Epiroc’s Explorac RC30 Smart: A meeting of minds between Australia and Sweden

November 28, 2023

The story of Explorac RC30 Smart began in 2018 when contractor Ausdrill was faced with a strong demand from the exploration industry for automated drill rigs. They decided to partner with Swedish Epiroc, as they had worked closely in the past on the development of other rigs. The goals were lofty from the start: keep operators away from the danger zones, develop advanced interlocks and monitoring for both processes and safety, while still providing improvements to reliability and maintenance. All of this had to be done fast.

About five years later, Epiroc introduced to the world the Explorac RC30 Smart surface drill rig for Reverse Circulation. It promises to be a robust and reliable solution with highly automated functions, better capabilities both in terms of safety and productivity, and advanced rod handling functionality. All of this comes without any compromises to performance, as Explorac RC30 Smart provides 30 tonnes (67 442 lb) of pullback delivering sufficient capacity to take on deep work while not being excessive for shallower projects. It is available on a robust truck carrier which offers great mobility and gets you right where you need to be with the minimum of fuss.

Explorac RC30 Smart
Explorac RC30 Smart

Automated rod handling

Perhaps the first and most important innovation for Ausdrill could be summarized with the motto ‘Hands off steel’ or removing manual work from rod handling. For deep holes, rod handling is a complicated, dangerous, and tiresome process often requiring two people. There is the added challenge that automated rod running needs to be faster than manual work, otherwise, drillers would continue doing it by hand to save time. The engineers at Epiroc obliged.

The Explorac RC30 Smart’s automated rod handling seamlessly combines automated sequences and embedded interlocks to execute the repetitive task of rod feeding. Not only does the automated rod handler improve safety but it also reduces fatigue and crews are freed up to perform other tasks. Wear and tear on consumables is also reduced, as the automated rod handler executes the task in exactly the same way every time, so uptime is increased and predictive maintenance is easier.

All of this happens with the push of a button on the Explorac RC30 Smart controls.

Smart and scalable

To remove drillers from dangerous situations also means smarter controls. Explorac RC30 Smart builds on the RCS platform, which has been tried and tested across the industry, by including radio remote control with multiple interlocks, a software-based safety system, and an emergency stop button, which protects both the rig and the operator during autonomous operation. Having the controls away from danger adds the benefit of reduced noise and vibrations, improving the work of drill crews.

Explorac RC30 Smart comes with a litany of other smart features, such as mast centralizers with variable grip force and an advanced breakout system with automatic application of thread grease. All of these help to optimize the life of drilling consumables and the need to go into the hazardous area is reduced.

Of course, it is sometimes necessary to approach the drill rig. Explorac RC30 Smart features high-visibility LED safety lights that indicate rig status and whether it’s safe to be near the machine.

With the rapid development of new drilling technologies, scalability is an important part of Explorac RC30 Smart. The rig was designed to be scalable, meaning it can be expanded or upgraded with new automation features and functionalities over time. Epiroc’s excellent global after-sale support with both genuine parts and services safeguards the productivity of the rig. This ensures that contractors, such as Ausdrill, can easily support and upgrade their Explorac RC30 Smart rigs and get the highest possible returns on their investment.

Uncompromising performance

Improvements to safety, smart and autonomous features and technological breakthroughs make a real change only when the rig has the performance to match and exceed the vast demands of exploration companies. With the 30 tonnes (67 442 lb) of pullback force, Explorac RC30 Smart offers the largest pullback capacity on any Epiroc exploration rig to date. This rig makes it possible to quickly and safely collect core samples down to a depth of 600 m (1968 ft).

The mast is 11.55 m (37.89 ft) long (including the jib) and can be angled between 45° and 90°. There is also a unique angle package with an internal locking cylinder, meaning that setup can be performed quickly and safely from a distance.

Explorac RC30 Smart comes with a standard on-board 35-bar Atlas Copco two-stage compressor and cone splitter. The truck-mounted pipe rack for the automated rod handler can hold up to 15 pipes of 6 m (20 ft) in length (OD 4.5 in or 11.43 cm). The maximum rod holder clamping diameter is 124 mm (4.88 in). The power unit is a diesel CAT C18 Tier III ACERT ATAAC with a maximum torque of 2769 Nm at 1800 rpm (2042 lb) with an output of 522 kW (700 hp) at 1800-2100 rpm.

In total, Explorac RC30 Smart weighs 30 000 kg (66 139 lb) including a full rod rack, so it can be fitted on a variety of truck models.

‘We have listened to the market and pushed to reach the high level of automation that drilling companies require. Drilling contracts today are more demanding than ever, both big and small contractors must meet a high safety level while maximizing the return on capital employed – automation simply makes sense. It removes personnel from dangerous environments, at the same time changing the game when it comes to operational efficiency and planning’, explained David Benton, Epiroc’s Global Product Manager for Exploration.

Collaboration for an innovative future

Developing the breakthrough Explorac RC30 Smart required a great deal of effort from both Ausdrill and Epiroc, recounted Eric Gobbert, Senior Manager Business Development and Improvement of Ausdrill. He shares that in the first years of the collaboration, there were problems with parts wearing more quickly and the rig not staying in auto-drilling mode.

Finding solutions required open communication, innovative thinking, and a great deal of understanding of the specific requirements that make a great drill rig, especially with COVID-19 causing delays and wreaking havoc across the world. Despite all the challenges, the prototype Explorac RC30 Smart has now been delivered to Ausdrill.

Early results show great promise but require some adaptation from drillers and technicians. One thing is clear, Explorac RC30 is merely the beginning, a strong foundation, for innovations toward the complete automation of the drilling process from start to finish.

For more information visit: epiroc.com