December 17, 2021
Remote-controlled rigs are undoubtedly on the rise. They have been used underground for a long time, and in Aitik, the largest surface machines are already being operated from an office instead of from the cabs. But what is it like to run the slightly smaller surface rigs at a distance? Pierre Medfors, operator at Norrbottens Bergteknik who works at Boliden Aitik, knows.
”We only work with the BenchREMOTE on certain occasions. If it is flat and suitable for the blasting,” he explains.
"Inside, we sit in operator chairs and drive as usual, but with the rigs approximately 100 meters away. It's quite cozy, warm and nice. We have a kitchenette and a toilet as well. "
In the beginning, driving remotely felt unusual since they only had the camera to work with and no control over drilling noise or vibration.
”The centering was by far the most difficult. After all, we only have one camera to see through. It went better and better, but it's probably wise to just let the more experienced operators run remotely. You need to learn to drill properly from the cab before you start operating the BenchREMOTE.”
The fact that the rigs, five SmartROC D65, are stable machines that rarely malfunction, certainly facilitates the work via BenchREMOTE. They were delivered just over 1.5 years ago and drill with 8-meter steel pipes.
”The D65 is reliable, agile and easy to operate. We joke around about it being idiot-proof! With pipes of eight meters we don’t have to splice as much and thereby gain time,” says Pierre Medfors.
He is also confident in having Epiroc as a service partner.
”Their mechanics are always on site and just a call away. If something happens, they help us at once.”
The remote controlling also enables the operator to run several machines at once. This means that the production pace won’t be affected if, for example, someone is ill one day. Of course, there will still be a lot to handle on the mountain for those who drive two machines at once.
”Since we don’t have the same natural contact with the rig, we must take care of maintenance very properly. If you are responsible for two machines, you often need to change drill bits, screw and check things. When there are two of us, we take turns,” says Pierre.
Stefan Löfdahl, long time master driller turned sales engineer at Epiroc, has also tried operating remotely on a few occasions. He is convinced that this is the future of surface drilling. Mainly because safety increases significantly when operators are no longer in the cab.
”This will be driven forward by the industry. To be able to drive closer to rock walls, to get close to the dangers of the mountain – it has enormous worth.”
The fact that the operators are in a more comfortable environment is also important from a health perspective.
”To sit in a noisy and shaky environment during an entire working life is clearly hard. Operating at a distance makes the job less vulnerable”.
Perhaps, Stefan Löfdahl reflects, the opportunity to operate at a distance will also attract more people to the drilling profession in the future.
”There’s a similarity to what young people are doing today, sitting with joysticks and controlling characters and machines in computer games. Who knows?”
Pierre Medfors likes to operate BenchREMOTE and don’t want to stop. Today, he doesn’t think it is more difficult than working from the cab, provided the surface is good.
”Everyone loves to play with radio-controlled toys. This is like a huge one! In addition to being nice, it is also social. You become very popular out on the mountain when you sit in BenchREMOTE, mechanics often come in and have a coffee with us.”