Safety on the benches

May 23, 2016

In Chile, Codelco continues to implement new initiatives in all of its mines to increase the safety of its workers and step up risk control in the mining of its deposits. Another example is the Radomiro Tomic mine which is introducing remote control technology that may revolutionize its operations.

Protecting miners from the dangers of hazardous environments is an increasing global trend and Codelco’s Radomiro Tomic mine is a frontrunner. In an ongoing effort to make life safer for its miners in this open pit copper operation, RT, as the mine is known, has invested in remote controlled bench drilling equipment.

The mine recently purchased a fleet of five Atlas Copco SmartROC D65 drill rigs together with a BenchREMOTE unit, making it the first in Latin America to introduce remote-controlled benching. The decision is seen as a milestone for both RT as well as Codelco, reaffirming the group’s strategy to apply new technologies to achieve safer, more productive processes.

Located at 3 000 m above sea level in the Atacama desert, some 250 km northeast of Antofagasta and 40 km north of Calama, Radomiro Tomic produces copper cathodes at the rate of around 330 000 tonnes per year.

With the new drill rigs in place, complemented by the BenchREMOTE unit, the mine is now evaluating whether the system can completely replace its traditional benching operations.Claudia Domínguez, Manager, Occupationa-l Safety and Health at RT, points out that the mine has worked hard in recent years to improve safety awareness.

The BenchREMOTE operator station in Chile

“We impress on all our employees to make the right decision and stop their activities if they encounter risks that are beyond our control such as sudden rockfalls,” she says. “In this respect, BenchREMOTE helps us remove the final barrier to preventing accidents as it totally eliminates the risk.

“There have been a number of serious accidents in Chile so this technology from Atlas Copco is most welcome. As it will improve our working conditions it will be highly appreciated by those who do the work.”

Claudia Domínguez, Manager, Occupationa-l Safety and Health at RT

Mine Manager Raúl Galán agrees, adding that switching from conventional bench drilling to remote control with the SmartROC D65 is a good strategic fit. “We have a plan that rests on four pillars – safety, innovation, performance and operational excellence,” he explains. “The technology is a perfect fit because it is a computerized, high productivity system that also incorporates a high level of protection for our operators. This gives peace of mind.”

Moreover, he says the introduction of remote control drilling is in keeping with the times. “The mining industry has changed. We are going through a new cycle of lower copper prices and that means we have to adapt quickly to meet the challenges and stay competitive. “This equipment helps us to do that. It is more cost effective and allows up to three drill rigs to be controlled from a distance at the same time, which means we get higher productivity as well.”

Testing under way

The mine is currently in the process of testing and evaluating the system, but the management is confident it will live up to expectations. If all goes well, the new drill rigs may even be used in fully automatic mode between shifts and during meal breaks, further increasing productivity. Compared with its previous fleet, including the Atlas Copco ROC L8, the mine is also aiming for improved availability.

Danilo Díaz, Senior Engineer, Mine Management at Radomiro Tomic, says: “Compared with our ROC L8, we are expecting to see a reduction in the number of incidents as well as longer life and improved performance of the equipment, components and parts. We also expect increased availability, lower annual maintenance costs and ongoing support and training for our operators and maintenance personnel.”

The mine fully expects its operators to embrace the new technology and quickly get used to working inside the BenchREMOTE vehicle at a distance from the drilling patterns on the benches. The rigs will be working in different sections of the pit. The operators will work in pairs and Díaz says he wants as many operators as possible to take turns to obtain broadest possible feedback on operational and maintenance issues.

Read the full story at Mining and Construction online

2016 Mining