September 23, 2021
Whatley Quarry in Somerset, England, has vast deposits of limestone, providing construction materials for a range of customers. The quarry is owned by Hanson UK, which is a part of the HeidelbergCement Group. The day-to-day drilling and blasting operations, however, have been subcontracted to EPC Groupe UK.
“We run the drilling and blasting operations on the ground at Whatley, marking the holes to the rock on the ground,” says Dave Bridge, National Operations Manager at EPC Groupe.
EPC Groupe UK is a subsidiary of a French multinational company active in the fields of commercial explosives, as well as drilling and blasting services. At Whatley, this includes services like shotfiring, blast design, drilling and explosive delivery using SmartROC and FlexiROC surface drill rigs provided by Epiroc.
“We can operate six days a week, with a normal day being nine hours long. But we try to use the daylight as much as possible. So during the summer, we might sometimes operate from 5 AM to 8 PM. We don’t have shifts, so there is only one operator per rig,” says Bridge.
Although the operation at Whatley is one of the biggest in the U.K., it is not large enough to warrant full automation and remote control of the rigs, but there is still a high degree of automation in the drilling and blasting process. EPC Groupe uses drones to map the quarry, giving drill hole positions that are uploaded to the rigs along with information on angles and depths. “The operators work on site, for safety reasons and some hands-on decisions that are necessary from time to time,” says Bridge.
The level of efficiency and machinery usage inevitably lead to wear and tear on the rigs, making fault reports, maintenance and speedy repairs crucial in ensuring smooth operation.
“Our operators have always been more interested in drilling than in completing lengthy fault reports. We used to have paper reports and then tried a digital solution developed in house. But it didn’t perform to our expectations,” says Bridge.
Enter My Epiroc
Developed by Epiroc and launched in 2019, it is a platform-independent digital solution that includes tools for collaborative fault reporting. In November 2019, EPC Groupe and Epiroc started working together to solve the fault report issue at the Whatley site, using My Epiroc as a tool for the operators.
A pilot run with a single operator was quickly expanded to include all operators on site. “We gave it to our most experienced driller first. And when we saw that it was user friendly – that was the most important thing for me – we then began including the other operators. It has really been a game changer and ticks all our boxes. And the ability to take photos of damaged parts and include them in the reports is fantastic and gives the recipient immediate recognition. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words,” says Bridge.
The ease-of-use is also very important – and the fact that the report enters the system immediately and will reach the relevant persons. The decision can then be made, for example, to repair the problem quickly or save it for regular scheduled maintenance. Necessary parts can be ordered right away. “The driller knows that when he presses the button, someone sees the report. At the end of the day, it’s also in their own best interest to keep things running, since we have a bonus for hitting targets,” says Bridge.
The prompt fault reports through My Epiroc have reduced downtime considerably at Whatley Quarry. “Last year we lost 17 production days due to breakdowns. This year we’ve had 5.5 days, which is a massive improvement. Downtime is really expensive.
"Last year we lost 17 production days due to breakdowns. This year we’ve had 5.5 days, which is a massive improvement. Downtime is really expensive."
In fact, EPC Groupe is so satisfied with the My Epiroc tool that the company has started to implement it at other sites in the UK, starting in the south and going north.
“Having everyone doing the same thing is much more efficient. We need a system that gives us information at our fingertips with regard to any issues that compromise the safety of our people and assets, or the efficiency of our drilling operations. I believe that My Epiroc has given us a massive boost in increased productivity and reduced downtime, as well as ensuring our people can work safely, every day,” says Bridge.
EPC Groupe has started to add other functions to their My Epiroc tool, including a digital handover sheet to be used when another operator takes over the rig. “Being able to quickly and easily compare the status of the machine to the sheet gives increased safety – and also accountability. If you use someone else’s rig, you have to take care of it,” says Dave Bridge.
Other future ideas include making additional use of the machine telematics data, which is already tightly integrated in the My Epiroc tool through the Certiq fleet monitoring solution. This will give operators powerful insight, enabling them to work even more efficiently.