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OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill copper-gold mine in South Australia has become the first mine in the world to trial tele-remote operation of Sandvik’s development drills.

Contract miner Byrnecut Australia has successfully used a new automation and tele-remote package for Sandvik’s two-boom hydraulic development drill rigs, enabling the rigs to be monitored and controlled from the surface.

The boom-collision-avoidance system has now been in operation for three weeks, with Byrnecut reporting at least 10 per cent increased productivity with the machine.

Byrnecut Australia managing director Pat Boniwell said the new automation features allowed for enhanced drill operation across shift changes – historically a period when development drilling has stopped or been significantly reduced.

“We’re conservatively looking at a 10-percent increase in productivity with this machine through being able to drill extra holes and the machine being used more consistently,” he said.

“It picks up on the deadtime, and if it does stop for any reason we’re able to remotely reset it.”

The new boom collision avoidance system means both of the rig’s drill booms can be left in operation during shift change – something that was previously not possible.

In the first few weeks of operation, the drill has been able to drill 60-70 holes while being operated autonomously and remotely from surface.

In addition to the collision avoidance and tele-remote capabilities of the DD422i, the new automation package allows for semi-autonomous bit changing.

Another handy feature of the set-up during the current period of social distancing has been the virtual network computing (VNC) capability that allows the control panel of the drill to be viewed remotely on a tablet. This means that during operator training, the instructor need not be in the cabin with the operator.

OZ Minerals Prominent Hill general manager, Gabrielle Iwanow, said when Byrnecut approached her about trialling the upgraded development drill, she was immediately interested.

“OZ Minerals is a modern mining company,” she said. “We’re interested in innovation and looking for safer, faster, and more efficient ways of doing our work.”

With COVID-19 travel restrictions preventing Sandvik staff from attending site, experts from the three companies collaborated via phone, teleconference and email to complete remote commissioning of the rig.