Mill blaster

A SYSTEM where a blast design is directly driven by mill throughput could be coming to miners in the not too distant future.
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Dyno Nobel is close to rolling out bulk explosive trucks that require no human intervention.

In doing so Dyno Nobel, which is trying to create such a system, could help break down the siloes that occur on a mine site.

Dyno Nobel chief technology officer Rob Rounsley said blast design could affect fragmentation, which could, in turn affect mill throughput.

He said Dyno Nobel was creating the tools that would allow blast engineers to use the data the blast hole drills could give them and tailor blasts to get the outcome they wanted.

The data he is talking about are simple things such as drill torque and hydraulic pressure, that rigs can already provide.

From those metrics rock hardness can be divined.

Better yet, Rounsley said, its tools would also ensure that those outcomes would be consistent and repeatable.

It turns out the bigger miners will settle for a less optimal outcome that could be repeated consistently than an outstanding outcome that could only be repeated occasionally.

Rounsley said the drills could give Dyno Nobel's blast design software information on the hardness of the rock to be blasted.

"We'll move to more things as that data becomes available," he said.

The explosives company is creating a system so it knows what fragmentation should look like.

"From that we can see how we model that, plant that and load to that," Rounsley said.

"We can see how the design delivered that outcome.

"Ultimately the measurement may not be fragmentation, it may be mill throughput and we'll use that to drive your design."

One way to improve that repeatability and consistency is to increase the amount of automation in the drill and blast area.

Blast hole drills can already operate autonomously and also provide a lot of the data that is needed for the blast design software.

That software will also play a role in the automation.

Dyno Nobel's automation approach will include wireless initiation systems and autonomous blast loading machines.

"Dyno Nobel's vision is about a connected bench," Rounsley said.

"The purpose of that connected bench is to drive consistent outcomes from a blasting point of view.

"We want to achieve predictable and knowable outcomes.

"That involves many different technological requirements to make that real."

Rounsley said there were lots of pieces of technology being developed and released.

"Those are all interesting as standalone technologies but its how they all link together to create that consistency that's important," he said.

The centrepiece of the Dyno Nobel connected bench approach is its design software, what Rounsley calls its central control system.

"We have a three-year roadmap of add-ons for it," he said.

"The purpose of it is it does modelling and prediction of outcomes.

"It lets you design a blast and model it so you know what the outcome will be.

"Then you can interface with the equipment to load the shot you design.

"It has a portion that records all that information so you have a detailed report of what you loaded against what you planned to load.

"It then has a part that records and measures what the outcomes were."

Rounsley said the core of the software had been developed and the company was adding features and benefits to each module progressively based on customer feedback.

Another key building block is the Universal Control System that sits in the bulk truck and allows the truck to be interfaced with what the blast engineer wants to load.

"The UCS has been developed," Rounsley said.

"We've launched the basic software and launched some additional functionality for it."

Dyno Nobel is also putting differential global positioning system units in its detonators.

"That is an important building block too," Rounsley said.

"Particularly if you are dealing with automated trucks and you want to tell them where to go.

"We've built that into our technology platform."

Rounsley said its automated bulk explosives trucks were into their third generation.

"To be fully commercialised they will probably need a couple of refinements," he said.

"They are at the point where they can go to mine sites and be used.

"They can be controlled by remote control or computer and be told where to go and what to load."

Rounsley said Dyno Nobel would be working with customers in 2021 to get the autonomous bulk trucks - which are into their third generation - into field trials.

"We had planned to do it early but COVID-19 stopped that," he said.

"That let us do more development work in the interim but I would rather be working with the customers directly."

On the wireless initiation front Dyno Nobel has two offerings: Cyberdet 1 and Cyberdet 2.

Cyberdet 1 is in field trials. It is aimed primarily at the underground mining space and uses ultra-low frequency radio signals.

Cyberdet 2 uses what Rounsley calls "wireless from the collar". It has a wire that runs to the surface, however, everything from there is wireless.

"The big problems with Cyberdet 1 is that its communication is unidirectional," he said.

"With traditional detonators and unidirectional detonators you don't know there is a problem until you get a misfire."

Cyberdet 2, however, has the capability to conduct two-way communications.

Rounsley said Cyberdet 2 was at stage 4 in Dyno Nobel's development process.

Stage 5 is field trials and Stage 6 is building a plant to start making them.

"You need something that can wirelessly, through the air, talk to the receivers on the surface," Rounsley said.

"Effectively I can fly a drone over the top of the shot, talk to every detonator in the blast holes and send it its initiation direction and sequence.

"That's what the software and product are being developed around.

"The drone is taking its directions from the software.

"Right now that is from a product called View Shot."

The plan to use drones is partly from a safety aspect but also because some mines do not have complete communications cover over all their sites.

Rounsley said the company was well down the path towards automation but was still someway off a commercial product.

"We're what I would call semi-autonomous," he said.

"We'll be there in a few years where this can be fully automated."

Another tool in Dyno Nobel's kit that Rounsley believes will allow it to create an industry leading autonomous blast system is its Differential Energy product.

That allows the blast in each hole to be tailored to generate the optimal blast outcome.

"In terms of automated smart drills, they are really quite smart and have gone through many generations of development," Rounsley said.

"In terms of utilising the data from them, there's quite a lot of information you can get from what the drills have done.

"That's not really used from a blast design point of view. One of the reasons for that is many of the technologies implemented from a blast point of view don't let you tailor the explosive loads to get a different outcome.

"Most people are running standard products.

"Dyno's Differential Energy product lets you rapidly change the density, energy and velocity of the explosives and tailor it to the ground conditions.

"You couple it with the data and digital control system and you can direct the trucks on what to load to tailor the energy to the ground.

"The data we're getting back is the hardness of the rock. We're trying to understand that data to help design the blast."

Rounsley said the technology could progress to understand where the ore and waste was, which would improve blast design even further.

"If you were measuring grade, for example, and had the type of accuracy that was useful you may decide to create different fragmentation sizes based on grade and do sorting," he said.

"Our electronic detonators and Differential Energy products are tools that allow you to design with flexibility.

"Then what you have to do is have your applications experts understand what you are trying to achieve and apply those tools in a way to achieve that.

"Then you can take the variability out of it. The machines will only do what the system tells them to do."