— By Don Power
For the world's largest single mine copper producer, extreme conditions call for exceptional equipment.
Mining in breathtakingly large open pits at 3,300 m (11,000 feet) presents specific challenges which Minera Escondida, who produces 6% of the world's copper, must overcome daily. Escondida's operations carry on despite the constant threats of tight shutdown timeframes, and a hostile environment that takes its toll on equipment.
However, some challenges can even take Escondida by surprise.
So when it needed to look inside extremely long, narrow pipes, it turned to Chile's DL&C, a service provider, and engineering firm Tesra, both based in Antofagasta. Tesra worked with Canadian company Inuktun Services to develop a robotic crawler that could provide well-lit, quality video at the end of a pipe that is 550 m (1,800 feet) long but has a diameter of only 20 cm (8"). There was nothing on the market which claimed it could do this.
Inuktun already developed the Versatrax 150, also known as VT150, a crawling internal pipe inspection system that captures video of dangerous places while its operator stays safely at a distance. It shines in small spaces, such as the pipes Escondida was tackling: the VT150 is modular and can be configured "inline" to fit inside pipe as smalls as 15 cm (6"). The system was chosen as the core platform because of its raw power, quick set-up and ease of use in tough field conditions.
Normally, the VT150 consists of a corrosion resistant, pan, tilt and zoom camera that is mounted on a pair of tracks unique for their ability to function continuously almost anywhere - including in sand and mud. Tread design and the weight of the crawler combine to get a firm grip on the bottom half of a pipe. But that wasn't enough. To accomplish a mission of that length in slippery conditions, the mine needed an even stronger grip.
Engineers at Inuktun modified the system by attaching a newly designed traction enhancement module. The module works by applying traction not just to the floor of the pipe, but also on its ceiling. In total, four track surfaces guarantee that the crawler can pull over half a kilometer of optical tether, send back footage of its journey, and return safely.
The entire system was designed, manufactured and tested in a simulation environment prior to sending it to Chile, says Roy Coles, Operations Manager at Inuktun.
To ensure continuity of operations, Inuktun works with its agent in Chile, Hidro Chile Ltda, to provide support and spare parts, while loaner equipment virtually eliminates downtime.
The VT150 with traction enhancement is now available from Inuktun and its dealers in North America, South America, and Europe.
For more information about the Versatrax 150 or to discuss the application of its traction enhancement module in your unique environment, contact Inuktun.