Sophisticated Operator Training Simulators Boost Drill and Bolter Productivity and Safety
Whether operating on the surface or in tunnels deep underground, drill rigs and bolters are vital to the operation of thousands of mines around the world. They’re expensive, complex pieces of equipment which, by virtue of their critical role in the production chain demand the very best operators in order to perform safely and productively. Naturally then, the training and preparation of these operators is something which cannot be taken lightly.
“Despite recent advances in automation, these machines ultimately rely on the knowledge, skill and judgement of their operators in order to safely achieve their full potential,” says Richard Bellengere, head of operations at ThoroughTec Simulation, the company behind the market-leading CYBERMINE range of drill and bolter operator training simulators. “To date we have simulated well over 25 different models from all the major OEMs, including Sandvik, Atlas Copco, Bucyrus, Cubex, Caterpillar (CAT), P&H, Fletcher and Maclean. We’re particularly proud of the significant number of Sandvik models we have simulated, which has helped us be an industry leader,” says Bellengere.
“When in the market for a drill or bolter training simulator, it’s important to consider your supplier’s track-record and experience in this niche domain. At ThoroughTec we’ve been simulating drills and bolters from the very beginning,” says Bellengere. “We developed our first underground drill rig simulator over 15 years ago.” Since then the company has continuously developed its technology and evolved its drill and bolter products to remain the world’s leading producer of these training solutions. In terms of rotary blast-hole drill rig simulators, ThoroughTec developed its first, a P&H 250 XPC, for a diamond mine in South Africa over ten years ago and has since added several other models from the likes of Sandvik, Cubex, Bucyrus, Caterpillar, Atlas Copco and P&H.
“This is the first time that these incredible machines have been simulated”
Two of the latest simulators joining the CYBERMINE range are the Sandvik DS211L-M underground bolter and the Atlas Copco Pit Viper 351 rotary blast-hole drill rig. “To our knowledge, this is the first time that these incredible machines have been simulated and we were delighted when our customers put their faith in us to get the job done,” says Bellengere.
Drill rigs and bolters are some of the most complex of vehicles to simulate. They have a myriad moving parts, multiple drill rods, hoses which become entangled and are procedurally, extremely complex to operate safely and productively. “You would not believe the complexity of the calculations running ‘under the hood’, such as bit speed, rotation, pressure, deviations, hydraulic and air pressure and bit wear. They all need to run accurately and in real-time if our product is to be of any benefit to the operator being trained,” says Richard McKenzie, head of Software Technical and R&D.
“It’s important the operator knows how to accurately position the rig and the booms, change rods on the carousel and drill at the right angle and pressure so the rods and drill bit don’t burn up, bend or break. Effectively controlling the load on the rod and bit is vital and extremely hard to learn without simulators” says Bellengere. “All of this can be done on the simulator without risking damage or down time to the actual equipment.”
A well-documented advantage of training with high-fidelity simulators is that, at the touch of a button trainees can be exposed to any conceivable emergency situation such as a fire, burst tyre or brake failure, none of which could be safely taught on the real equipment. “This prepares operators to identify hazards in the real world and either act to avoid an incident, or at the very least respond to them effectively, thereby preventing accidents and reducing downtime for better productivity,” says Adam Smallman, head of CYBERMINE sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa at ThoroughTec.
At the end of each exercise the instructor is provided with reports to assist him/her in analysing the operator’s performance, where and how the operator went wrong and where there’s room for improvement. For example, productivity reports detail quantifiable returns such as hole position error, drill angle error (pitch and yaw), hole depth, number of holes drilled, number of missed or skewed holes, as well as averages and totals for these quantities. The operator is continuously evaluated against a set of predefined checks for the particular cab simulated and each is categorised into one of health and safety, machine use or productivity enhancement.
A client-centric approach has always been at the heart of ThoroughTec’s business and so ‘product customisation’, to exactly match the specific operational and training requirements of their customers, comes standard. For example, underground dual boom drill rigs such as the Atlas Copco 282 and Sandvik DD420 can be configured to perform scaling, bolting and mesh handling tasks. “This unique ability, particularly favoured in Australia, was added to our simulators a few years ago at the request of one of our clients,” says Bellengere. “It wasn’t easy, but now it’s a feature!”
ThoroughTec will continue to develop and enhance its drill and bolter simulation training technology. This is not just so it maintains its position as a leader in the field but so that its clients can continue to benefit from this advanced and highly beneficial operator training technology.