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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Evolving the Digital Quarry

First published in the April 2020 issue of Quarry Management

Expertir – EPC-UK’s integrated approach to blast design

Creating a completely digital quarry is fast becoming a reality and EPC-UK, industry experts in explosives and drilling and blasting services are continuing their investment into the research, development and implementation of drilling and blasting techniques to help pave the way. The company’s latest innovation, Expertir, is playing a pivotal role in bringing this next generation of technology to customer quarries.

Expertir is a highly advanced drilling and blasting software package that has been developed in house by EPC-UK to meet the needs of their rock-on-ground customers around the world.  The unique software application, designed by EPC-UK engineering experts, provides a seamless, coherent, integrated approach to blast design, combining both surveying and blast design creation.  

The software combines multiple streams of data, achieved using a range of technologies including GPS, hole probing, laser scanning and drone photogrammetry, to create complex blast designs based on the concept of controlled energy. By producing a 3D map of a site, Expertir allows engineers to generate precise pre- and post-drill profiles, as well as accurate loading and timing plans – all providing optimized blast performance.  

Once produced, this design can be compared with previous blasts – stored on Expertir – allowing engineers to make real-time, data-led, informative decisions before the blasting process proceeds.  

A more accurate integrated approach

Once the initial blast design is complete, Expertir includes the facility to export drilling and loading plans direct to the latest generation of smart drill rigs and bulk emulsion trucks, as well as being able to carry out initiation pattern designs that can be exported to various detonator systems.

This integrated approach of Expertir, as well as its ability to produce a comprehensive 360° view of a quarry, is allowing engineers to more accurately place holes and calculate emulsion amounts and shot charges. Expertir also includes a number of blast-design algorithms allowing the automatic generation of blast-hole locations to optimize energy distribution, which ultimately results in the best possible fragmentation – the fundamental objective of any blast. The principles of burden relief timing are included in the initiation pattern design routines of the software. 

EPC-UK are currently in the process of developing a fragmentation measurement feature within Expertir. This latest development aims to improve blasting rationale and enhance communications from the face to the quarry operator. It will measure initial results, which can be compared with overall throughput calculations, to provide leading and lagging indicators – based on previously prescribed KPIs – to optimize future blasting processes.   

All data produced both prior to, during, and post blast are securely stored in an online centralized location. This accumulated information allows users to analyse and interpret blast statistics, as well as conduct audits more efficiently. Most importantly, this resource provides customers and engineers  alike with access to a wealth of historic data, the interpretation of which will help maximize future blast optimization. 

Bird’s-eye view

The ability to integrate all technologies, regardless of source, is key to Expertir’s success.  Central to this has been the introduction and increasing use of drones, as opposed to lasers, to create detailed face surveys, safely, economically and more accurately.

With a fleet of drones already in use, EPC-UK began performing a series of trials to assess the accuracy of drone profile measurement compared with more conventional face-profiling methods. It became clear by acquiring blast imagery from the vantage points drone technology offered, more precise modelling of blast faces could be achieved. The entire process, from flying the drone to processing the resulting imagery, takes no longer than 30min and has proved to be a more efficient method of modelling.

A team of 16 EPC-UK drone pilots, trained to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) standards, now use this technology, in conjunction with photogrammetric techniques coupled with a photo overlay, to allow them to create highly accurate models which illustrate blast faces in great detail. This information gathered by the drones is then fed directly into Expertir, turning the data into meticulous 3D models.

Drones are now an integral part of EPC-UK’s blast surveying capabilities, allowing engineers to be more precise and efficient, but in a significantly reduced time frame. However, this industry and the technology it utilizes are continually evolving, and as such companies working within this sector need to ensure they evolve their technological capabilities to stay ahead of the curve.

Drone evolution

EPC-UK’s latest investment is the WingtraOne Professional vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing drone. This innovative drone can map large areas with unprecedented image quality and accuracy, and thanks to its VTOL design, it can operate – safely take off, collect data and land – from challenging and limited spaces making it perfect for rough and busy work sites. It also boosts safety by allowing data collection without the danger of climbing stockpiles or walking amongst moving equipment.

In addition to its VTOL capabilities, the drone hosts a 42-megapixel camera and includes the technology to geo-reference all images in conjunction with a single fixed ground station. The photographs obtained can then be processed using photogrammetry software to generate fully georeferenced 3D models. From this, various measurements such as quarry reserve depletion, haul road analysis, gradient analysis, stockpile surveys, oversize analysis, and bund height analysis can be taken.

‘This latest investment by EPC-UK is a demonstration of the company’s continued commitment to advancing blasting techniques through the use of technology. This drone will allow us to provide our customers with much faster surveys and more precise results, whilst its fully autonomous VTOL ability will help to improve productivity and, more importantly, safety,’ explained Ryan Ward, commercial manager with EPC-UK.

Safety first

On-site safety is a key focus in any advancement of EPC-UK’s drilling and blasting activities and the company is constantly developing new techniques to allow it to deliver a safer service to its customers. Expertir is one such development.

By using Expertir, all aspects of a blast – both pre- and post-blast – can be conducted from a distance. From the flying of the drone to collect and collate data, to the blast design, Expertir allows engineers to work remotely, out of the way of heavy machinery or geological hazards.  The use of Expertab, a remote unit developed by EPC-UK to work alongside Expertir, is helping to enhance safety even further.

Expertab allows two-way communication between the operator and bulk emulsion trucks. Once a blast has been designed using Expertir it is then fed into Expertab, which records and tracks loading rates and the emulsion volumes pumped into each hole. In turn, this information is conveyed back into Expertir, providing a complete overview of the blast from design to detonation, as well as removing the need for physical paper records and driving the industry towards a paperless digital blast specification.  

‘Safety is, and will always remain, the number one priority for EPC-UK.  We are constantly working on ways to improve the safety of our engineers and customers, and Expertir and Expertab combined are enabling us to do just that,’ continued Mr Ward. ‘Having the ability to work remotely is helping us to revolutionize safety practices within the quarry environment and still produce designs that result in the best possible energy distribution and fragmentation.’

In addition to improving the safety of engineers on the ground, Expertir is also becoming an effective tool in the management of surrounding environments, which is consequently helping to create more positive relations between quarry operators and local communities.

Community communications

On any quarry site, a good relationship between the operator and its surrounding communities is imperative. Expertir’s integrated Vibration Prediction and Control allows engineers to monitor for vibrations in areas surrounding a blast site and identify any possible problems.

‘Having access to real-time data and accurate insights into how a blast will behave allows quarry owners and workers to disseminate more precise information to communities living around a blast site.
We know from experience that this transparency, alongside the ability to compare blast results and alter blast designs quickly, is helping to build more positive relations between quarries and their neighbours,’ said Mr Ward.

The environmental impact of a blast is also becoming more of a consideration for many quarry owners. This was also a concern of EPC-UK’s, which led them to develop an application within Expertir that can examine the carbon footprint of a blast. Moving forward, the data collected from this resource will allow EPC-UK to develop more sustainable and environmentally friendly techniques.

‘Although not widely used at present, this feature will prove extremely beneficial moving forward as more companies look to reduce their carbon footprints,’ continued Mr Ward.  

A fully digital future

‘Expertir is helping to transform the way we work,’ he concluded. ‘From survey and design, to exporting drill patterns and the blast itself, Expertir allows us to plan, control and deliver from one platform.

‘Using technology such as Expertir is quite a big shift for the industry and our customers, but we’re confident that it will soon become the norm. Expertir is a facilitator for the digital quarry. It is helping to move us towards a completely digital and paperless environment, as well as providing the most comprehensive, integrated and remote drilling and blasting service possible.’

For further information, visit: www.epc-groupe.co.uk

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