Warren Fair, GM, Action Drill & Blast
For contractors, today’s market conditions necessitate an innovative approach. Drill and blast is an integral part of the mining cycle with the potential to significantly impact mine profitability. Finding ways to deliver a better service and providing clients with peace of mind, matters.
From the broad solution offered, right down to every task performed on the ground, we need to ask the question: how can we make this easier and more cost effective for clients without compromising quality?
Although the application of latest technology is an essential component, some of the greatest value-adds for clients are borne out of applying a forward-thinking, quality-based approach to all facets of the business.
At the top level
Coal mines, for example, have always contracted one company for drilling and another for the blasting.
The system works, but could it be made easier and simpler for the client? Why use two contractors when you could simplify the process by using one? If a contractor can provide both services, it means less administration for the client and more streamlined communication between contractor and client. It also gives the client the opportunity to take advantage of the more flexible pricing structures that can be offered if the service is integrated – such as the option of a fixed price per blasted cubic metre.
Across any commodity, asset owners also want to be assured that service providers are doing what’s best for their project rather than taking a ‘one size fits all approach’ which is neither cost efficient nor likely to deliver the optimum outcome.
A best-for-project drill and blast service should apply that mandate to every aspect of a project’s scope – rigs, explosives, detonation systems and so on.
If a contractor can source, for example, the best explosive product for the job rather than being tied to one type of explosive, then the explosive can be properly matched to ground conditions and blast requirements. This means a better blast, often at lesser cost.
Tailoring also applies to equipment. Technologically advanced rigs are becoming commonplace in mining, but is this capability required at every project? Could another, less technological, but equally robust machine do the job just as well for less cost?
On the ground
Every task performed by a drill and blast team should be reviewed from a continuous improvement perspective to establish if it could be done better, safer or more cost efficiently.
Efficiency, however, should never be at the expense of quality or safety. Drilling holes quickly is of no benefit if they have to be re-drilled because of fall-back or poor drilling practices.
So how can clients be assured of quality?
Drill and blast teams should be working to the same KPIs, which should be focused on the quality of input rather than the quantity of output. This means, for example, ensuring drilling practices deliver blastholes to the blast team at the correct depth with minimal re-drills, as opposed to targeting a certain number of drilling hours or tonnes of explosives used.
The latter approach will still break the rock, but could it have been broken better, with less resources and less labour? The answer is quite likely ‘yes’.
Applying technology to capture and communicate data from the blast site to the engineers in real time then provides the time savings and opportunity for ongoing blast optimisation.
Upskilling and multi-skilling is also part of the continuous improvement cycle.
If you have fitters that are also experienced drillers and drillers that are also shotfirers, you can imagine the benefits this provides – smaller, more efficient, productive and safer teams.
Multi-skilled teams also contribute to a better maintenance system and greater rig availability as there is a larger pool of maintenance skills within the team to draw on when required. If all members of the team understand the equipment, they take more care and have the ability to recognise issues quickly.
Simply put, the client wants to know their contractor has got it covered, giving them time to focus on other areas of their operation.