Digital fault reporting decreases downtime while increasing safety and productivity at Whatley Quarry
WHATLEY Quarry in Somerset, England, has vast deposits of limestone, providing construction materials for a range of customers. The quarry is owned and operated by Hanson UK, with day-to-day drilling and blasting operations subcontracted to EPC-UK.
EPC-UK are active in the fields of commercial explosives as well as drilling and blasting services, and at Whatley this includes services such as shotfiring, blast design, drilling and explosive delivery using SmartROC and FlexiROC surface drill rigs provided by Epiroc.
‘We run the drilling and blasting operations on the ground at Whatley, from marking the holes to the rock on the ground,’ commented Dave Bridge, national operations manager at EPC-UK.
‘We can operate six days a week, with a normal day being nine hours long. We try to use the daylight as much as possible, so, during the summer, we sometimes operate from 5am to 8pm. We don’t have shifts, so there is only one operator per rig.’
Although the operation at Whatley is one of the biggest in the UK, 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-UK use drones to map the quarry, giving drill hole positions that are uploaded to the rigs along with information on angles and depths. But 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,’ said Mr Bridge.
This is where My Epiroc came in. 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-UK and Epiroc started working together to solve the fault report issue at Whatley, 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,’ explained Mr Bridge.
‘It really has 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.’
Ease-of-use is also very important, and the fact that the report enters the system immediately and will reach the relevant person(s). 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 immediately.
‘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,’ said Mr 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, as downtime is expensive,’ said Mr Bridge.
Indeed, EPC-UK are so satisfied with the My Epiroc tool that the company has started to implement it at other UK sites, 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 regarding any issues that compromise the safety of our people and assets, or the efficiency of our drilling operations,’ said Mr Bridge.
‘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.’
EPC-UK have also 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 accountability. If you use someone else’s rig, you have to take care of it,’ said Mr Bridge.
Other ideas for the future include making additional use of machine telematics data, which are already tightly integrated in the My Epiroc tool through the Certiq fleet-monitoring solution. This will give operators powerful insight, allowing them to work even more efficiently.