Removing the danger from mining

WHAT’S the latest hands-free technology that’s preventing miners from getting their hands dirty? Supply Side by Australia’s Mining Monthly editor Thomas Smith.
Removing the danger from mining Removing the danger from mining Removing the danger from mining Removing the danger from mining Removing the danger from mining

Plantman's semi-autonomous drill loader

Staff Reporter

Drilling is dirty work. Always has been.

A look through our photo library shows almost identical images of drill rigs and their crews – regardless of the decade the picture was taken, or the location or ground that’s being drilled.

The only things that change are the hairstyles or fashion. You can always tell an old photo in an instant if the driller is wearing shorts, thongs and a singlet.

Try getting onto a minesite nowadays without the proper personal protective equipment. It would be easier getting into Fort Knox.

Times have changed, particularly the technology that drill crews use nowadays.

I mentioned earlier that drilling is dirty work. It’s dangerous too, even for experienced drillers and their crews.

This week sees the introduction of a piece of equipment that’s interested Supply Side.

Plantman, based in Western Australia, has released a semi-autonomous drill rod handler to the mining industry.

A spokesman for the company explained: “The development of semi-autonomous mining equipment has created considerable benefits for operator welfare and safety in other high risk jobs but, until now, not for the manual and labour intensive process of winching drill rods into drill rigs.

“This week, Plantman Equipment launched a customised mining truck into our rental fleet that significantly reduces one of the biggest safety risks in blast hole drilling operations.

“The Plantman Mack Metroliner 8x4 crane truck is fitted with a semi-autonomous drill rod handler, which eliminates any need to manually handle drill rods.”

That’s right, drillers don’t have to manually handle the rods. The system enables rods to be transported to the drill rig and changed on the drill bench – hands free.

A remote control system allows operators to mechanically load and unload the drill rod from the tower frame at a safe distance. The key benefit being that physical contact isn’t necessary to complete the task.

Plantman is rather proud of the technology, which it says “dramatically decreases the number of personnel in the work area and reduces the risk of incidents caused by human error”

Plantman Equipment managing director Michael Elliot, who has had more than 45 years of experience in the mining and construction industries, said he was all too aware of the importance of safety when it came to operating equipment.

“Safety is a key consideration on any minesite,” Elliot said.

“Semi-autonomous equipment developments, such as this automated drill rod handler, provide a huge advancement in operator safety.”

The truck has been successfully trialled at BHP Billiton Iron Ore’s Eastern Ridge site in Newman, Western Australia.

The mining industry is constantly exploring ways of improving safety and reducing risk.

Legislation is such that before a project even gets as far as the exploration stage, safety requirements must first be met before personnel is deployed.

Plantman’s area of expertise is in the sale and rental of custom designed and manufactured mining and service trucks.

How many companies will choose the autonomous option when planning a drilling operation – as opposed to the traditional hands-on method – remains to be seen.