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Future-ready: Digitalized Drilling and Blasting

First published in the April 2022 issue of Quarry Management

Drilling and blasting specialists EPC-UK and EPC Metrics provide an industry update on their latest developments for the digital era

Renowned for having the expertise to develop quarrying techniques and technologies that are fit for the future, EPC-UK have further enhanced their digital capabilities for 2022, refining and improving blast performance and increasing value for customers as their separate division, EPC Metrics, transitions to becoming its own standalone company.

Detailing their latest customer-critical developments, each designed to effectively realize both companies’ increasing competencies and aptitudes, general manager Ben Coppock explains some of the rock-on-ground advancements that are successfully being brought to the field by EPC-UK and EPC Metrics.

Three software solutions become one – Vertex

As with other industries operating within advancingly digitized times, we consider data to be a powerful tool, which is why we are using the software we have developed to further refine and improve blast performance through a programme that combines all three of our digital quarrying platforms, Vertex.

Vertex allows us to store all the blast parameters we have planned and delivered. We can then, using our EPC Metrics methodologies, assess the blast performance against incremental changes in design to subsequently optimize the results for customers. 

Vertex components – Expertir, Expertab, Explore

Expertir

In recent years EPC-UK and the EPC Metrics division have progressed the digital technologies now combined through Vertex, to support and integrate with our in-house blast design software, Expertir. This is the element of Vertex that incorporates additional digital sources to achieve the best possible outcomes for each blast performed. Working in conjunction with specialist drone technologies to feed gathered site data into the software package, our engineers use the Expertir element as a digitized solution to apply highly advanced blast design practices that take account of the precise details of the rock mass to be blasted. Details include exporting and importing drilling and loading plans directly to smart assets in drill rigs and bulk emulsion trucks. The software also allows initiation designs to be produced and exported to various detonator systems, whilst highly accurate loading rates can be digitally captured, maximizing the deliverable benefits for customers.

Expertab

Expertir is supported in the field with a notebook version of the software, Expertab. Reducing the need for paperwork, operators use a tablet computer to access Expertab. The software can be used as a mobile version of Expertir by both mobile explosive manufacturing unit (MEMU) truck and drill rig operators to create hole charging plans and drill logs. The Expertab drill log captures drilling information digitally, which can then be remotely transferred back to the drill and blast team to design the required blast. By recording results and information, and sending saved data back into Expertir, both the blast design process for drill logs and data storage for MEMU hole loading can be improved by digitally referencing the ‘planned’ and the ‘actual’ delivered by in-field assets. The implementation of Expertab alongside the introduction of ‘smart’ trucks can allow the running parameters for the truck to be digitally monitored during the loading process and performance captured alongside the blast details, providing an extra layer of quality control.

Explore

At EPC-UK, we believe that effective analysis achieves more successful future results. We can, again through Vertex, record the input of the entire drill and blast design specification and KPI information in an online cloud-based database, Explore. From this software element, we can analyse all the data together and assess the blast performance, so that moving forward we are able to make effective decisions regarding future blast designs. Critically, we use this available data to target blast parameter changes intended to drive improvements in fragmentation and blast performance and can then combine that information with fragmentation analysis data from drone photogrammetry and compare it with load and haul performance KPIs, crusher throughput, scalped material percentages, and oversize levels, all of which gives reliable trend data to improve site cost-efficiency and deliver a true ‘mine-to-mill’ understanding. 

To prove Vertex’s capabilities in the field, we have piloted its full suite of EPC digital blasting technologies at numerous quarry test sites. The testing process has allowed us to successfully roll out Vertex’s key techniques to our shotfiring teams as we work to standardize digital procedures nationwide, to drive all our blasting practices forward with technology. With processes embedded, we are equipped to offer more advanced services to customers and confident that these digital tools, collaboratively provided by EPC-UK and EPC Metrics, will allow customers to improve overall site efficiency, so that operating costs are reduced through a safer and more accurate blasting method.

Safer blasting through drone implementation

Using the Vertex software system to support drone operations has served to heighten safety levels significantly across quarry operations. Using photogrammetry techniques, our drones – which can be piloted remotely, away from typical quarry hazards – perform face-profiling surveys that are safer, more accurate, and recordable, with all information imported directly into Expertir as a 3D model.

The drone photogrammetry we can perform is more precise than traditional laser-profiling surveys, capturing high-density, multi-angle surveys easily and quickly, and making blast designs increasingly accurate. Furthermore, as we incorporate both pre- and post-drill surveys in our blasting processes, we can ensure that holes are exactly positioned to deliver the best energy distribution possible across any given rock mass, resulting in highly accurate drill performance. Drone surveying presents a faster way to survey, particularly in situations where multiple set-ups are required. Moreover, the aerial nature of the survey allows us to obtain measurements from behind obstructions, such as toe bunds, where laser profiles can be ineffective. 

Future-ready capabilities 

Vertex is supporting our teams in executing advanced levels of blast design expertise in the field, including:

  • Safer, more accurate surveying completed by the drone
  • Production of, and interaction with, highly accurate 3D models of rock mass to be blasted
  • Auto-drill layout to optimize drill holes to the rock mass and provide optimal energy distribution
  • GPS technology that interacts with Expertir and communicates between in-field assets to assure the accuracy of hole positioning in relation to blast design
  • Interaction with smart drilling processes
  • Remote data storage and access to the Explore online database, supporting optimization of blast design processes via remote technical support 
  • Autoprobe – automatic digital hole-probing device
  • Acquisition of digital drilling information to support blast design process
  • Capability to combine blast design information and data capture with loading, hauling, and crushing/processing telematics to create overall processing improvements.

Investing in state-of-the-art equipment 

As a company, EPC-UK remain committed to investing in reliable vehicles that incorporate technologically activated systems. We regularly enhance our fleet’s telematic capabilities with new MEMU trucks and drilling rigs. The recent development of installing Wi-Fi across vehicles within the fleet has also made transitioning real-time data to and from trucks and rigs smoother and has allowed us to interact with our fleet remotely. Now we can not only plan operations through Expertab, but also monitor key parameters from the trucks. From the delivery of explosives and pumping pressures, to monitoring truck health and product quality, Wi-Fi truck and rig capabilities allow us to deliver remotely, and store and manage key data for future analysis. 

Imperatively, the improvements in machinery and technology that we are introducing allow us to focus on the green agenda, as we can now monitor and optimize equipment fuel usage through smart blast design vs resources deployed. This provides us with data regarding the CO2 impact per blast in combination with the explosives used to release the rock.

Working in partnership

Utilizing the Vertex methodology, and working to our SPIRIT value principles of Safety, Passion, Integrity, Respect, Innovation, and Teamwork, we remain committed to ensuring the availability of core products to customers. Together we are progressing targeted projects that aim to demonstrate our systems’ benefits with the support of EPC Metrics’ analysis tools. The EPC Metrics division officially became its own operating entity on 1 January 2022, and whilst still part of the wider EPC-UK company, this progressive development has created an opportunity for our specialist metrics engineers to deliver value-added, technically advanced services to customers, outside of EPC-UK’s wider and now truly established drilling and blasting offering. 

A specialist Metrics service

Skilled at applying the latest drone and 3D modelling technology to ‘fly, monitor, and analyse’ the way towards safer and more streamlined quarrying practice, EPC Metrics’ engineers apply the technologies developed from EPC-UK’s proven expertise through concentrated, customer-focused delivery.  

From drone mapping and modelling services to the use of fixed remote monitoring stations to assure environmental compliance, environmental and vibration management, blast performance and fragmentation analysis, EPC Metrics now provide a complete value-added solution, in addition to an equipment sale and hire offering, equipment servicing and calibration, and consultancy expertise. 

Together, EPC-UK’s drilling and blasting teams and EPC Metrics’ engineers are taking a synergized approach to delivering new, digitally advanced, and optimized services in effective collaboration. 

Optimizing for the future

For EPC-UK and EPC Metrics, the future of drilling and blasting has already arrived, as our expertise helps customers transition towards operations that allow their environmental and CO2 impact to be both monitored and managed. 

The companies’ digital processes, combined with the latest rock-on-ground developments and equipment investments, provide engineers with the tools to control and optimize the blasting environment, with Vertex effectively consolidating valuable data and EPC Metrics adding value to customers as its own separate entity. The progression of all these elements combined will enable the successful transition to the next stage of safer, more efficient digitized blasting for both customers and the industry alike. 

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