Ticking all the boxes
Trialling a new prototype face drilling rig in a real mining environment was always going to be a huge task - if not a big risk - for both Epiroc and OroValle Minerals. The test started just over a year ago and both parties agree that it has been an interesting learning curve; mostly up, sometimes down, but definitely a partnership model that should be emulated more often. But when it comes down to it, has it all been worth it? We report from the test front.
Like any other business, running a mine is a numbers game and OroValle Minerals’ gold-copper operation in northern Spain, is no different. The company’s current strategy and focus is to improve productivity and mineral grade content; no mean feat given the mines’ challenges, including complex geology where the geotechnical quality of the rock changes within a few metres and the fact that the mine has already been exploited for many years.
Even with external factors such as mineral prices currently running in its favour - In fact, both gold and copper are very strong with gold up 6.5% year on year and copper up 15% in a year. However, OroValle Minerals, or indeed any mining operation, cannot afford to be complacent or indeed to be distracted by testing a new machine, even if it is a tougher and smarter drilling rig.
“One of the things that worried me most was whether we would be able to make the machine achieve the performance that it is capable of. Also that our operators were trained to the level demanded by a machine like this,” says Jose Luis Conde, currently Chief of Continuous Improvement & Quality but who was Production Manager of OroValle when talks about the test started in 2016 and when the machine finally arrived in April 2017.
He continues: “We had to make sure the machine was a right fit for our mine and that it would indeed help to improve key aspects such as productivity and safety. After all, operators had to be trained, new ways of doing things had to be learned and the trial machine had to become part of our regular fleet and work within the challenging environment. All of this takes time.”
With regards to Epiroc, the manufacturer had to put its money where its mouth was and deliver on its promise of better performance by the new Boomer S2. This is one of the the company’s smallerst mining and tunnelling face drilling rig and which would be put through its paces at OroValle by working in both development drilling and roof bolting. A tough call for any drill rig. No pressure then.
There is no denying that a project like this takes time and planning. Alejandro Barrera, a driller with many years of experience in the field, was chosen by OroValle to be trained by Epiroc on the new drill rig. The idea being that once he was fully trained, he would then train other operators from OroValle with support from Epiroc. “We chose five operators to be trained; the ones we considered had the best profile to match with the machine.” Barrera explains that the mine works three 7-hour shifts a day with five crews on each shift: “The idea was that each shift would have at least one operator able to work on the S2 rig at any one time.”
What was his experience when it came to train the operators? “It was very interesting. The drilling assistants who were the younger ones, found the training easier. I think maybe because they hadn’t spent years working on other machines already and so didn’t have established habits that had to be changed. The younger ones certainly found it easier to absorb when it came to the automation system;” he says referring to the Rig Control System (RCS), which is one of the key features of the Boomer S2.