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The upgrade has led underground contract miner Byrnecut to lay claim to being the first underground operator in the world to successfully use an automation and teleremote package for Sandvik development drills.
Byrnecut introduced a Sandvik DD422i development drill featuring the package to OZ Minerals' Prominent Hill Mine south east of Coober Pedy in March.
With COVID-19 travel restrictions preventing Sandvik staff from attending site, Byrnecut, OZ Minerals and Sandvik experts collaborated via phone, teleconference and email to complete remote commissioning of the rig.
The two-boom rig, which can be monitored and controlled from the surface and features a sophisticated boom-collision-avoidance system, has been in operation for three weeks.
In addition to the collision avoidance and teleremote capabilities, the automation package allows for semi-autonomous bit changing.
Another handy feature of the set-up during this period of social distancing is the virtual network computing 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.
Pat Boniwell, managing director of Byrnecut Australia, said the automation features allowed for enhanced drill operation across shift changes - historically a period when development drilling stopped or was significantly reduced.
"We're conservatively looking at a 10% 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 dead time, and if it does stop for any reason we're able to remotely reset it."
The boom collision avoidance system means both the rig's drill booms can be left in operation during shift change - something that was not possible before.
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.
OZ Minerals Prominent Hills operations general manager Gabrielle Iwanow said that when Byrnecut approached her about trialling the upgraded development drill, she was immediately interested.
"We're interested in innovation and looking for safer, faster, and more efficient ways of doing our work," she said.
Iwanow said commissioning the drill in such trying times was a credit to all those involved and the positive working relationship between OZ Minerals, Byrnecut and Sandvik.
Byrnecut drill master Noah Wilkinson said a solid working relationship with Sandvik and good communication contributed to the success of the commissioning.
"People from the Sandvik factory in Finland were able to remote into the machine over the internet and adjust settings that were stopping some of the functions from working," he said.