ENAEX is the world’s third-largest producer of ammonium nitrate and the first in blasting services in Chile. The company is the number one provider of comprehensive rock-breaking services for mining projects in Chile and Latin America. The Prillex complex is the highest-capacity ammonium nitrate complex on the planet, with a nominal capacity of 850 thousand tons annually. ENAEX is the majority shareholder of Davey Bickford, a leading global company in manufacturing electronic detonators and initiation systems, headquartered in France with affiliates in Australia, Canada, Chile, the United States, Mexico, and Peru. There are numerous reasons behind the concept of teleblasting, that is to say, the blasting process’s remote operation, without exposing persons directly in the field.
On the one hand, there are many deposits where the safety conditions are so extreme that it would not be exploitable unless done remotely. On the other hand, even in regular sites, teleoperation and autonomy gain traction following the fourth industrial revolution’s steps. SK Godelius has led this project for ENAEX. It involved state-of-the-art robotics solutions, like RoboMiner®, teleoperated trucks, like Mine-iTruck®, and multiple auxiliary systems, implementing autonomous and teleoperated solutions on them.
- Make the remote operation of the blasting process in mining viable. It involves solving complex control, robotics, telecommunications, regulatory and cultural problems.
- To involve multiple players – universities, companies, manufacturers – and align them towards a common goal.
- To develop a many-fold strategy addressing at the same time short, medium and long-term objectives in a rapidly changing environment.
The Program tackled different systems, such as:
- A robot whose goal is to install the initiators and can attend unforeseen events.
- Teleoperated factory truck that also loads the holes with the explosive.
- Holes metering robot.
- The truck that carries gravel to place the confinement material for blasting.
SK Godelius, together with ENAEX, orchestrated a program aimed at the design of equipment, machinery and robots that together carried out the installation of explosives without direct human presence. During this kind of operation, the execution-time is the most expensive factor, so there is no space for improvising. All the action must be organized in advance due to the impossibility of performing maintenance in those areas. In the most likely scenarios, the teleoperated systems cannot count on local human assistance, so they must be self-sufficient to overcome failure.
The RoboMiner® and the Mine-iTruck® combine autonomous robotic activities with teleoperation functions. In the case of the robot, the operators control it remotely as an extension of themselves so that it is possible to reach and operate areas where the human decision is still essential. For example, to install explosives in regular operation, human skills are necessary to handle the material in the safest possible way. Even though autonomous and teleoperation solutions were applied to the process, human skills are still crucial to achieve success.
The design’s initial stages avoided substantial modifications to the process since the operation with explosives, and the procedures cannot be modified without going through lengthy regulatory approval processes.
It is a paradigm shift in the mining industry in general, and in the blasting process. The potential for transformation is immense. It makes entire operations viable, radically modifies the safety and productivity of operations. It helped strengthen ENAEX’s position as a world leader in its field.