January 18, 2018
At the Peñasquito mine, in the State of Zacatecas, Mexico, ore is extracted using shovel mining techniques and trucked to a facility that processes oxide ore with an average gold recovery of 57%. Ore is also transported to a plant that processes sulfide ore with an average gold recovery of 66%. The mine moves more than 500,000 tons of ore daily and houses from up to 5,000 workers.
Blasting takes place daily. To accomplish the task, the Peñasquito team relies on its fleet of Pit Vipers. When controlling the Pit Vipers, the operations station next to the Peñasquito pit is just a kilometer away from where the drills. However, there’s no limit on how far the operator’s station can be from the pit. If the mine’s network is in good shape, Pit Viper operators could be hundreds of kilometers away from the drills themselves.
The Peñasquito mine now has two fully autonomous blast hole drills. They have seen improved drill patterns, hole accuracy, and penetration rates. For the mine personnel, one important benefit is that they are now able to remove crewmembers from hazardous areas between phases 6D and 5D. “These are high-risk zones, and we don’t want to put our staff in danger,” says Oscar Sandoval, Mine Production Manager. Other benefits have been realized by the team at Peñasquito — most notably, productivity.
"Another key benefit is the increase in productivity; we can now carry on working during shift changeovers, meal breaks, and when blasting. We can increase the use of the equipment and gain greater results."
"It' about reducing operational costs and improving productivity. With automation, we enabled ourselves to do more with machines that we already had, maximizing the value of our assets. In terms of safety, we’re able to put the operators in a control room instead of in a high-risk area,”"
With the first two autonomous drills in Peñasquito, they realized that the increased efficiency allowed them to invest in fewer drill rigs. “Now we're more precise in the targets. The autonomous drills achieved a 30% improvement in precision,” claims VP of Technology, Canepari. “Our fleet of Pit Vipers in Peñasquito is made up of a total of nine drills. We believe that we can achieve the same production with probably 20% - 30% fewer drills. This will reduce maintenance and operational costs.”
A common criticism with autonomous mining is the elimination of good-paying, stable operator jobs. This has not been the case. In fact, preliminary research has shown the opposite.
"Another benefit of autonomous mining is how we think about the jobs of the future. We see the younger workforce excited about working with new technologies that they can directly relate to. Autonomous will become the norm, and new mines will be more productive, safer, and achieve better quality."
Overall, Peñasquito has seen an approximate overall boost in productivity of 15% percent in their blast hole drilling operations thanks to the incorporation of autonomous equipment.