When Chile’s El Sauce copper mine launched an investigation into the reasons for its declining productivity, the low availability of its drilling equipment was identified as key factor. What came next became as industry “first”.
The El Sauce mine in Chile, owned by the Las Cenizas Mining Group, is believed to be the first company in the mining industry to renew its entire fleet of rock drills as the pathway to a more profitable future. Located about 170 km north of Santiago, the capital, El Sauce had been suffering for some time from declining productivity, and in mid-2014 an investigation was launched to indentify the cause.
After several months, investigators announced they had found the source of the problem; excessive downtime of production drilling equipment due to insufficient service and maintenance of rock drills. As a result, a plan was launched to optimize rock drill availability with the support of experts from Atlas Copco – a cooperation that subsequently led to the renewal of all rock drills and hoses.
“Previously, it took a crew of skilled drillers four minutes to drill 48 holes. Today, with the new rock drills, the same crew does the same number of holes in two and a half minutes. This means we are now drilling a face in about two and half hours, which is fantastic.”
Atlas Copco repurchased the complete range of existing rock drills (a total of 27) and then replaced them with 12 new ones. These comprised four COP 1435 and eight COP 1838HD+ models. In addition, Atlas Copco provided technical assistance with fitting the new drills in the underground workshops and with optimizing their performance at the various drilling sites.
Besides this exchange program, the team found that the under-performing rock drills were also affected by the reliability and availability of the fleet’s hydraulic hoses which were being changed too often, adding even more to the cost of maintenance. As a result, all the hoses were also upgraded. These initiatives proved to be the catalyst for a dramatic improvement. Prior to 2014, the availability rating for drilling equipment was 60%. Today, it is 90%.
Raul Fara Engber, Head of Maintenance at El Sauce, says the benefits are easy to see in terms of productivity.
“Previously, it took a crew of skilled drillers four minutes to drill 48 holes,” he says. “Today, with the new rock drills, the same crew does the same number of holes in two and a half minutes. This means we are now drilling a face in about two and half hours, which is fantastic.”
Replacing the rock drill stock also revealed a surprising bonus. Tests conducted with the COP 1838HD+ showed that these models are multipurpose despite being designed for face drilling. Mounted on the fleet’s Simba rigs, they could be used for long hole ring drilling with equal efficiency and zero failures. It was also found that the new COP 1435 was sufficiently powerful and robust to install 2.5 m long rock bolts, a task that could not be achieved before the renewal.