for the contract at the new pit, it knew it would need to utilize rigs with noise-reduction technology.
“We don’t work with very many noise-reduced drills in northern Australia because you just don’t need them,” says Stewart Prince, Epiroc regional manager for Mount Isa and Townsville. “You’re in an environment where it doesn’t matter. But obviously it matters in Ravenswood. They’re mining so close to town.”
Roc-Drill diverted three Epiroc SmartROC T40 rigs with Noise Reduction Kit originally destined for New Zealand to start work in the new pit. But going forward, it needed to source a higher capacity drill with the same noise suppression capabilities. Epiroc stepped up to the plate. Account Manager for Eastern Australia David Green liaised with Roc-Drill while Business Line Manager for the Australian Surface division Craig Marsh worked with Epiroc’s Product Company in Örebro, Sweden, to develop a solution that took the boomassembly and Noise Reduction Kit typical of a SmartROC T40 and fitted it onto a larger SmartROC T45 carrier.
The new rig would have a higher capacity with a 250-kilowatt engine versus a 168-kilowatt engine and a 223 liters-per-second compressor versus a 153 liters-per-second compressor, but with the relatively lightweight, hydraulically powered Noise Reduction Kit of the T40, which slashes the noise of drilling and rod changes by a gamechanging 10 decibels.
“Craig worked with the factory [in Örebro, Sweden] to take the kit from the SmartROC T40 and fit it to the bigger frame of the SmartROC T45, so it’s got more air, more horsepower,” Prince says.
Epiroc has a long history of developing tailored solutions for its customers, but creating a hybrid machine in today’s stricter regulatory environment is no easy feat. “Something like this is very challenging,” Prince says. “You need to be able to support the machines with operational manuals, parts books and software, so there are a lot of flow-on effects.”
The first two SmartROC T45 rigs shipped from Örebro in February 2021 and were onsite by May. The difference between a stock rig and the same unit with the Noise Reduction Kit is enormous.
“It makes a huge difference,” Prince says. “Particularly at night when it’s still. That’s when you can tell the difference from an un-noise-restricted rig."
The Noise Reduction Kit’s hydraulically operated aluminum doors come with other advantages, such as limiting the environmental impact in the event of a consumables spill. And the operator of a noise-reduced rig can simply turn the boom horizontal and open the kit’s doors for easy equipment maintenance.
“Nigel de Veth, Roc-Drill’s CEO, has had this idea on how to mine this pit in the best possible way,” Prince says. “And that application is being considered in other mine sites where you have opencut mining happening very close to town.
As resources are becoming harder to find, mining is happening closer to towns. So, you have to come up with different and better solutions.”