With major clients in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria, mining contractor Watpac Civil & Mining insists on the best tools with which it can build and sustain its competitive advantage.
As Brendan Vaughan, Mining Manager, says: “The three cost drivers we have, and that we base our bids on, is the cost of the productivity to be achieved, the cost of the provider and the cost of the people.
“As a service provider, we have to be good in those three areas. But we can’t necessarily be good at everything, so our focus is to be the best with certain pieces of equipment within our business model.
“We want to be the best in Australia at operating equipment in the 100 to 200 tonne range, and that means understanding the life cycle cost of the equipment better than anyone else.”
Vaughan says Watpac’s decision to expand its fleet of ROC F9 C tophammer “SmartROC” drill rigs, was not only based on the technology but also on the support provided by supplier Atlas Copco. It was also important that the two companies were able to work closely together on the application.
“Just because it works in the north of Sweden doesn’t mean it can be started up at Mt Magnet in the middle of Western Australia in summer, without the full atten-tion of relevant technicians and experts.”
He adds: “I think my job as a respon-sible engineer and an officer of Watpac is to make sure we have a strategy that is fully supported from the manufacturer through to what we’re doing for our clients nationally and across multiple remote sites.
“We want to be innovative and we want to work with people who are innovative. That’s important to us. It’s about innovation that works. The SmartROC drill has been an incredible piece of technology to put out there to our clients.”
An Australian ﬁrst
Watpac has been using the first SmartROC T45 in Australia at the Mt Magnet gold mine, owned Ramelius Resources, in WA’s Murchison district. After three months on site, it was clear that the new rig uses considerably less fuel than its predecessor, the ROC F9 C. Vaughan explains: “That’s highly significant because if we get savings of 30% on fuel – and we are seeing better than that – it means the engine is wearing out less quickly, and that has a tremendous impact on your life cycle maintenance strategy for running the drill.
“There is always a big focus on engine life with these track-mounted machines. There is a direct correlation between fuel reduction and frame life, and that’s a much bigger saving. The fuel saving is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Vaughan says the promise of maintenance cost savings related to the simplified hose and fitting layout of the SmartROC T45 was likely to become evident after about 7 000 hours of operation. Higher drill penetration rates with the extra 5 kW of rock drill power (now 30 kW) were also expected once some early rod changing challenges had been overcome.
“We put the SmartROC T45 to work in the hardest rocks, basalts and dolerites and banded iron formations, which are essentially the three types of drilling applications faced at Mt Magnet,” Vaughan explains. “It’s not the granite and gneisses they test these rigs on in Sweden. Basalts and dolerites aren’t for the faint of heart, and BIFs [Banded Iron Formation rock] tend to be dense and a little bit abrasive, too. It’s a good test application for the technology”
Vaughan points out the benefits of mod-ern technology onboard the new generation rigs, such as the Atlas Copco Rig Control System (RCS) and satellite-based hole navigation system (HNS), which had been demonstrated with the ROC F9 C rigs and are now an integral part of Watpac’s productivity push going forward.
The HNS uses data from mine planning software to accurately guide and control setup without operator intervention, while gathering streams of useful information such as hole depths, total meters drilled, penetration rates, and so on, during drilling.
Happiest people at Mt Magnet
“Some of the happiest people at Mt Magnet are the surveyors,” Vaughan says. “They don’t have to go out and put a hole in the ground anymore. They can be off doing other things rather than setting up the drill and blast pattern. And our blast crews don’t have to mark the ground either.
“When I hear at our sites that ‘we need to have our ground stations set up to be able to run our rig it is music to my ears. It means the technology is being used and we are getting the advantages from it.
“I think it is interesting to see where this technology is taking the industry. It has made drilling possible for people who are less skilled. So if you add in the more powerful rock drills, and the improved lifecycle cost, and the other benefits, that’s what we’ll be able to pass directly back to our clients.”
Vaughan adds that the Atlas Copco support for the rigs has been first class. “I haven’t heard of any occasion where Atlas Copco has not been there, ready to respond to our needs, and that’s very important,” he said.