Building a Better Product by Understanding the Mechanism Behind Drill Head Failure
Mincon, an indigenous company based in Shannon, manufactures state-of-the-art hammers and drill bits. Founded in 1977, it is currently the world’s third largest manufacturer of drill heads for down-the-hole, percussive drilling operations. The company was catapulted into the international limelight during the Copiapó mining accident back in 2010, when a Mincon hammer was used to establish the initial lifeline to the 33 trapped Chilean miners, providing an all-important link for communications and food, water and medicines.
Mincon’s target markets include the construction, exploration, geothermal, mining, seismic, water-well, oil and gas and other industries. In 2010, the company approached the SEAM (South Eastern Applied Materials) centre at Waterford Institute of Technology as part of a million-euro design project to develop superior drill heads for geothermal heating wells in the Nordic market.
Geothermal applications present an extremely challenging environment, and drill head failure can occur as a result of both operator inexperience and residual stresses in the drill head generated through the manufacturing process. Mincon’s objective was to address the tendency for such failures so as to gain a competitive market edge.
What SEAM brought to the table was a combination of metallurgical know-how and expertise in finite element analysis (FEA). On gaining an understanding the Mincon’s needs, the research group submitted an Innovation Partnership proposal to Enterprise Ireland. The 18-month project, which commenced in September 2010, sought to understand the drill head fracture mechanisms and to develop a design optimised drill head for down-the hole drilling operations.