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Success on the surface construction recovery is good news for drillers

July 9, 2015

As the construction industry recovers from the global recession, drilling contractors are finding that new technology goes a long way to meeting the increasing demand for materials.

Few industries have suffered quite so deeply from the effects of global recession as construction. With uncertainty in financial markets innumerable construction projects in the private and public sectors came to a halt and many plans for urban renewal were shelved.

Today, many of those projects are now back on track and the future looks considerably brighter. In the European Union, the UK stands out as a typical example. Here, the building of new road and rail networks are at an all-time high and many other projects are now well under way.

This is all good for quarry owners and drill and blast contractors, many of whom are gearing up with the latest surface drilling technology in order to meet the increased demand for aggregates and other construction related materials.

As evidence of this trend, Atlas Copco in the UK has reported record deliveries of its SmartROC and FlexiROC drill rigs, both of which typically provide world class solutions for maximum productivity, flexibility and environmental friendliness.

Smarter technology

One company that is tapping in to the latest developments in high-tech surface construction drilling is BAM Ritchies (part of the Dutch company Royal BAM), the country’s largest drilling and blasting contractor. Based in Glasgow, Scotland, BAM Ritchies has some 400 employees and operates a fleet of 60 drill rigs providing site investigation, ground engineering and blasthole drilling. The majority of the blasthole rigs in the fleet are supplied by Atlas Copco, and last year these produced some 41 million tonnes of aggregates from a variety of quarries.

Among BAM Ritchies’ clients is Yeoman Aggregates, operators of the Glensanda super quarry on the west coast of Scotland where it has a variety of Atlas Copco drill rigs at work, including its most recent acquisition, a SmartROC C50. “We were the first in Britain to get this particular drill rig and there’s a very good reason for that,” says Ian Christie, Manager, Drilling and Blasting, a veteran contractor with 37 years of experience. “As the UK’s leading drilling and blasting company we pride ourselves on being able to offer our clients the best available technology, and right now that’s being provided by the SmartROC C50. This rig represents a whole new approach to the job, making it easier, quicker and less costly.”

Eyes in the mist

Christie says he particularly likes the rig’s GPS and hole navigation systems which enable the operator to automatically locate the right drilling spot, in any weather conditions. “In the misty and foggy coastal conditions at Glensanda, that’s a very helpful function,” he says.

Referring to efficiency, Christie adds: “The important thing these days is to do things only once, and not have to wait for the blast before relocating the rig to the next hole position.

The SmartROC gets it right first time, and although we have only been using it for about eight months we can already see that this is a big advantage.” The rig’s hole navigation system (HNS) also reduces the risk of error as there is no longer any reason for marking hole positions manually which, in turn, reduces planning time on site. Moreover, the SmartROC C50, which employs the COPROD system, delivers consistent hole quality, reassuring the company that it can supply Glensanda with the specified aggregate product.

Big lift for COPROD

“This rig will drill between 250 and 300 meters a day at Glensanda in the granitesilica rock,” says Christie. “That’s the same as we are getting with the ROC L7 CR [now FlexiROC T50] but the difference is that the SmartROC C50 makes the COPROD system perform so much better if you factor in all the parameters – longevity, penetration rates, and so on.”

Besides this, Christie says he is also getting good feedback on other outstanding features of the rig, such as its user-friendly controls, the warm and comfortable cabin which makes life more pleasant for operators working in the Scottish climate, and not least, the lower running costs. He confirms that the SmartROC C50 uses about 30% less fuel which is a significant saving.

Training the operators to use the new generation rig has been trouble-free, although Christie concedes that it is “a huge leap forward.”

“Moving from a robust drill rig to something that’s more like driving a modern car understandably made some of our operators a bit apprehensive, he says, “but we are happy to accept the challenge to master the technology because we can see the benefits.”

The power of flexibility

Another contractor that relies on technology from Atlas Copco is CS Drilling Services, a much smaller but equally successful team operating throughout Scotland.

Founded in 2005 by Charlie Smith and Colin Stephen, CS Drilling turned to Atlas Copco for the equipment they needed from day one. They focus on drilling for a broad range of applications including roads for forestry and wind farming to quarrying for highways and hydropower.

In recent years, energy development involving wind farms and hydropower have become CS Drilling’s largest customer base. “Our business has gone from strength to strength,” says manager Charlie Smith, also a veteran driller with 30 years of experience. “In the last two years, we have increased our turnover by about 50 percent and our customer base has doubled.”

A trusted brand

Smith knows Atlas Copco drill rigs well, having spent much of his working life operating them for other contractors, and along the way he has followed the evolution of drilling technology from small pneumatic machines to today’s large blasthole rigs.

I have learned that you need to have quality and reliability if you’re going to be successful,” he says, “so when we started our firm it was a natural decision to work with Atlas Copco.”

Over the years, the company has had a variety of rig models, but it was the purchase of a FlexiROC T40 in 2012 that made the biggest difference in terms of flexibility. This was followed by a second in 2013 and a third in late 2014.

Discussing the benefits, Smith says: “The FlexiROC T40 enables us to drill holes with depths of between three and 20 meters and diameters of 64 to 115 mm. It also allows us to drill acute angles for pre-split drilling contracts in the most difficult conditions, while offering our drillers a safe, comfortable environment to work in.”

In addition, he notes that the rig’s extending boom enables two to three holes to be drilled in one location, reducing the need for frequent tramming. “This is especially useful when we are working in the rough terrain of the Outer Hebrides, and even though the tramming capability is very good with this rig, it means that we can save a lot of time.”

FlexiROC technology also helps to extend the life of the drillstring as well as reduce fuel consumption which Smith says amounts to about 28 liters per hour during drilling.

Service vital

The service provided by Atlas Copco is also a vital part of the picture for both BAM Ritchies and CS Drilling and they appreciate the backup they receive. This will be further enhanced following the recent opening of a new surface rig service center in the Scottish town of Stirling.

Scotland Ergonomics Europe Service Energy efficiency UK Productivity FlexiROC T40 drill rigs Environment SmartROC C50 drill rigs Construction