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Peñasquito - Autonomous

January 18, 2018

One of the most recent examples of successful integration of Epiroc’s autonomous mining technology is Newmont’s (formerly Newmont Goldcorp Corporation) Peñasquito mine in Zacatecas, Mexico. The operation is a large-scale polymetallic open-pit mine, and a major contributor to Newmont’s revenue.
Autonomous Pit Viper rigs

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."

Oscar Sandoval ,Mine Production Manager at Peñasquito
Goldcorp has personnel that creates drill plans that get loaded into the Surface Manager software and sent to the machines. Each machine has a designated area to work in, defined by the drill plan. The work areas for the two autonomous Pit Vipers have a GPS geofence around them. Within the geofence, we have separate work areas to accommodate the fully autonomous Pit Viper drills. This allows two autonomous machines working together on the same pattern without one rig entering the other rig’s area.

Owen Parsons, Mining Technology Specialist at Peñasquito, also comments on the main drivers behind the decision to integrate autonomous machines into their operation — productivity and safety.

"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,”"

Owen Parsons ,Mining Technology Specialist at Peñasquito

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."

Ivan Mullany , Senior VP of Technical Services at Peñasquito

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.



Epiroc Pit Viper Autonomous Drills in Peñasquito, Mexico

Mining and Rock Excavation Products Drill rigs