We've decided these 5 tested technologies will rock the drilling & blasting industry in 2021 because we believe this is the year we will start seeing large scale adoption.
Let's just start by stating the obvious, none of the points below discuss new technologies. All of them have been around for years, but we believe 2021 will be their break out year.
Or perhaps more to the point, WHY NOW? If these technologies have been around for so long, why is 2021 the year we'll start seeing them gain acceptance in drilling, blasting, and mining?
- Familiarity. All of these technologies have been around for years. Everyone has heard of them. People know what they are now they just need to know what they can do.
- Proven Results. These technologies have been tested. The survivors offer proven results, there is no more risk involved in their adoption- it is merely a cost-benefit analysis. Now we'll see a waterfall of adoption as the cautious begin to adopt the technologies and then finally the reluctant are forced to.
- Price Decrease. Technology gets cheaper over time. The manufacturing process is refined, the investment cost is recouped, market pressures drive down prices while expanding markets allow economies of scale.
- Covid-19. The pandemic forced the world to re-evaluate how it worked. Technology allowed many of us the option to continue working while staying safe. Now employers and employees can see the benefits technology offers. The unknown is no longer unknown. Technology adoption is less frightening and is now just part of the new normal.
- Supporting Systems. The proliferation of supporting systems such as 5G and Digital Twin and AI software will significantly expand the ROI on the investment and empower the technologies.
While traditionally drill & blast, and mining have been risk averse in adopting new technologies, we believe the time has come for these to see widespread adoption.
1. Autonomous Smart Drills
Autonomous drills increase operator safety, drilling accuracy, and operational efficiency. By moving the operator from the field to the control room, they are no longer subject to onsite hazards. A single operator can control up to four rigs at once, and the drills do not need to idle for shift changes or operator break times. Further, the drill rig records data it encounters while drilling, such as speed, penetration rate, Hole GPS, and more that is analyzed by the operator to improve the drilling accuracy of the future holes.
The spread of 5G wireless technology is allowing massive amounts of data to be transmitted in real time. Additionally, there is significantly improved software available that can take the smart drill plan data and incorporate it into a digital twin of the bench- smoothly integrating the smart drill into larger operational planning.
Adding Measure While Drilling data to cross team operations planning has been shown to have significant effects on both drilling outcomes and downstream processes, like blasting's vibration, flyrock, and fragmentation optimization.
2. Hyperspectral Mapping
Hyperspectral imaging is the analysis of reflected light information beyond that which the human eye can perceive, to identify objects. Special camera sensors gather images then each pixel in the image is broken down into many different spectral bands for algorithms to analyze including ultraviolet and infrared and also allows for the collection and analysis of data about light- like the absorption, reflectance, and fluorescence.
Hyperspectral imaging has been used significantly in healthcare, agriculture, the military, USGIS, and more for its powerful imaging insights- every mineral has its own spectral "fingerprint".
Its potential uses in mining are legion. Imagine being able to...
- To locate potential deposits for exploration or locate the ore in the muckpile by drone imagery
- Quantify the ore grade of different locations in the mine
- Sort ore in real time on the conveyor belt
- Analyze waste for additional processing opportunities
- Track runoff
3. Smartphone Lidar
LiDar or Light Detection and Ranging. Is essentially a radar for light. A pulsed light is emitted and the time it takes to bounce back to the camera is recorded. The time is translated into distance and used to create incredibly accurate 3D maps of areas.
Before, LiDar systems were large and needed to be mounted to satellites, manned aircraft and UAVs. Thus limiting their applications- mainly government, environmental, and big businesses. But now Apple has managed to fit them into your pocket (IPhone 12 Pro and I Pad Pro both come with a LiDar system built in). And Google isn't far behind.
So far its applications in construction, home design, and inspection have been hugely successful. With a range of roughly 5 meters, its an instant way to create a 3D map of an area and record that data to check for and track compliance and status, or even to immediately detect variations that would be difficult for human eyes to see.
Potential Drill and Blast and Mining use cases include...
- Mapping underground mine stopes and walls
- Detecting minute cracks and fractures
- Documenting bench characteristics to generate real time digital twin
- Image muckpiles or fragmentation
- Create instant 3D site records
4. Autonomous ground robot for drill hole layout
Autonomous vehicles are everywhere now. They can drive on their own and now they can perform tasks as well. First, they were available only to NASA and then the military and law enforcement, now they're automating sports field line painting.
Soon autonomous ground robots will be painting drill hole layouts on bench faces.
Just like smart drills they have access to incredibly accurate shot plans created in Digital Twin software. No more measuring benches or holes and marking them, simply plan the shot on the computer and export it to the ground robot system. The robot will role out and spray paint the markings on the bench. Safer, faster, more affordable, and more accurate than manually marking the holes. The perfect alternative to buying smart drills or retrofitting existing drills.
5. Smart IoT powered by 5G
Before 5G, mine sites struggled with poor or no connectivity making it difficult to leverage the IoT data and AI in a scalable way. Now, with the explosion of 5G, the smart devices will be able to connect and transfer data in real time.
Smart machines up and down the operations chain will all be collecting and reporting the data they encounter- reporting not just back to the operator but directly to other machines creating mesh connectivity and a Smart Internet of Things. The efficiency that will be able to be obtained is incredible.
From drone images the creation of the GPS tagged digital twin. Immediately upon shot design completion either the smart drill will begin drilling or the autonomous robot will begin marking. As soon as the drilling is tagged finished the automated explosives truck roles out. As soon as its marked finished clear the blast is ignited. Once the dust settles sufficiently (as detected by sensor) the drone re-flies the muck-pile identifying for the loaders which parts of the muck-pile have which ores or fragmentation so that the haul trucks can be loaded with similar quality rock. On site bulk sorting. One truck can go straight to processing, one truck straight to the crusher, and another truck straight to waste. Then even more refined sorting at the conveyor belt stage. So much more efficient.
We know the top of the article promised 5 points, but we couldn't help but throw in this last one- we're seeing it start to take off and are very interested to see where it goes:
Bonus Point 6. Thermal Imaging for Blasts
Recording videos of blasts is common, both because the blast videos are fun to watch, but also for analysis and documentation purposes. What we're starting to see is the use of thermal imaging when recording the blasts. First to analyze the efficacy of different explosive products use, but increasingly because different gasses burn at different temperatures. The use of thermal imaging and an AI that can match the data to the gas could give excellent information on gasses trapped or released during blasting and added to the Digital Twin. Because thermal imaging cameras are easily mounted to drones they can record a blast anywhere at anytime.
While initially used in Industrial Inspections, Search and Rescue, First responders, etc. Thermal imaging is a proven technology that could easily find a new use in safety and compliance enhancements for drilling and blasting operations.
What's next for your business?
Change is coming fast, and it can be overwhelming. But those who can adapt gain huge competitive advantages. Technologies like those described above and AI to make true use of the data will give advance warnings and enable real time responses. Using the data available to you you'll be able to adjust your operations to maximize productivity, efficiency, safety, compliance, and so much more.
Time to dig in.
Do you agree or disagree?
What technology trends do you foresee changing the drill & blast industry?
AI Guide for Drilling and Blasting to learn more about the AI advancing the drilling and blasting industry or
YouTube channel to see how AI is empowering drillers and blasters like never before
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