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100 years of rock drilling- the year of the top hammer


This year marks the centenary of the first Atlas Copco rock drill which was designed and manufactured in 1905. A succession of product innovations, have added significant contributions in terms of rock drilling efficiency and versatility as well as operators comfort and safety. Miners and contractors engaged in rock excavation have enjoyed continued productivity improvements to their operations.

The first documented rock drill, Atlas No 16, was a tripod mounted machine. Furnished with rifle bar rotation it was technically advanced but too heavy for one man operation. Consequently manufacturing was limited to 11 machines only. As a result AB Atlas changed strategy with focus on developing light rock drills, either hand held or mounted on tripod, screw pillar and even telescopic feeding. The Cyclop light rock drill, operated by one man, was used in improved versions into the 1930.

During the later part of the 1930’s the company developed a pneumatic pusher leg, which gained good market acceptance within short. Together with cemented carbide tipped integral drill steels and the revolutionary, lightweight, fast and self-rotating rock drill RH-656 Atlas was ready to successfully conquer the world mining and construction market. In 1948 this combination was launched as the ”Swedish Method”. Drill wagons on rubber wheels, was introduced for surface applications. During the 1960’s Atlas Copco developed hydraulically manoeuvred rigs for drifting and tunnelling and for surface drilling the crawler drill ROC 601 was launched. Equipped with the powerful BBE 56 rock drill, the shift capacity was reaching 150 drill metres using 76 mm holes.

From pneumatics to hydraulics
1973 was a special year. It was not only the centenary of Atlas Copco, but the company was also introducing its first hydraulic rock drill, the COP 1038. Many benefits were derived from the new technology, in particular the more than 50 % higher penetration rates, better service life for rock tools and better energy efficiency. The absence of oil mist exhaust resulted in greatly improved working environment.

Following customers’ demands, the development of even more powerful rock drills continued. The best- seller, COP 1838 featuring a double damping system, was launched in 1992 on the Rocket Boomer and marked another 50 % increase in output. The powerful rock drills COP 1838 and COP 4050 also facilitated the introduction of the innovative Coprod method, integrating the best features of DTH drilling into top hammer drilling. The inner drill rods transmit percussion and thrust to the bit, while the outer tubes transfer rotation resulting in. high capacity, good flushing and straight holes. This method has been especially appreciated in surface drilling applications encountering difficult rock conditions.
Another impressive milestone was accomplished in 2004 with the development of the COP 3038 rock drill. The blow frequency is almost double from 60 to 102 Hz compared to its predecessor, the COP 1838 ME. The resulting net penetration represents another
50 % productivity leap.

Not only the rock drill
It is not only the rock drill itself that has contributed to the amazing achievements. The introduction of button bits in the late 1960s marked a significant step giving better flushing and cuttings removal. In terms of automation a major step was made in 1998 with the introduction of the standard PC based technology, the Rig Control System (RCS). This brought about a new generation of drill rigs which took a major leap forwards in terms of automatic boom positioning, hole sequence programming, hole logging capabilities, serviceability and drilling accuracy. In combination with automatic drill bit changing system a modern Simba long-hole production drill rig can complete one full fan or ring without an operator. A new software package, Measure While Drilling (MWD), having a rock prediction model, provides key information on parameters such as expected rock conditions, ore body boundaries and fault zones.

Drilling cycle efficiency
About 50 % of the entire work cycle in excavating a tunnel was consumed by drilling activities using hand held rock drills in the 1950’s. The step by step introduction of new drilling equipment has resulted in a significant time reduction of the drilling part. The efficiency gains in non-drilling activities such as muck removal, charging, ventilation and reinforcement have been comparatively less. Using Rocket Boomers equipped with COP 3038 cuts the drilling part down to than 20 % of the total job cycle.

Competitive drilling methods
Top hammer drilling is continuously in fierce competition with the other drilling methods; DTH drilling and rotary drilling. There are pros and cons depending on the application and also substantial development potential related to all methods. Offering a premium line of equipment and consumables for all methods, Atlas Copco will continue to strive for maintaining a leading position in the rock drilling business. The overall aim is to offer the driller the most productive and profitable solution for his particular application.

Photo nr 204802
Picture caption: 100 years of rock drills evolution. Tophammers 1905-2005

Photo nr: 204809
Picture caption: Rock drill development 1905 - 2005

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Sverker Hartwig, Vice President Technology BA Construction and Mining Technique
phone: +46 (0) 8-743 8830, fax: +46 (0) 8-643 8109,
e-mail: sverker.hartwig@se.atlascopco.com