A quick introduction: When I found out I had the opportunity to contribute to the Tech Topics column for The Driller, I was excited to share the perspective from a provider of drilling services, drilling equipment and performance tooling. I hope that my contribution provides insight to the base of educated readers and drives discussion in the exploration drilling market.

I would like to start the column off by diving into a common trend in the mining industry. The industry has been under pressure for the last year as commodity prices have dropped and growth in China has slowed down. Couple this effect with the drop in the price of gold and political instability in many countries with significant mining activity, and you have a perfect storm for the depression of the mining market.

Making safety and training a top priority both protects crews and reduces costly downtime

Of course, no responsible operator compromises safety. Making safety and training a top priority both protects crews and reduces costly downtime. Source: iStock

As the prices of commodities decline, the business rationale of mine development becomes weaker. This has motivated mine operators to focus more on the production of known reserves with less risk than the expenses of an exploration drilling operation.

Mine operations also face pressure from shareholders to deliver upon promised profits. And in a depressed market, investors aren’t willing to take on risks. This means that if the mine can’t guarantee a return on investment from a “risky” exploration standpoint, the best they can do is control the costs of equipment, materials, labor and contracted services. Exploration drilling is one of the first to be cut.

What does all this mean? It definitely does not mean the end of exploration drilling as we know it, but it does mean that drilling contractors are competing in an environment where supply far exceeds demand.

In order to stay relevant, drilling contractors are looking for ways to save cost in their operations through labor cuts, proper management of materials and savings from suppliers. However, there are two ways to save costs by improving productivity, which increases return on existing assets.

First: Discover the hidden savings of having a strong focus on safety. And second, the obvious choice: Invest in equipment and tooling that deliver more meters drilled in less time.

Keep in mind that responsible drilling contractors would never sacrifice safety to reduce costs. In fact, safety and proper training are typically overlooked as ways to reduce costs. To put it into perspective—if an accident occurs on site, productivity drops significantly due to lost time related to:

• Stopped operations

• Care of the injured

• Reports that are required to be filled out

• Investigation into the incident

• Resolution of the incident

• Implementation of additional protocols to each shift to prevent recurrence of the accident

• Potentially finding replacement drillers

Through proper training initiatives, safety becomes a top priority; drillers know and follow proper operations leading to fewer lost time injuries (LTI). Training will also properly teach drillers the latest drilling methods to achieve maximum productivity in retrieving core samples efficiently.

 

Tools, Equipment Part of Safety

The other side of the safety coin is tools and equipment engineered with safety in mind. Hand injuries are the number one safety issue for drilling contractors. Boart Longyear has introduced rod handlers, tube splitters, rod lifters and a Drill Control Interface (DCi) in the last few years. A significant drop in LTI can be attributed to each of these safety improvements because they have distanced drillers from the drill string and rig—reducing pinch points and sharp edges.

The rod handler and DCi safety improvements have also led to an increase in productivity when making or breaking the drill string by enabling semi-autonomous operation of a drill rig. These improvements only add to the ongoing advancements in drill bits, wireline retrieval and drilling methods that have been made to increase the productivity of trip time with the drill string.

By having an efficient drill string, money can be saved because less time is being spent retrieving the drill string (trip time), which means:

• More time is spent drilling with bit on bottom

• More meters are drilled per shift

• Fewer hours are required to drill

These efficiencies can be gained through use of high-quality and innovative products. Using these products will minimize the risk of potential downtime needed to replace or fix lower quality products. Innovations such as taller crown heights and more versatile diamond bits can reduce the number of trips needed to complete the hole.

 

Drill Bit Crowns Increased

Diamond drill bit crown heights have increased over the last few years from the previous standard of 9 millimeters. Boart Longyear introduced the patented Stage bit with a 25 millimeter crown height. Versatile bits that can drill through varying ground conditions, such as the Ultramatrix (UMX), combined with taller crown heights, drive cost per meter down because the driller is spending more time drilling instead of tripping rods.

With drill contractors, it’s about time in the hole. By buying high-quality and innovative products—yes, they’ll pay more up front—but they’ll be saving money by reducing the number of times the driller needs to trip rods and reducing the number of bits needed per hole. High-quality drilling equipment may reduce maintenance costs and improve equipment uptime due to fewer failures.

The five main physical components of drilling are the rig, rods, casing, core barrel and bits. Each of these can be purchased in varying qualities and with a variety of options. This is where having an experienced driller comes into play. They will know what products offer quality and deliver on promises. They are also the ones who can truly compare new innovations to legacy products.

 Drilling operators who find cost savings beyond labor and materials—and discover savings by putting additional focus on the job at hand through driving productivity safely—will be successful in today’s mining marketplace.