The Safe Quality Stoping (SQS) face advance drill rig from Brits-based mining machinery manufacturer GST Drilling will be trialled at platinum miner Impala Platinum’s (Implats’) E&F operation, in Rustenburg, South Africa, in the next few weeks.
“This trial represents the modernisation of mining that is urgently required in South Africa to ensure the industry’s sustain- ability,” says GST GM Andre Opperman, highlighting that sustained lower commodity prices and ever-increasing costs are squeezing mining margins and threaten the industry’s survival. Therefore, he says, products like the SQS can go a long way towards remedying this challenge.
Combined, all the safety features on the SQS face advance rig, which was released in June 2016, lower costs, including those associated with production losses as a result of injury stoppages, explains original- equipment developer Scamont Engineering director Ross Williams.
Scamont developed the SQS product from the research and development phase, as well as manufactured the first batches of the product.
The mass of the complete SQS product ranges from 37.76 kg to 44.48 kg, with the length between 2 103 mm and 3 098 mm – excluding the drill steel length, which ranges from 1.2 m to 2.4 m.
“The rig [offers] more accurate drilling, owing to in-line thrust, stabilisation of the rig between the hanging wall and foot wall, and perfectly controlled hole drilling depth, makes for a much better face shape and far greater advance with each blast,” he enthuses to Mining Weekly, adding that, together, these benefits improve working conditions, rig operator (RO) income levels and mine profitability.
He adds that the roll-out through Implats and the mining industry will be controlled to ensure the best service delivery, with great attention being paid to inevitable change management.
“By way of the skills set acquired for and through its use, it creates opportunities for more people – women in particular – to work as drill ROs (DROs) in a modernised and semimechanised mining world.”
The SQS machine, Opperman explains, is used for hard-rock drilling and is especially suited for low stope heights, where drilling is currently performed by a conventional DRO using conventional, hand-held equipment.
“Mining for the traditional DRO has continued to get deeper and more difficult – owing to heat and longer walks to the active mining face, which means less time at the face and the need for more energy – and the equipment has not changed to mitigate these challenges. Therefore, operations have declined in sustainability and profitability. The SQS can reverse this decline through modernisation,” Williams enthuses, highlighting that the current hand-held jackhammer was introduced in the 1920s and the air-leg was introduced in the 1960s.
“The hand-held method has been used for a significantly long time and has inertia. The need for change and modernisation should be obvious to the industry, and certain key players are starting to embrace that, knowing that the industry cannot keep operating as it has always done and expect to survive,” he adds.
However, resistance to change is consider- ably high in the South African mining industry. There is also fear, Williams says, acknowledging the capital expenditure (capex) related to the acquisition of any new equipment in this extremely constrained operating environment. But, GST can address that fear through its lease option, he notes.
Williams enthuses that the SQS is faster, safer, quieter and easier to use than other products on the market.
The pneumatically powered jackhammer is faster, partly because of a “unique air-feed system” and being situated inside a sealed guide shell ‘tube’. Pneumatic thrust is applied to the jackhammer inside the guide shell, driving the jackhammer towards the rock face, with no exertion nor directional control required from the RO.
“However, the jackhammer is not only powered by the pneumatic air supply, but the same system is used to create thrust onto the jackhammer. The unique air-feed system incorporated into the jackhammer, coupled with the in-line thrust onto the jackhammer, dramatically increases drilling penetration rates.”
The rig is stabilised between the hanging and foot walls, therefore, requiring less hand- ling and physical exertion from the RO, as he/she remains safely positioned under the hanging wall while the jackhammer moves closer to the rock face as it penetrates.
“The RO is not required to stand directly behind the rig at all times as an DRO must when operating a conventional hand-held jackhammer. Thus, the risk of injury in the event of a gas pocket intersection causing a blow-back is drastically reduced.”
Williams further adds that the SQS also materially decreases exposure of the RO to vibration. Further, the jackhammer exhausts into the guide shell and not the atmosphere, greatly reducing the amount of fogging in the stope, and improving air quality.
The jackhammer is quieter, he notes, owing to noise being muffled inside the guide shell, making it possible for the rig to operate under 95 dB.
“Collaring takes 2 or 3 seconds and is far more accurate. The rig is also self- retracting, which also materially decreases the level of skill and strength required by the RO. Drill holes cannot be drilled too long or too short, as the rig regulates the hole depth.”
The nature of the SQS – which repre- sents a step change from the technology currently used – makes the RO’s job easier, while making the mine more productive, Opperman adds, noting that these factors combine to enhance profitability and sustainability of mines, as well as the jobs they provide.
“This is applicable to any mining environment globally, especially with the combination of low stoping heights, which are almost impossible to fully mechanise; lower technical skill levels; the need to retain jobs and the prohibitive cost of capex threatening the industry’s survival.
“If mines can embrace technological changes, such as the SQS face advance rig, a small change, compared with outright mechanisation, they can improve their profitability and remain sustainable,” Opperman concludes.