At EPC-UK we’re renowned for our passionate approach to researching, developing and delivering the ground-breaking innovations that continue to shape our drilling & blasting sector. At this year’s Hillhead exhibition, field forerunner and EPC-UK Explosive Engineer, Dr. Liam Bermingham spoke to visitors about elements of his latest, critically acclaimed ‘Digital Quarry – Mine to Mill Optimisation’ presentation. He talked to Onsite about the presentation’s salient points which, when implemented, offer the scope to deliver a net zero carbon footprint through incremental blast refinements and optimisation:

“It’s a truly exciting time for our industry. Right now, the new digital technologies we’re working to advance at EPC-UK and through EPC Metrics are enabling us to record and analyse performance across all sectors of a quarrying operation.​ By making use of recorded Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on site, as a means to monitor and review blast performance, we are able to collect the correct data accurately and drive a process of continuous improvement to achieve the ‘Mine to Mill’ optimisation​ that many customers are looking for. 

That valuable data includes information on loading times, fuel usage​, crusher throughput, energy consumption​, the percentage split of materials, and quantity of scalpings​ and oversize.

Technology is working as our ‘partner in progress’, as we implement drone technology and photogrammetry techniques into the face profiling survey process. This enables us to create 3D models of the surveyed area which consist of a high density of data points, allowing for a more accurate blast design process. By applying our expertise, the resulting models can be geo-referenced through GPS RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) surveys​, providing improved accuracy.​ This entire process enables safer surveying operations whilst simultaneously allowing engineers to record geological conditions and obtain measurements of the entire exposed face – including areas which may previously have been obstructed by physical structures. They can also carry out laser profiling surveys, for example behind toe bunds. Although limited by the weather, the entire process is proving to be ​faster and safer than laser profiling techniques that require multiple setups.​

Pre and post blast survey

Expertir

To effectively create our blast designs we are using advanced Expertir computer technology, the blast design software element of our Vertex digital solution that works in conjunction with our specialist drones. Expertir supports digital sources to feed gathered site data into the Vertex software package, and the blast design algorithms produced enable the automatic generation of blast hole locations, so energy distribution is optimised and we achieve the best possible outcomes for each blast performed. The digital drill logs generated are then stored on our ExplOre cloud-based storage system, which is also part of the Vertex solution.​

Expertab

​This android-based application supports our Multiblend (MEMU) truck and drill rig operators in the field, by digitally recording drill logs and uploading them into Expertir for the final design stage. Designing the hole loading is made safer and more effective and the final explosive loading for a blast can be remotely transferred back to the MEMU operators via Expertab. By connecting to the MEMU’s onboard WiFi, the operator is able to control and record the entire hole loading process via the application. This allows the drilling and hole loading processes to be digitally captured and stored on ExplOre. By using the technology, we’re able to hold all the key information needed in a centralised location from where we can analyse and interpret the blast statistics and use the existing data to make more efficient decisions in the future.

Performance monitoring – frag analysis

Performance review – The first digital quarry project

In 2018, the EPC-UK team embarked on its first analytical digital quarry project at one of the largest limestone quarries in the country. The project’s aim was to effectively carry out quantitative assessments of blast performance​ and measure, record and analyse drill & blast data downstream of the drill & blast process, so we could quantify the impact of the project

We wanted the project to deliver bespoke KPIs for the customer​, quantify the impact of blasting and serve to drive continuous improvement​.

To achieve this, we set the following objectives: 

  • Implement the latest digital technologies within the drill & blast process​
  • Monitor the downstream benefits ​
  • Demonstrate the potential cost savings​
  • Demonstrate the reduction in overall carbon footprint​

​As part of the process, we implemented these technologies:​

  • Electronic detonator systems​
  • Drone surveying​
  • Expertir software – digital blast design​
  • HNS drill rig​
  • Adaptive hole layout​

During Phase 1 of the project, we wanted to define a baseline for future review​, so monitored the site’s existing KPIs​, including: 

  • The primary crusher’s energy consumption (kWhr/T)​
  • The percentage of blasted material scalped off as waste product​
  • The primary crusher throughput​
  • The product split​

It was noted during Phase 2 of the project that the average power consumption reduced from 0.42 to 0.29kWhr/T ​– a 30% reduction. In addition, since Phase 1, the average power consumption reduced from 0.48kWhr/T​ – a 38% reduction.

The Phase 2 stage also showed that the average product split increased by 11%​, and that since Phase 1, the average product split increased by 13%​, together resulting in less waste and more material retained as a higher value product.

Overall results​

  • A significant decrease in energy demand of the primary crusher​
  • An increase in the percentage of material feeding the crusher​
  • Increased crusher throughput​ was enabled
  • A lower volume of waste material​ was produced
  • Overall, the result in blast fragmentation, which has led to a ‘tightening’ of the particle distribution curve, has improved​
  • Significant cost savings have been delivered for customers​
  • Significant reductions in customers’ carbon footprint​s have been made

Performance review – The second digital quarry project

Continuing our research into operational improvement, our team began a second digital quarry project in 2020, again conducted within a large-scale UK limestone quarry.

This time our objectives focused on:

  • Implementing the latest digital drill & blast technologies
  • Monitoring the downstream benefits 
  • Demonstrating the potential cost savings
  • Demonstrating a reduction in the overall carbon footprint

Technologies & techniques implemented:​

  • Electronic detonator systems​
  • Drone surveying​
  • Expertir software – digital blast design​
  • Geometric delay timings
  • All blasts were pre and post drilled surveyed

Using the innovations, we developed a step-by-step process. Here’s the process overview:

  • 1st step – pre-profiling using drones & hole probing​
  • 2nd step – Increase in drill pattern sizes​
  • 5.5m x 5.5m to 6m x 5.5m (165mm)​
  • 4.5m x 4.5m to 5m x 4.5m (130mm)​
  • 3rd step – geometric delay timings​
  • 4th step – further increase in drill pattern sizes​
  • 6m x 5.5x to 6m to 5.8m (165mm)​
  • 5m x 4.5m to 5m to 4.8m (130mm)​

By applying digitized expertise, the results have been marked, and demonstrated through:

  • 12% reduction in drilling​
  • 28,000 l of fuel saved (drilling)​
  • 73t reduction in CO2 produced from reduced fuel usage of the drilling process​
  • Slight improvement in the load & haul performance
  • Improved product split at the primary crusher​

From this most recent, digitally enhanced project our EPC-UK team has concluded that the technology we’re currently developing is enabling the drill & blast process to become fully digitized.​ Working to our SPIRIT values of Safety, Passion, Innovation, Respect, Integrity and Teamwork we are successfully creating safer and more effective digital quarrying environments where, by applying the latest technology, we can measure and record vitally important information on site. 

As a result we’re able to optimise the drill & blast process for our customers, and consequently review at frequent stages, all the relevant data needed to fine tune operations and drive continuous improvement.​ The techniques we’re innovating and bringing to the field are succeeding in optimizing the entire rock breaking process, by taking a Mine to Mill approach,​ and critically, helping to deliver a vital net zero carbon footprint​ to benefit us all.”

For further information contact Liam.Bermingham@epc-groupe.co.uk