Editorial Feature

Azimuth Aligner: Autonomous Drill Rig Alignment Technology for Efficient Drilling Processes

A mining operation typically consists of four main activities, namely, drilling, blasting, loading, and hauling. All these phases require appropriate planning and design to avoid extra operational costs and environmental footprint. Among the four steps, engineers have pointed out that drilling technology plays one of the most important roles as it determines the economic success or failure of any mining project. Azimuth Aligner is an accurate drill-rig alignment technology that prevents re-drilling.

drill rig

Image Credit: sherifff/Shutterstock.com

Azimuth Aligner is used in mining exploration and civil construction to automate the drill-rig alignment process and substantially enhance the accuracy and efficiency of the process. According to Minnovare, an Australian company that patented Azimuth Aligner, this technology can significantly reduce downtime and costs by up to 90%. 

Advanced Drilling Processes

Engineers experience many difficulties while mining hard minerals, such as a large amount of product at the blast holes, which might reach a hundred thousand meters of length annually in mines. To minimize such difficulties and enhance productivity at a reduced cost of operation, researchers have focused on optimizing drilling and blasting patterns. In this context, they studied the impacts of different drilling equipment, blasting patterns, drill hole diameter, and spacing. Scientists have also analyzed the emission of NOx from blasting elements in a surface coal mine via mathematical models.

Drilling automation has focused on providing solutions or assistance to the drilling process in terms of fault detection, isolation and recovery (FDIR) functions, safe operating envelopes (SOE), and automated standard procedures. Autonomous drilling is linked with software capable of providing timely solutions after encountering unexpected situations.

The software analyzes information; both available online as well as from their own experience over similar situations encountered in the past, and provide a solution. The solutions provided by autonomous drilling functions are typically based on minimization of the operational cost by enhancing the performance of the equipment and proper risk assessment. This process also reduces the drilling time significantly.

Benefits of Autonomous Drilling in the Mining Operation

Engineers associated with mining operations stated that accurate drilling and blasting ensures safe, hassle-free, and more productive mining. In mining, a small deviation from the pattern or plan could lead to a big impact. For instance, uneven blasted material could significantly enhance the entire cost of the operation. Autonomous drills are extremely precise and accurate, resulting in higher productivity and less time spent in removing overburden. One of the most important features of autonomous drills is that it keeps away the operators from the dust, vibration, and other difficult conditions that are typically associated with working drills. The autonomous drilling process enables operators to supervise the mining operation from a comfortable location, that is, far from the hazards that the machine itself faces.

Minnovare’s Azimuth Aligner - An Autonomous Alignment System

Minnovare is an Australia-based mining technology company that has won many awards, including the WA Mining Technology Award (2014), the AIM Pinnacle Awards for Innovation, and Emerging Business (2015). The company has developed a drill rig alignment tool, called Azimuth Aligner, which enhances the efficiency of underground drilling by significantly reducing rig setup time. This autonomous system allows efficient and accurate completion of drilling that can minimize operational costs.

Azimuth Aligner has been critical for the introduction of autonomous, semi-autonomous, and remotely operated rigs. This autonomous driller-operated alignment system resulted in increased productivity and enhanced safety of the operators during mining (underground and surface drilling operations) and construction (dam grouting, civil engineering, and tunneling projects).

Compared to conventional labor-intensive manual methods, this system enabled a drill rig operator to achieve accurate and faster orientation, which is associated with productivity gain in the mining industry. The use of the Azimuth Aligner enables the elimination of two processing steps that saves time and reduces the requirement for input by skilled personnel.

Minnovare used military-grade tools and technology to design Azimuth Aligner. This autonomous driller-operated alignment system is attached securely to the drill rod, and the handheld Mobile Interface is connected via a wireless system that provides dip readings in real-time.

The data is obtained through the Minnovare CORE Mobile Application, which is an advanced version of the complete Minnovare CORE system developed particularly for the drill operators. Importantly, Minnovare CORE is compatible with all existing mine planning software and, thereby, all data is instantly accessible for analysis by engineers during mining operation planning or when finding solutions for unpredictable mining situations. 

Advantages and Global Application of Azimuth Aligner

Azimuth Aligner Sensor is not sensitive to extreme temperatures (hot and cold). Therefore, this system can be used in the most challenging weather conditions. This technology reduces reliance on on-site surveyors and geologists and increases average revenue per operating rig by up to 10%. Another advantage of this system is that it is highly portable and can be easily transferred from one drill rig to another on a single site if required. The entire system is available in a shockproof, easy-lift carry case that meets heavy-duty use.

Callum McCracken, co-founder of Minnovare stated that the company received overwhelmingly positive responses for Azimuth Aligner over a short period. They aim to expand the company internationally and collaborate with more mining companies and drilling contractors. At present, Azimuth Aligner has been deployed on more than 100 underground mining sites and civil works projects. According to Minnovare, this technology is the most accurate and reliable exploration rig alignment technology in the world.

References and Further Reading

Minnovare (2021) [Online] Available at: https://www.minnovare.com/about/

Cayeux, Eric , Mihai, Rodica , Carlsen, Liv , and Sigmund Stokka (2020) An Approach to Autonomous Drilling. Paper presented at the IADC/SPE International Drilling Conference and Exhibition, Galveston, Texas, USA, March 2020. https://doi.org/10.2118/199637-MS

IDS to distribute Minnovare Azimuth Aligner. (2018) [Online] Available at: https://www.miningmagazine.com/supply-chain-management/news/1343219/ids-to-distribute-minnovare-azimuth-aligner

Abbaspour, H. et al. (2018) Optimized design of drilling and blasting operations in open pit mines under technical and economic uncertainties by system dynamic modeling. International Journal of Mining Science and Technology. 28(6). pp. 839-848. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijmst.2018.06.009

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.


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