Feb 3, 2011

SolidWorks Users Provided Intelligent Technology That Helped Save Chilean Miners

Equipment Designed and Modified With SolidWorks Software Located Miners and Helped Drill Escape Shaft Weeks Sooner Than Predicted.

CONCORD, Mass – As rescue crews worked to save 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for two months, SolidWorks’ customers helped provide intelligence to point the rescue crews in the right direction and provide the technology to bring the miners safely back to the surface. SolidWorks executives shared the companies’ stories at SolidWorks World 2011.

SolidWorks® 3D CAD software is the design platform for three U.S. companies that played pivotal roles in locating and rescuing the miners: Aries CCV, Schramm Inc., and Center Rock Inc. The three companies used SolidWorks CAD to design and continually adapt machines that aided in the rescue:

* Aries CCV manufactured the robotic camera system that located the miners and confirmed they were still alive.
* Schramm Inc.’s multi-angle rig drilled the pilot hole to the mine and then widened it into an escape shaft without causing another collapse.
* Center Rock’s drill bit, mounted on the Schramm rig, tunneled through the hard, abrasive Chilean rock by pounding it with rotating hammer heads, which was faster than a conventional rotary drill. Center Rock also used SolidWorks CAD and simulation software at the rescue site to improve performance and reduce failure risks.

A 1¾-inch wide Aries Slimline WC1750 BoreHole Camera lowered into a pilot hole drilled with a Schramm T-130XD drill confirmed that the miners were still alive. Within days of the discovery, Center Rock was using SolidWorks to help add a pilot head to the drill bit so the rescue crew could follow a guaranteed surface-to-mine pathway. The company did the work at its Berlin, Penn., and Salem, Va. facilities in four days, compared to the four weeks it would usually take, and shipped the drill bit to the site in San Jose, Chile. Center Rock designed and simulated the modifications to the drill bit using SolidWorks.

Rescue crews mounted the Center Rock CR120 hammer and hole opener bit on the Schramm drill to widen the pilot hole from 5 inches to 12, and then replaced it with 26 and 28-inch Low Profile (LP) multi-hammer to widen it enough to accommodate the escape capsule. The Schramm T-130XD was able to drill ever-increasing-diameter holes at the 11-degree inclination needed to avoid obstacles.

“The drill rig is designed to both push a pipe into a hole and draw one back out, which is something you don’t find in conventional rigs,” said Peter Christian, vice president of engineering at Schramm Inc. “It gave the rescue crew better control over the drilling process so they could drill a hole straight enough to pull the rescue capsule through.”

The rescue crew overhauled the drill bit every 50 meters to prevent a serious breakdown. When it struck an unmapped steel beam and shut down, Center Rock ran non-linear simulations in SolidWorks to confirm that the collision caused the drill bit to fail rather than a defect with the drill.

The rescue crew used SolidWorks Flow Simulation software to test the air flow around the large LP multi-hammer and confirmed the rock cuttings would fall downward into the mine shaft through the pilot hole. Center Rock also used SolidWorks to build a 3D model of the pilot hole that illuminated the particularly tight spots the drill head had to negotiate. When the drill bit approached a difficult angle, the crew pulled it back for maintenance to make sure it would not get stuck or slow down.

“We took the coordinates mapped from the pilot hole and plotted them into a SolidWorks model to give the guys an idea of where they might run into trouble – where the hole might have a violent change of direction, for example,” said Center Rock Research and Development Manager Rudy Lyon. “It helped us to not charge down the hole blindly.”

Jeff Ray, Dassault Systèmes’ executive vice president of geographic operations and former SolidWorks CEO, praised the companies for their role in the rescue in a blog posted on the SolidWorks site shortly after the miners were rescued. Speaking as a SolidWorks employee, Ray said that having even an indirect role in the rescue was an honor.

“You go through life hoping what you do will matter somehow, never knowing when you might get a chance. Then an event like this happens and you see where you have made a difference, even as a small part of a larger effort,” Ray said.

Schramm Inc. works with SolidWorks authorized reseller Design-Point for ongoing training and technical support; Center Rock works with SolidWorks authorized reseller TriMech Solutions; and AriesCCV works with Graphics Systems Corporation.