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Grand plans

September 7, 2022

Autonomous operations is the future for the Robinson Copper Mine. In the past, prospectors mined Nevada with mules and pickaxes. Now the KGHM Robinson Mine – in partnership with Epiroc – is taking open-pit copper mining into the future with autonomous drilling. The Pit Viper 271 blasthole drill rig can be managed remotely, making the driller’s job safer and more productive.
Images for Robinson Mine article Grand Plans
Kim Rivera, a third-generation miner, recalls the not-so-old days as a drill rig operator at the Robinson copper mine in rural White Pine County, Nevada. A year ago, she was making daily trips into the large pit surrounded by lumbering shovels and mammoth haul trucks everywhere, grinding about, moving earth from here to there. Winter storms blowing down from the towering Eagan Range bring white-out conditions and subzero temperatures, making the mine feel like the North Pole. But at Robinson, that was then; this is open-pit mining now. Last year, mine operator KGHM invested in an Epiroc Pit Viper 271 XC autonomous blasthole drill rig. As the mine continues to refine autonomous operations, the towering rig works nearly around the clock, helping KGHM increase production while lowering operating costs. It is also revolutionizing how Rivera does her job. Instead of sitting inside a drill cab, she guides the work from a nearby command center, using cameras and monitors to oversee the drill. Learning to operate the drill remotely is straightforward. “You have to trust the drill,” said Rivera. “You’re not out in the elements – a giant plus. You’re in the warmth of a control room. It’s much safer.” Autonomous drilling will lead to fewer workers inside the pits, with a single operator remotely controlling several drills and operating fleets communicating via sophisticated software. “Autonomy is the future of mining,” said Mark Beres II, Robinson’s Chief Mine Engineer. “You have more mines in remote places, and autonomous drills can be operated from thousands of miles away. They remove people from dangerous situations.”
Images for Robinson Mine article Grand Plans
According to Epiroc’s analysis of 18 months of Robinson production data, the mine’s existing fleet was achieving an average baseline of 175 feet (53 meters) per hour. With an initial goal of 204 feet (62 meters) per hour, the Pit Viper 271, which replaced an aging Pit Viper 351 model and an electric drill, is now doing 235 autonomous feet (71.6 meters) per hour – increasing capacity by more than 34 percent. Without a human operator in the cab, the autonomous drill can work through blasts and mine delays that sideline other operated equipment. Still, mine operators initially flinched at using space-age technology at a site where, 150 years ago, prospectors worked with donkeys and pickaxes. Mark Hurlbert, a seasoned drill trainer, articulated the doubts felt by many: “It’s hard to swallow. Why have all this experience if the drill does all the work?” But like others, Hurlbert has been won over by the PV-271 rig’s tenacity. “Drillers are no longer out in the pit among the haul trucks and explosions,” he said. Mine operations Superintendent Nathan Trujillo is equally impressed. “Once we brought the Pit Viper 271 online, it boosted our productivity,” he said. “It does the work of two drills. If the real estate is there, this drill will do the work.” 
Images for Robinson Mine article Grand Plans

The Pit Viper 271 allows Kim Rivera to drill 3000 feet (roughly 900 meters) in a 12-hour shift, nearly tripling her previous output. Once she goes autonomous, the drill does the work independently, with Rivera as its guide. “It navigates faster on the drill pattern than I could ever do when I’m fishtailing around in the dirt and mud.” ROBINSON WORKERS say Epiroc made the transition to autonomous mining easier. “They were with us every step of the way,” said Rivera. “They came out to show us how to run the drill manually. Six months later, they showed us how to do things autonomously after we were familiar with the drill. Trujillo agreed. “Epiroc has been a great partner for us from the initial concept to delivery and beyond. I can’t stress that enough. It’s a one-stop service.”


On a cold February day, several miners watched the detonation of scores of 55-foot-deep holes. The tense countdown felt like a rocket launch, and far below on the pit floor, the muffled blast caused the geology to give way like the tumbling of a glacier wall. With the autonomous Pit Viper 271, the mine can expect the future to bring a similar bang. “The advanced technology this machine brings is pretty impressive. You can look into the future and think anything is possible,” said Trujillo.

Mining Automation Epiroc Drilling Solutions Open pit mining Customer story Rotary blasthole drilling rigs