Manufacturers report the latest upgrades and updates to new and proven drill rigs target improved KPIs and were driven by customer feedback
By Jesse Morton, Technical Writer
The big drill OEMs universally say that customer feedback is driving the development of upgrades to their newer and more popular rigs. Customers naturally want higher availability. They want a higher penetration rate and more production. They want a rig that fits their technological ecosystem, today and tomorrow.
Many of the resulting upgrades are being rolled out now on a limited basis, but will soon be available across the various ranges of offerings. The OEMs say that those that adopting now are reporting big rewards.
Next-step Data Sharing
Sandvik is spearheading efforts at integration of its OptiMine for Surface drill navigation software solution and third-party software systems, such as blasting and mine management software. The company plans multiple announcements over the next year on advances in software interoperability and data sharing, Sandvik told E&MJ.
“The Sandvik drill will become part of the mining technological ecosystem,” Demetre Harris, product manager, automation, said. “We want it to be integrated and to add value to operations.”
Currently Sandvik provides an open API through OptiMine for Surface. With it, Sandvik can arrange for measure-while-drilling and some machine monitoring data to transfer, in real time, to a third-party software solution.
“Sandvik Intelligent Control System Architecture is the heart of the solution and is where we provide this interface,” Harris said.
“We are going to make this available for any third party,” he said. “When the third party wants to connect and pull operational or health data, all they have to do is partner with us to write software to integrate with our API.”
The data can be used by blasting and mine planning software solutions to, among other things, track penetration rates and pit progress. It can be used in making adjustments to downstream processes based on ground hardness.
“By passing actionable data, you can pass the benefits to and from each process within the mining sequence,” Harris said.
“With blasting, of course, they benefit from data on how hard the ground is, and the location of ore,” he said. “The picture gets further defined in haulage and finally when you feed into the crusher.”
The data from the drill can also be transferred to maintenance management software solutions.
Sandvik is currently developing an extension, which will provide further bit position data and machine health data. It will be used to optimize Sandvik automation algorithms.
“A lot of customers are looking for data to be tied back into our automation solution to help it become more efficient and to improve the algorithms,” Harris said.
The extension was deployed at a Mesabi iron range mine. There the data is being used to optimize AutoDrill.
Initially, AutoDrill used data on speed and pressure. “We’ve adjusted that now with the customer’s assistance to use more data on other parameters, such as RPM, and to make more adjustments based on ground hardness,” Harris said.
The results so far have been spectacular. “We were actually able to reach a shift record of 1,000 ft in a single shift,” Harris said. “For the operational production rate, we were able to get to 61 ft per operation hour, which was another record for them.”
Also, data is sent to a blasting software solution to optimize fragmentation. “A lot of good things are happening there,” Harris said.
Sandvik is open to working with others on similar efforts. “Any customer, if they are willing to assist or work with us, overall it is for the benefit and progression of the industry,” he said.
Through such partnerships, the company hopes to streamline the integration process. “We now have the interface that we can work with third parties to pull data from the machine,” Harris said. “What is coming up is going to be more along the lines of integration and interoperability in mid-stage.”
Sandvik partnered with a fleet management company for that step. “We’ve gone the extra mile,” Harris said.
Next steps also include making available more data on the drill and on the operator. “There are data on machine positioning and the operator’s statistics not related to the drilling process but more to the management of the machine,” he said.
“Drilling is one activity,” he said. “We’re looking to take that extra step.”
In the coming months, Sandvik will release more detailed information on integration projects underway or planned, Harris said. “Later this year or Q1 next year we will release another update to our office solution.”
Separately, Sandvik reported the Leopard DI650i down-the-hole (DTH) drill rig supports fully autonomous operation. The new iDrill automation platform expands the automated drilling cycle and offers DI650i fleet operation from a control room.
The development is a “major step,” Sandvik reported.
Automated functionalities and other features include drilling stabilization, automated collaring, automated cleaning and detaching from the hole, and anti-jamming pullback monitoring.
The iFlow control system automatically adjusts the air pressure and volume levels, Sandvik reported. The iTorque drilling control system monitors the rotation torque and automatically optimizes the feed force to match ground hardness.
The pipe handling system adds and removes pipes automatically.
Benefits include consistent, high-quality drilled holes. The iDrill controls the drilling tools for best possible service life without compromising drilling performance, Sandvik reported.
The iDrill drilling cycle can be manually overridden at any point. AutoMine Surface Drilling enables line-of-sight or control-room operation of up to three rigs. Future updates to the system are planned.
Most recently, Sandvik launched the RR240 air bearing bit, which combines the best features of predecessor air bits to offer greater bit life and improved productivity. It offers the benefits of the RR321, the RR221, and the RR222 rotary bits, plus updated cutting structures, improved wear protection, and the new PowerCarbide SH75 on selected models, Sandvik reported.
The new bit provides longer bit life, higher penetration rates, and reduced total drilling costs, the supplier said.
“It will help our customers take the next step in their rotary drilling operations, with significantly longer bit life and lower total drilling costs,” said Carsten Mijic, product manager, rotary bits, Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions. “With Sandvik RR240, our customers can increase their productivity, reduce their emissions and costs, and create a safer workplace, all at once.”
The launch of the bit marks the introduction of PowerCarbide, Sandvik’s most advanced cemented carbide. The SH75 is a self-hardening grade that can improve bit life up to 50% in certain conditions, Mijic said.
“We have been keen to add PowerCarbide to our rotary drill bit offering for some time and are now very happy to be able to include the SH75 carbide grade in the new Sandvik RR240 bit,” he said. “Thanks to its ability to significantly increase bit life, our customers will also have fewer bits to recycle, fewer bit changes and less risk for injury.”
The RR240 is available in sizes from 159 mm to 406 mm.
Komatsu reported that data from the field show their drill rigs get high marks for productivity and availability. Customer feedback has led to important updates to the rigs that will also go on other rigs, such as a big new drill that will be released at MINExpo.
Tracking stats show the 77XR and the 320XPC delivered high penetration rates and availability to customers, including at mines in forbidding climates, Komatsu reported. And the smaller ZT44 outperformed a competitor at a hard rock operation in the U.S., proving it can deliver mining-class productivity.
The 77XR has recently been adopted by mines in North America and Latin America. There and elsewhere, it is helping customers meet performance goals, Komatsu reported.
“We’ve had very good results,” said Sergio Li, product manager, rotary drills, Komatsu.
“We have received positive feedback from operators about the comfort, the control, the productivity, and also on how automation help to reduce the downtime required to change a tricone bit and to keep the operator out of
the line of fire, improving safety in the drill operation.”
In North America, a customer replacing an aged fleet of competitor drills adopted and deployed a 77XR. “They are doing about 53 ft holes with high penetration rates per hour,” Li said. “They are reaching penetration speeds that on average are higher by about 15% over the old fleet drills.”
A 77XR is currently being shipped to a high-altitude copper mine in Latin America.
Feedback from that North American customer led to some updates to software and automation systems. For example, Komatsu updated the logic for the auto-drilling software.
“The result was a day-and-night improvement over the old system,” Li said. “We have been seeing very good collars compared to what we had before the change.”
Other innovation include a boxer-style mast that “is completely different from the traditional lattice-style masts that most competitor drills use,” he said. “We have also created a new rack-and-pinion pulldown system that increases the reliability and at the same time the precision.”
It also reduces the downtime required for maintenance. “Operations can benefit from the 77XR and future drills that we will be launching with these features.”
For example, the automated bit changer, which is optional on the 77XR, offers substantial safety and efficiency improvements. “This is a huge upgrade,” he said. “This system reduces the downtime from an hour on average to change a tricone bit to about five to 10 minutes.”
It also “takes the operator and maintenance personnel out of the line of fire because it will not require people to be working on the drill deck to change a tricone bit,” Li said. “Instead of that, everything is done through the operator’s cabin by the operator pressing buttons.”
Komatsu also reported that tracking stats show the 320XPC offers availability of as high as 90% in some of the most extreme mining environments on the planet. “Especially in Latin America, with those mines that are at a really high-altitude and also in extremely hard rock iron ore mines in the U.S. or in the Canadian Iron Range where we see temperatures of -50°F,” Li said.
At one such mine in Canada, Komatsu recently completed a site application study. “We took an applications engineer and our senior operations trainer for drills and we studied their operations for about a month and based on our findings we changed some of their operating conditions and some of their drill methods,” he said. “With that we increased their penetration rate by up to 40%.”
A “big electric upgrade is also coming to the 320XPC very soon,” Li said.
Separately, Komatsu reported the smaller ZT44, a nimble articulate-boom DTH hammer drill rig, offers the heft of a platform rig and mining-class productivity.
After two years of development at Australian mines, “we’ve entered the market with the ZT44, which is like the track drill that spends all summer in the weight room,” said Matt Koss, product manager, track drills, Komatsu.
“It is just a big, sturdy, powerful machine,” he said. “For comparison, it is an around 85,000-lb machine compared to other machines in this class that weigh in at around 55,000 to 60,000 lb.”
It is ideal for customers in need of a mining-class track drill for auxiliary work and to go where platform drills can’t go.
“From a market perspective, it is a production-type machine,” Koss said. “It is also going to have the agility those track drills have,” he said. “It kind of offers the best of both worlds.”
The unit proved its capabilities at a hard rock operation in the U.S. last summer when it was pitted against a similar competitor. The ZT44 had a smaller footprint but a bigger engine and compressor, so it prevailed.
“Logically, it has more potential to drill quicker,” Koss said.
It’s ability hole to hole also helped deliver superior production.
“The benches were at times a little tricky to get around,” Koss said. “Our machine is built robust and stout where it can keep the mast up in the air and go to the next hole and start drilling,” he said. “When you looked at what you were drilling, total production per hour, we had 15% to 20% advantage just in that respect.”
It is ideal for up to 8-in. holes, he said. “The machine excels at that.”
The dual pressure-controlled air compressor offers 500 psi. “Or you can flex it to 350 psi depending on rock hardness,” Koss said. “The next closest in its class is around 420 psi.”
The engine has 800 hp. “The next closest would be about 540 hp,” he said.
It is built for production in harsh conditions. “We have a heat exchange unit on this that is different from any other,” Koss said. “This machine has an engineered life of up to 40,000 hours,” he said. “With tough applications, really harsh climates, it fits right in.”
And compared to the other rigs in its class, it is a brute. “The machine is unique,” he said. “It is on the high end of the track drill market, but it also operates in the same class as the small platform machines.”
Which means it is peerless. “Right now, it is giving customers an option that doesn’t otherwise exist,” Koss said. “No one operates in that space.”
At MINExpo, Komatsu will launch a new blasthole drill based on the 77XR, but upgraded, bigger, and capable of up to 13.75-in. holes.
“We have kept a similar concept with the boxer-style mast and the rack-and-pinion pulldown system, but we have improved some of the structural design on the mainframe and on the rear and front decks,” Li said. “And, also, we have made changes on the mast itself, including structural changes, to make it even more reliable.”
Other upgrades include modifications to the hydraulics routings and distribution of the major components on the mainframe to improve accessibility for maintenance.
The release will coincide with the announcement of a new drill rig naming convention. “We will rebrand our rotary drills, and will be launching many new things,” Li said. “We welcome everybody that wants to know more about our innovations on drills.”
A Fully Integrated Approach
Caterpillar reported major updates to four machines were designed to dramatically increase drilling performance. In a report for E&MJ, Cat said the results of the upgrades will not just help drill operators best personal records, but will aid downstream operations and add value overall to the mine.
“Caterpillar focused on increasing reliability, serviceability, performance, and technology when reengineering its drill family with a fully integrated approach,” Caterpillar reported.
“The line includes common parts and components, technologies plus systems integrations across the Cat drills product line,” Cat said. “In addition, updates to machine design based on a common platform across all models streamlines operator training, maintenance strategies and planning.”
The major updates included design improvements to the powertrains, further integration of Cat electronics, a next-generation cab, more capability to adopt next-level technology and automation, and improved serviceability and support. The updates were first launched in the MD6250, MD6310, MD6200 and MD6380.
Caterpillar implemented design improvements to the powertrains that target full system optimization, an application specialist said.
“For drills, the focus has to be on the larger systems,” said Greg Scott, a rotary blasthole drill expert at Cat. The powertrain system includes the engine, compressor, hydraulics and undercarriage.
“A drill has so many inputs and respective outputs that must be managed and modulated while drilling in even simple ground conditions,” he said. “With unique components, to include sub-assemblies, no matter how good they are individually, if they’re not matched and connected, the drill cannot reach full system optimization.”
Therefore, each component and subsystem was purposely selected and properly matched to work together as a system. Expected benefits include improved system efficiency for better performance, reduced fuel burn, and increased component life.
Similarly, Cat electronics, both hardware and software, were fully synced. Common parts to the four drill rigs now include electronic control modules, sensors, switches, touchscreens, and wiring harnesses. “Caterpillar computer controls bring the machine together with over 50 integrated protection features to avoid costly failure and downtime, plus automated key functions on the drill to drive toward higher production that’s repeatable,” Cat reported.
“Controls like Caterpillar’s new electronic compressor regulation help boost productivity while reducing fuel burn,” Caterpillar said. “The new compressor controls modulate working pressure and air volume flow, matching the drill’s compressed air output to the specific application, based on the tooling used and how it interacts with ground conditions.”
The controls fine tune hydraulic performance so individual functions are smooth and efficient. “Precision control feeds into auto-functionality, such as Drill Assist auto-drill that adapts both feed force and rate to rotary head rpm and torque,” Caterpillar said. “These units work in concert, so the right amount of pulldown and rotary torque are provided based on bit advance per revolution to ensure the machine delivers optimal power to the cutting tool
for maximum productivity with longest tool service life.”
Upgrades to the cab will be noticeable to operators and should contribute to improved job satisfaction. The cabs are different on each machine, but offer the same general layout. “The next-generation cabs are designed to promote safety, comfort, and productivity,” Caterpillar said.
“Visibility has been improved with extended windows and a video system consisting of three to four cameras around the perimeter of the drill, depending on the model,” the company reported. “A separate mast camera allows the operator to see the pipe rack carousel during pipe-change operations.”
The upgrades include more technology building blocks to ensure the machines can adopt new automation solutions as they are released. “Scalable technologies available for Cat drills serve as building blocks to meet the level of automation needed at the mine site,” Caterpillar reported. “Drill Assist functions, Cat Terrain for drilling with high precision GPS positioning, semi-autonomous or autonomous features, plus machine health reporting help to improve drilling efficiencies and results.”
For single-pass drilling, Drill Assist can perform every step of the drill cycle and adjust drill power to match ground conditions. “Other features include auto level and auto jack retreat, auto mast raise-and-lock and unlock-and-lower, and auto pipe-handling has been developed for multi-pass auto drill to depth,” Caterpillar reported.
The automation solution Terrain, a Cat MineStar system, uses GPS guidance to make sure holes are drilled according to plan, in the right place and to the right depth. “This technology improves pattern accuracy and reduces over- and under-drilling, leading to lower costs and faster, smoother operation,” Cat said.
Command for drilling remote controls the drill rigs within seeing distance. “The Command for drilling operator’s station removes the operator from the bench and allows one operator to manage drill operations and run up to three machines simultaneously,” Caterpillar said.
In the effort to improve ease of maintenance and accessibility, every component, sub-assembly and circuit was reviewed and assessed. “Common components and consumables across the family help with maintenance strategies, scheduling and local parts stocking,” Cat said.
“Scheduled service intervals were also extended from the traditional 250 hours to 500 hours by optimizing sump capacities and system filtration,” Cat reported. “The net results are drills built to last and deliver results in the most demanding environments.”
Caterpillar will showcase the MD6310 rotary blasthole drill and a Command trailer at MINExpo.
Filling an Industry Gap
EuroforGroup reported seeing growing demand for the reliable and versatile RTD55, the most popular of the 20-rig RTDrill range. “The RTD55 is an extremely powerful and robust drill-and-blast drill rig,” said Mani Pessiani, international sales director, RTDrill. “When the rig is compared side-by-side in the field to similar drill rigs, it beats all the competitors in machine uptime and speed of meters drilled per hour.”
The 3.1-m-wide, 36,000-kg rig is made in the U.S. “using premium-quality components that make this machine easy to maintain and provide incomparable longevity,” he said. “The high productivity is provided through the kinematics of the RTD55, making it agile in its movements and by the speed feed of the regen system.”
It “is suitable for rotary and DTH multi-pass, with 9.1-m drill pipes in a carousel that can hold up to 6+1,” Pessiani said. Configured for DTH, it can drill a 172-mm hole with a depth of up to 60 m. “And it can also drill hole sizes up to 229 mm in full rotary mode with a dual motor system rotary head.” The rotary head is capable of 7,300 Nm torque.
It offers a maximum single-pass depth of up to 9 m.
The rig comes with either a (Tier-III or -IV) Cat C15 or a Cummins QSX 15 (up to 433-kW) engine with a low- or high-pressure (8.6- or 25.5-Bar) compressor that delivers up to 31.1-m3/min. “It has very efficient engine-compressor settings and controls that give low fuel consumption and optimizes the production costs,” Pessiani said.
It has a two-man air-conditioned cab with electric-hydraulic controls. The cab is falling-object protection certified at ISO 3449. A drill pipe thread grease system, a feed-interrupt switch, and pushbutton E-Stop shutdown come standard.
“The number of electronic components and sensors are limited, so the usage of the machine is not too much affected in case of failure of one of them, and this keeps high the availability of the RTD55,” Pessiani said.
Optional is a high-standard multicore cooler package with thermostatic controlled fan, a custom drilling package, and dust control systems. “Many options are available to customize the machine so it fits all the needs of the user, such as drilling monitoring and drilling assistance features,” he said. “This gives the possibility that the RTD55 can be used in an autonomous mode from a command center.”
Previously, the rig has been deployed to sites in America, Australia, Africa and Asia. “The strong usage of the RTD55 in different mines around the world working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has brought us feedback that has helped our design office to optimize the performance of the machines,” Pessiani said. “We have seen several users replace other-brand fleets with the RTD55 because of the increase in productivity it delivers.”
The rig is based on a predecessor solution by Reichdrill, which was bought by EuroforGroup in 2017. “The R comes from Reichdrill, an American manufacturer of drill rigs since 1940 based in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania,” he said. “And the T comes from the Austrian manufacturer TM Bohrtechnik, a historical leader in DTH drill rig manufacturing.”
The DTH and rotary rigs offered by both suppliers were consolidated under the RTDrill brand in 2020. “With a wide range of products and an extensive worldwide distribution network, and with two factories and a unified design office, the RTDrill rigs are being constantly adjusted to the customer needs by integrating all the necessary specifications and enhancements for better productivity and efficiency,” Pessiani said.
The brand launch propelled EuroforGroup into the ranks of global drill rig OEMs. The company had been in the drilling business since 1972 as a specialist distributer in Europe and Africa. “Our desire to become a worldwide drill-and-blast OEM was to fill an industry gap in quality services,” he said.
“Our team today is working hard to set up and support our independent distributers around the world to provide the best services to mining companies and contractors in these difficult times,” Pessiani said. “We are innovating in the designs of our machines by bringing products to the market that are giving efficient alternative solutions.”
RTDrill will be at MINExpo in the North Hall in booth 1738.