A new technology produced by an Australian engineering firm promises to radically enhance mining exploration and development by dramatically increasing the precision and sophistication of drilling operations.
Columbus Group R&D's 3D down-the-hole drilling system makes use of high pressure water jets in lieu of a standard bore or hammer to cut through the earth and rock of subterranean mining shafts.
While pressurised water jets are already employed for drilling purposes in mining operations, what sets the new system apart is the use of digital technology to achieve precision control of the movements of the cutting head in three dimensions.
Whereas standard "trenchless" forms of drilling possess very limited control of direction, the digitised guidance of the 3D down-the-hole system enables its operators to manoeuvre it with sufficient precision to weave around sharp corners in order to avoid collisions with subterranean obstacles or other utilities.
Drill operators can manipulate the 21 jets of the cutting tool both vertically and horizontally in order to produce 3D cavities of varying shapes and dimensions to suit a range of different purposes.
This 3D drilling can be used to create precisely-shaped holes that affect the outcome of underground detonations, resulting in broken rocks of preferable sizes or shapes.
The drill is also able to construct large-scale "buried" cavities equipped with access holes of smaller size which can be used to more securely contain the bolt installations for roofs and retention walls.
The system promises to bring immense benefits to certain specific areas of the mining and resources sector.
The drill can access tiny seams in gold mines, significantly enhancing the profitability as well as energy efficiency of such operations, while 3D horizontal drilling could also potentially be used to access hard-to-reach fossil fuel deposits in lieu of hydraulic fracking.
In addition to roles within the resources sector, the precision movements of the 3D down-the-hole system can also be adapted to a slew of other purposes.
These include serving as an active pipe cleaning pig, detecting leaks in gas or oil lines, measuring the temperatures of gas and sewer outlets, and abetting the exploitation of geothermal resources lying deep beneath the earth.