Drilling and Blasting Interview – Adapting for the Future
We interviewed Paulo Aguilera, a Chilean Mining Engineer with 20 years’ experience working with explosives product and service companies in Chile and Peru. Paulo provides us insight into the Drilling and Blasting areas, what technologies are being implemented, and suggestions of how foreign providers can ensure they are successful when introducing new technologies.
Ax Legal – Could you tell us about your experience in the mining industry?
Paulo Aguilera – During my career, I have worked in both the technical and commercial areas for various international companies that provide services and explosive products to the mining industry. This has mainly been related to electronic initiation technologies, optimization engineering service, ands blasting processes. Likewise, I have been a member of the Chilean Explosives Engineers Association where we share our experiences in the science of blasting. Today I work as a Latin American Manager for GroundProbe (Orica Monitor), a leading company in the development of geotechnical monitoring technologies
Ax Legal – What are the challenges facing the drilling and blasting area? Are there any challenges that are specific to Peru?
Paulo Aguilera – In general, the challenges of mining, and particularly in the areas of drilling and blasting, are related to the development of new products and methods that allow for the replacement of current explosives (that generate less damage and atmospheric disturbances) and optimize the process. Also, challenges related to the use of automation technologies and centralized monitoring to obtain accurate models for predicting results in all aspects that blasting generates (fragmentation, damage, flyrock, etc.).
One of the unique conditions to the Peruvian mining industry given the mines proximity to communities, and where resources have been focused both from the mining companies themselves and from providers, is helping to mitigate issues around noise, projection of rocks, and vibrations.This is being done through good engineering and the application of new technologies.
Ax Legal – What are the current technologies that are being implemented in the area of drilling and blasting?
Paulo Aguilera – In terms of products, for several decades there have been no real technological advances. Today we are still using explosive technologies from 50 or more years ago. However, there have been some improvements in some of them. Since the 1970s, explosive emulsions have gained ground in relation to Anfos and aquagels. Where there has been progress, it is in the initiation systems. Today there are electronic initiation systems, which have already been in use for a couple of decades, but have had important developments in the last 5 to 8 years. The use of wireless devices have made it possible to reduce the risk of leaks that slow down the process (in addition to their high precision and safety by having communication with each detonator). Also, explosives such as plasma have been developed, which reduce the impact in terms of damage and projections, however, they are still used in very specific applications. Another focus of development in this area is the use of autonomous trucks, robots, and drones, which would eliminate the exposure of people to the loading process of a blast.
Ax Legal – What technologies will be implemented in the next 5 years that will improve the area of drilling and blasting?
Paulo Aguilera – Mainly, the use of electronic initiation systems and specifically wireless detonators will be widespread, as well as monitoring and measurement technologies for blasting performance in real time, which will make it possible to optimize the blasting design giving companies better results for lower cost. Automation is something that is already being successfully implemented in mining at levels never seen before. Blasting is also following this trend with automated loading systems. More efficient explosives are being developed by many companies, with better energy performance, generating less damage and pollution. In recent years, much research has also been done on the development of new rock fragmentation sources, with very innovative methods, such as the application of electrical pulses. It will not be uncommon to see rock fragmentation by unconventional methods in the near future.
Ax Legal – Are there any technologies that you are personally interested in for the mining industry?
Paulo Aguilera – Clearly any technologies that offer safer conditions for workers in the industry are the ones that should receive the most attention and resources. Today I work as the Latin American Manager for GroundProbe, a company that belongs to the Orica group that provides real-time monitoring solutions for slope and land displacements. This is closely linked to the world of blasting, since our greatest expertise is geomechanics, closely linked to the performance of blasting to generate safe and sustainable conditions for the development of a mine.
Ax Legal – In your own opinion, what are the typical problems that foreign companies have when introducing their technology to mines?
Paulo Aguilera – The main problemin many Latin American countries, is the slow adaptation of new technologies by mining companies. Many users refuse to learn techniques or products that they do not know, particulary if there is no incentive involved. Unfortunately, it is a cultural problem that we must deal with. Most new technologies come from abroad, and on some occasions this makes the introduction of technologies more expensive and complicated. However, in recent years, countries like Peru have become very interesting markets for foreign companies, so the introduction of new products and technologies has generated competition that allows these entry barriers to be eliminated as mining companies become more comfortable with new ways of doing things.
Ax Legal – What is the process that companies should follow if they have a solution that they would like to introduce it to the mining industry?
Paulo Aguilera – The first step should always be to understand what the real need is and develop tailor-made solutions for each mine. Not only at the level of improving processes, but at the level of the users and the impact that those solutions will have on communities near each mine. When the benefits are proven, a link is generated with all the stakeholders that make up the mining unit, community, and the users of the technologies. This will speed up the adaptation and allows stakeholders to visualize the benefits that will be delivered with the new solution. This idea is to break down the first barrier to entry which is overcoming the hestitation of doing things differently.
Ax Legal is an advisory firm that works with foreign companies in Latin America. Our team of legal and commercial advisors have a distinguished track record of helping foreign technology and services companies to grow and operate in Latin America. Over the years, we have worked with starts up, mid-size businesses, and publicly listed companies. The one common factor that connects are clients is that they are leaders in their field, providing innovative technologies and services to the industrial sectors.
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