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Automate with a human touch

The Drilledge team. Image: Drilledge.

Mining operations can reap huge benefits from automating their drill and blast operations, but Drilledge says workforces must have the right amount of expertise to take full advantage of the technology.

Keeping a mining operation running safely is paramount to its success, and as automated solutions grow in popularity it’s important to know what you’re doing.

Despite the plug-and-play mentality surrounding many automated mining solutions, some workforces do not harbour an adequate skillset to take full advantage of these advanced industrial technologies.

This can bog down the efficiency and productivity of an operation, a significant consideration of any automation project.

Drilledge has been offering a range of drill and blast services and solutions to the mining industry for more than 20 years. Originally founded in Australia, Drilledge relaunched as a Singapore-based company last year and has now expanded globally.

With years of experience associated with automated drilling technology, Drilledge has remained ahead of the curb with its understanding of the advancements that the mining industry has witnessed.

From its knowledge of the latest developments, Drilledge flags a lack of understanding of the complexities related to implementing autonomous solutions as a key challenge to overcome.

“We’ve seen firsthand where companies have been trying to automate drills for years and they’re still going around in circles – they’re throwing money at it because they haven’t really addressed each stage of the process properly,” Drilledge director Andrew Crothers tells Australian Mining.

“Because we look at an entire operation during the assessment phase, we quickly understand if there are inefficiencies that need to be addressed to enable automation to proceed. If the operation is inefficient before you automate it, automation by itself is not going to improve the efficiency.”

As owners of Drilledge, Crothers and his co-director Shane Wegner aim to improve mining’s automation landscape so customers can use autonomous drill and blast technology to its full potential.

With a combined experience in mining’s drill and blast sector that spans more than 50 years, Drilledge advises Tier 1 miners, OEMs and juniors.

“We were focussed on automation prior to the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Crothers says.

“We’ve had experience with drilling automation since the conceptual stages through our involvement with OEMs and projects that have successfully deployed automated drilling capabilities.”

“A combination of senior management commitment, a dedicated team and employee training are three major aspects that mining companies should aim to improve when introducing automation.

“One of the things that we found is that a lot of the people coming out of the trade schools don’t really have the right skills to move into an automated environment.

“So, one of the gaps that we find we have a lot of value is when we take people and we upskill them above and beyond what we’re getting in technical schools or trade schools.

“The key is people, in terms of getting up to speed with how the equipment works, maintaining the equipment, managing all of the planning that goes into blast hole patterns and managing the actual automation.”

Drilledge aims to improve these areas through its broad range of offerings, some of which include automation site readiness, automation training, base machine training and maintenance services.

The Drilledge Master Driller Certification program looks at how people can improve necessary skills to enable them to move to automation.

“The master driller package is based around people optimising their efficiency,” Crothers says.

“It’s not just giving them the base skills to do something. It provides a roadmap and a pathway for continuous improvement to become certified to increasing levels of proficiency.

Crothers says companies often assume that introducing automation is going to be an easy process, but it’s actually quite a complex project for them.

“That’s what we’ve discovered – companies think, ‘we’ll just throw some automated kit on our drill and it will work’,” he says.

“I think that people all want to embrace automation, but developing the skillsets and the knowledge currently makes it a slow process for many companies.

“That’s where we come in and will assist in every direction there. We’ve got that roadmap for success.”

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