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An innovative solution at Ernest Henry Mining (EHM) in North West Queensland has made the process of sampling more efficient as underground production drilling takes place.

The Glencore site’s sludge sampling funnel project was nominated as one of five finalists in the Innovations Awards at the Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference 2021, deferred until 2022 due to COVID-19.

It came after EHM mining engineer David Carden saw an opportunity for improvement in the underground drilling sampling process and began wondering if an appropriate engineering solution could be found.

Mine geologists often take the opportunity to carry out sampling and collect fines from the boring process as drillholes are placed for the blasts used to break up ore.

“To geologists this is affectionately known as ‘sludge drilling’ and the fines, or sludge, was manually captured via water runoff into a wheelbarrow strategically placed below the drilling carousel and under the approximate location of the water egressing from the drill hole,” Mr Carden said.

He said this process was cumbersome due to slow sampling intervals needing a high level of labour and manual handling involved between drill runs.

“That’s when the idea for the sludge funnel innovation came about – instead of run-off indiscriminately splashing across the drill site, the inverted-pyramid shaped funnel captures the water and fines at the drill hole,” he said.

“It then channels the drill fines and water via a port and connected piping to a nearby container for collection.”

“The funnel is quite simple and easily installs to the drill rig stinger using a single U-bolt and it has a cam lock so it can be connected, dismantled and transported.”

“This increases the integrity of the sample and reduces the time required to capture enough fines to undertake testing.”

EHM senior geologist Chloe Hawtin said the innovation reduced the risk of personnel being exposed to rotating equipment and hazards associated with stored energy and mobile equipment. It also curbed exposure to mine water and drilling fluids.

“It removes our people from the line of fire when collecting samples by allowing them to move further away from the drill and decreases the amount of water falling on the ground which, in turn, reduces the risk of trips, slips, and falls,” she said

“The sludge box has also allowed the guys to reduce the amount of manual handling when they are collecting samples.

“Innovations like these are testament to the ongoing drive for improvement across Glencore’s mining operations – with no doubt that many more are still to come.”