The Art of Safe and Efficient Bolting
Global Mining Review – October 2019
Extreme heat, high humidity, unstable ground, noxious gasses and possible risk of flooding make the labour-intensive work of underground mining one of the most challenging and dangerous environments in the world. These challenges and dangers could not be more evident than for those on the frontline: the bolter operators. Not only are they exposed to the highest risk, but they also bear the burden of securing the workplace for their fellow colleagues who work downstream in the mining process. The safety of every worker that follows is very much reliant on the proficiency of bolter operators. Poorly supported ground has potentially disastrous consequences.
Bolting equipment is only as good as the operator manning it and roof support materials will only work as intended, if installed correctly. The backbone of any good mining roof support system is training.
ThoroughTec Simulation, the world’s leading developer of heavy equipment operator training solutions, has been supplying mines with advanced bolter simulators for over two decades. These simulators, which are sold under the CYBERMINE brand, improve safety standards and promote efficiencies in the bolting cycle.
“Put all your operators through a few simple exercises on the CYBERMINE simulator and you will quickly be able to gauge operator training levels.”
The company has worked closely with leading OEMs and its global client base to deliver the most advanced simulators available on the market. This extensive experience has resulted in a range of bolter simulator models that caters to all mining requirements. Bolter types range from low profile, single boom, mechanical models to their larger, multi-boom, ‘intelligent’ cousins, which offer mesh handling capabilities. Various bolting methods, such as cable, swellex, rebar and split-set, are simulated and can be changed by the instructor. The company’s range of CYBERMINE bolter simulators are designed to operate like the real vehicle, but at a fraction of the cost and without any of the risk associated with traditional, practical training methods.
Operators control the simulated bolter from a high fidelity replicated cabin with real OEM controls. The simulator operates and interacts with other simulated AI vehicles in an ultra-realistic, 3D virtual mine world. Clients have the option of selecting a generic virtual mine world or having a custom mine world developed that replicates their own mine site and operating procedures. Operators can practice tramming through various tunnels and ramps, navigate obstacles and AI traffic, as well as practice their bolting technique in a safe and controlled environment. There is even a motion platform to simulate the inertial effects on the operator’s body. ThoroughTec’s latest generation CYBERMINE 5 range of bolter simulators also offers head tracking to enhance simulation fidelity and aid in operator depth perception.
During each training session, an instructor monitors the student from the instructor operator station and provides guidance throughout the session. Two full HD monitors provide the instructor with all the information he/she could need. One monitor provides information on the vehicle subsystems, hardware status, exercise progress, selectable options, errors and overall student performance, while the other monitor provides a 3D fly-around view for observing the simulated equipment in the virtual 3D mine world.
The simulator system records every training session for post exercise evaluation with the trainee. Evaluations can be replayed in 3D after action review format and compared with post exercise reports. Exercise reports are comprehensive and guide the instructor in identifying shortcomings and bad habits, as well as highlighting positive improvements. The emphasis is always on making safe decisions and working efficiently.
Detail and accuracy matters
Operating a bolter is procedurally intensive when compared with many other classes of equipment. Correctly securing a bolt in the face requires strict adherence to a number of detailed procedures. As an example, operators may be required to hold and position the wire mesh in an efficient but safe fashion, drill (in the correct location at an ideal angle at the correct pressures and speeds) to the required depth and insert the resin in the correct dosage and sequence, before inserting a bolt while mixing and curing the resin for the correct amount of time. Get these steps wrong and the operator has wasted time and materials, and will consequently need to restart. Potentially worse is the risk of unsecured ground that could go unnoticed until it fails. It is in facilitating the operator’s continuous practicing and perfecting of these drilling and mesh handling processes and sequences that the CYBERMINE simulator excels.
Importance of consistent, standardised training
Mines are forever evolving, often scaling up and down, changing personnel, upgrading and bringing on new machines, and changing processes and procedures. These changes, which are often exacerbated by differing teaching methods, lead to inconsistencies in operator knowledge and skill sets. Simulators on the other hand provide a consistent source of truth; an objective evaluation of how operators are performing when they are operating equipment underground. Used effectively, simulators provide HR and operational teams with a gap analysis across all operators, providing insight into each operator’s machine empathy and understanding of mine site operational and safety procedures.
“Put all your operators through a few simple exercises on the CYBERMINE simulator and you will quickly be able to gauge operator training levels. We regularly consult at mines and when we place operators in the simulator to face pre-set situations such as an engine fire, we get to see how operators react and the procedures that they follow. There are often discrepancies across operators, mostly through no fault of their own, on what processes and procedures they should follow,” said Adam Smallman, Vice President of Business Development for EMEA and the Americas for ThoroughTec.
Once gaps have been identified, instructors can apply corrective training, tailored to each individual operator.
ThoroughTec has recently introduced a new training management system (TMS) product, which is part of its Workforce Excellence (WX) offering. WX (pronounced WeX) TMS provides detailed analysis and reporting of the overall standard of a mine’s operator workforce, highlighting those operators who are below a set standard and automatically scheduling targeted training interventions. According to ThoroughTec CEO Justin Collins: “This will ensure that a mine’s operators always maintain or exceed a set excellence level.”
When paired with WX Analytics, the company’s real time in-mine monitoring system, the real value can be seen. Collins stated: “This is the holy grail, a mine can now monitor individual operator’s safety and efficiency, on the job and close the loop with targeted training interventions in the simulator.”
It also saves time as operators are only taken out of production to address real deficiencies.
Bolting with drill rigs
A more recent development, especially among mining contractors, involves using drill rigs for the scaling, bolting and meshing process. Thus, dispensing with the need for dedicated scalers and bolters. Although not recommended by OEMs, several contractors have employed this method.
“As one can appreciate, it puts a significant amount of strain on the equipment, further increasing wear and tear, and damages. Your operators need to be top-notch and even still extreme care must be taken,” said Smallman.
ThoroughTec have a scaling, meshing bolting add-on package for their range of CYBERMINE drill rig simulators to cater for the exacting requirements of this type of operation.
Hindustan Zinc’s Zawar mine operations in India have opted for this add-on package. They utilise the Sandvik DD420 drill rig to fulfil both drilling and bolting functions. The Zawar mine purchased the CYBERMINE simulator after seeing the benefits of simulator training at their sister operations. Although only recently commissioned, early indications are very promising. There has been an average reduction in bolting errors of 20%, while at the same time improving operators’ average time spent per hole by 1 min. and 9 sec. in training.
Hindustan Zinc has also seen significant improvements in tramming safety and efficiency, with the average number of errors being committed coming down by 29%.
“Training staff are able to pick up on root cause infractions, such as applying the brake and accelerator simultaneously or being in the incorrect gear when setting off which, if corrected, can reduce machine wear and tear,” highlighted Aman Vohra, Zawar Mine’s Engineer for Mining and Rescue.
New generation bolters
In 2018, ThoroughTec delivered two of the latest generation cable bolter simulators: one to JCHX Mine Management in China and the other to RUC Cementation in Indonesia. These CYBERMINE systems, which simulate the Epiroc Cabletec LC and the Sandvik DS421-C bolters, are believed to be the world’s very first cable bolter simulators.
JCHX Mine Management, one of China’s leading underground mining contractors, has invested in seven CYBERMINE simulators over the years for bolters and various other classes of equipment. JCHX run an advanced training centre in Miyun County, just outside of Beijing. JCHX notes the biggest improvement being in the comfort and precision of operation of the equipment. This has been instrumental in the reduction of damages to machines and reduced wear and tear.
Another long-time user of CYBERMINE simulators is Assmang’s Black Rock operation in South Africa. Black Rock currently has five CYBERMINE simulators across a range of underground equipment, including bolters, drill rigs, scalers, articulated dump trucks, and load, haul, dump trucks. After training their Epiroc 235 bolter operators on their CYBERMINE simulator, trainees achieved a 37% improvement in the time spent per bolt, and an overall reduction of 30% in the average number of errors made per hole drilled and bolted.
Management in China and the other to RUC Cementation in Indonesia. These CYBERMINE systems, which simulate the Epiroc Cabletec LC and the Sandvik DS421-C bolters, are believed to be the world’s very first cable bolter simulators.
The CYBERMINE Epiroc 235 bolter simulator scores operators using over 60 different metrics split into three categories, namely health and safety, productivity, and machine wear and tear. These metrics cover everything from basic machine operational tasks such as park brake tests and shutdown procedures, to advanced operational procedures such as operating the vehicle with high return filter pressure or inserting the incorrect number of resin cartridges. This detailed analysis of operator behaviour provides instructors with an insight into machine empathy and operational understanding at a granular level. If coupled with the company’s WX TMS, this analysis allows targeted training interventions for specific individuals or at a group level if they are found to be common.
Bolting is a significant component in the underground mining process. Correct application can save lives. Thorough training of bolter operators is therefore critical in achieving a safe mining environment. ThoroughTec’s CYBERMINE simulators are designed to ensure that all a mine’s bolter operators are trained to the correct standard and, especially when combined with its WX products, to ensure that that standard is continuously monitored and maintained.