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Sensing a Change for Quarry Surveying

First published in the April 2015 issue of Quarry Management

The UK market is next in line for a technological innovation that is set to change the quarrying site workflow forever

Already proving popular in the US, Africa and Europe, the latest drilling accuracy solutions incorporate 3D modelling software, real-time mapping and remote sensing, all by way of a connected site. These systems will see aggregates firms boost operational accuracy, reduce running costs and improve profitability, according to Erica Parkinson, business manager with SITECH UK and Ireland.

Technology has revolutionized quarrying operations within the last five to 10 years. Whether it is analytical telematics, weighing systems, connected assets or connected sites, all these equipment solutions have made big strides in allowing the aggregates industry to incrementally improve its processing, operational efficiency and productivity output.

Now it is the turn of drilling accuracy systems, which arrived in the UK at the end of last year, to make the next big game-changing difference. These systems will make fundamental changes to surveying practice at the front end of the process, allowing almost all surveying to become remote. This is the first of a long list of benefits that will have positive knock-on effects throughout the quarrying operation.

These benefits include: a reduction in surveying staff resource costs (whether in house or outsourced); an improvement in operators’ drilling accuracy, geotechnical sampling accuracy and blast efficiency; the minimization of drilling downtime; a reduction in consumables, haulage cost, wasted mineral extraction etc; and, most importantly, an improvement in health and safety on site.

So how do these systems work? They are made up of four key components: 3D mapping software for the surveyor to plan the drilling route; remote sensors on the drilling machine to ensure that drilling is carried out at exactly the right location; mapping display hardware within the cab to guide the operator; and antennas/receivers that allow the machine to be connected to the software in real time.

Remote surveying has been a feature of quarrying sites for several years. Software provides the means to accurately plan, map and route in 3D digital format, checking and correcting throughout the process, and saving and sharing in the Cloud. However, planning the drilling points and operational route is only one half of the remote surveying solution. Surveyors still have to spend hours of their time on the ground, staking out the drilling points for the operator. This is time-consuming and arduous work that leaves plenty of room for human error.

Giving surveyors the ability to not only plan in the office, but also to instruct the men out on site from the office, means no more setting foot outside. With the new drilling solution systems, surveyors can spend their time doing what they do best: analysing, planning and mapping. Not only will this make the surveying process more efficient and accurate, but, in turn, it will also reduce surveying staff resource costs.

This new technological advancement could well be the complete remote surveying solution, and the fact that this is now a reality is due to the three pieces of technological hardware working together within the drilling accuracy system. First, the antennas and receivers allow the surveyor’s 3D data to be shared with the connected asset. Secondly, the sensors accurately track the mobile machine’s placement and drilling practice. And thirdly, the in-cab monitor device guides the machine operator to within inches of the drilling point.

Once the mobile machine is at the correct station, the monitor will then instruct the operator to adjust the angle and orientation of the drilling guide to the precise requirements, as designed by the surveyor. The drilling can then begin. The functionality of the sensors does not stop at positioning; once the drilling has started they will then make sure that the depth of the drill is exactly to the surveyor’s 3D map. Tricky inclined drills will become a simple task for skilled operators, and when it comes to the blasting stage, surveyors and operators alike will have complete confidence, knowing that their work has been carried out to a precise standard.

This new technology promises to revolutionize quarry management. As mentioned earlier, the benefits of this new process are of multi-dimensional significance. That surveyors will be able to stay within the confines of the office is very much the tip of the iceberg in terms of how this will improve efficiency, resource, productivity and, ultimately, operational profitability.

Because surveyors do not have to be present while the operator works, it opens up the possibility of drilling activity being a 24h-a-day, seven-days-a-week process, completely negating the costly incursions that downtime and machine idling can have on an operation. Bad-weather drilling, poor-visibility drilling and night-time drilling all become feasible options. Operators know they can trust the in-cab monitor to be their eyes when on site, and surveyors know that their maps will be followed to detailed levels of accuracy with even spacing throughout. 

The connected drilling systems will also cut out many overheads. In terms of consumables, there will be no need for drilling stakes, and due to improved drilling accuracy minimal over-drilling will result in longer-lasting machine parts and hammers.

With regard to variable costs, the improved blasting patterns will deliver better surfaces and improved rock fragmentation, reducing the haulage expense significantly. Also, all the 3D designs can be stored in the Cloud and retrieved via the connected system, removing the cost and time taken to deliver plans to site.

Most importantly, the health and safety benefits for both machine operators and surveyors are significant. The sensors can see machine blind spots and alert the operator when he is entering an avoidance zone on site. Surveyors are no longer required to be in and around the machines, thereby removing the possibility of an on-site accident, all of which helps provide peace of mind for the directors of the project.

Whether the surveying is outsourced or conducted in house as part of a larger quarrying operation, and whether the drilling is for blasting or geotechnical sampling, there is no doubt that these drilling accuracy systems will revolutionize quarrying operations. Remote surveying has been around for some time, but with this new technology to instruct the drilling operators in real time, we may be just scratching the surface of its potential.

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