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When it Comes to Drilling and Blasting, Technology and Training are the Keys to Improving Your Bottom Line.

By Rick Zettler

We’ve always done it that way. It’s the same statement heard and said by countless employees who explain away antiquated procedures. If companies were satisfied with doing things the same way, we’d all be driving black Ford Model T’s, “personal” computers would still take up large offices and forget about cell phone technology.

So why should a producer settle for doing things the way they always have when it comes to drilling and blasting? In its most simplified form, the aggregate industry is about taking large rocks and turning them into smaller ones. However, within this simplicity lies much regulation, technology and sophistication to get the right size and shape in the safest, most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.

Drilling and blasting technology may not change on a daily basis. Yet every year updates are made to existing practices, new techniques are unveiled to the market and equipment offerings evolved and expand to help increase operational efficiencies.

This is also an industry whose daily operations involve handling explosive materials. State and Federal agency regulations for storage, handling, transportation and using explosives are continually changing. “A person on the bench not properly trained or who doesn’t follow the rules can quickly shut down an operation,” said Robert McClure, president of Robert A. McClure, Inc. (RAM, Inc.), Powell, Ohio.

Back to School
It may be possible for some companies to keep up to date on the latest technologies and regulations. However, this learning is often implemented in a vacuum of the company’s corporate culture and not from receiving the benefit of a cross section of experience from peers throughout the industry.

“Stepping out of the field and into the classroom gives drilling and blasting personnel an opportunity to learn new techniques,” added McClure, who conducts multiple training programs for the aggregate and mining industries. “We have designed our training programs with smaller class sizes to encourage one-on-one interaction and information sharing among attendees.”

Courses such as RAM, Inc.’s Blasting & Explosives Safety Training program focus on training explosives users, safety departments and management the rules and regulations for safely handling explosives. According to McClure, nearly all accidents can be traced back to not following the rules, personnel not knowing the rules or, worse yet, those knowing the rules but taking risks anyway.

These continuing education classes are designed to cover what the field technicians must be aware of in the field to minimize the inherent occupational risks. Under the right conditions, improper handling and application of explosives can result in property damage, injuries and death. Continuing educational programs can help field personnel to recognize the risk and minimize accidents.
The classroom setting also allows students to get face to face with the representatives who make and enforce the aggregate industry’s rules and regulations. Gray areas within the rules and seemingly conflicting regulations are discussed in depth with representatives from the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Departments of Transportation and others.

At a minimum, properly trained field personnel working in the field can help to minimize the risks associated with drilling and blasting programs. In the most extreme cases, a trained employee can help prevent the loss of life and litigation that can shut down an operation.

Digital Age
From automation to detonation, technology is changing the way aggregate and mining companies drill, blast and process stone and minerals. Technological advances have opened the door to unprecedented levels of efficiencies.

From drilling and blasting to crushing and screening, operations that look at the entire picture of how one part of the operation affects the others will get the most from the equipment. “What we do on the front end with our drilling and blasting programs can have a substantial effect on the cycle times of hauling equipment and the production levels from the crushing circuit,” explained McClure.

However, employees must be trained to implement new drilling and blasting equipment to take full advantage of it. That is where courses like RAM, Inc.’s Surface Blasting Course can help. These field-based courses focus on all aspects of the latest, state-of-the-art blasting methods and technologies.

Over the past decade, the introduction and implementation of electronic (also referred to as digital) detonators have allowed operations to optimize their blast programs. Achieving accuracies of 0.1 of a millisecond, these digital detonators eliminate the cap scatter inherent with traditional pyrotechnics.

The benefits of this technology have been well documented. Improved fragmentation uniformity by up to 25 percent help to reduce hauling cycle times and increase crusher throughput by as much as 20 percent. Reduced vibration levels and occurrences of fly-rock incidents through improved energy usage and confinement also improve operational safety.

Simply introducing digital detonators to an existing pattern previously shot with pyrotechnics will improve the blast’s performance. However, the evolving benefit of these detonators lie in the fact that they can help to reduce powder consumption, expand hole-to-hole and row-to-row spacing and potentially increase the amount of material blasted in a single shot. “When switching to electronics, the traditional rules of thumb are thrown out the window,” said McClure.

When optimizing the blast to site characteristics and geology with electronic detonators, operations will notice productivity level increases, even with drill pattern expansion. The higher degree of accuracy experienced with digital detonators also allows operations to introduce air decking and blasting accessories, such as hole plugs, to enhance explosives distribution. Both result in substantial reduction in powder usage and increased savings for the company. E

Rick Zettler, president of Z-Comm, is a Cedarapids, Iowa, freelancer.