While the mining industry grapples with uncertain market demands, it also faces one of its biggest future challenges — a shortage of skilled operators. Those shortages are due to new positions being added to mines and a loss of workforce from retirements. Either way, it takes time to get new operators well trained.

Atlas Copco believes its Master Driller Program can help. It gets operators to perform their best whether a mine is working with new staff, changing its fleet or just trying to increase efficiency. It involves classroom time as well as simulated drilling in a simulator cab of an actual drill rig.

“We are starting the program for the Pit Viper and will expand the Master Driller Program across other product lines in the near future,” said Wesley Stivers, regional training manager of North and South America for Atlas Copco Mining and Rock Excavation Service Division (MRS).

For now, training will first be offered through the Garland, Texas, Atlas Copco MRS hub. Stivers and Versie Wallace, U.S. training managers for MRS, are already working on plans to set up training in other Atlas Copco locations across the U.S. and may expand the program to private distributors later.

“It’s very exciting training that will ensure that our operators are skilled on the specific machines they operate,” Wallace said.

Graduates Agree
The Master Driller Program recently made a big difference to one company going through a mine expansion. Before the mine even received shipments of their new Atlas Copco Pit Viper 271 blasthole drill rigs, operators began to learn on them.

The visuals for simulators continue to improve.After the training, the crew will be able to drill on the first day the PV-271 arrives. Despite many years of experience, the superintendent and drillers completed the training that they thought would make them communicate better, would help jobsite collaboration, and would improve overall efficiency.

The trainees were a mix of ages, talents and backgrounds. One was an experienced 58-year-old operator who has been drilling for 28 years and purchased his first computer only three weeks earlier. One was 47 and had drilled for years with some computer experience. A third was 28 with eight years of drilling experience and many years of computer gaming.

During the three-day course, the group studied drill startup and stop, safety procedures, towering-up, propelling, advanced propelling, drilling and advanced drilling.

As one master driller student simulated the drilling of five holes, his skill level increased, completing the last two holes in half the time it took to do the first one. This section had an overall time limit of one hour. On the first attempt, he failed it by two minutes. Repeating the level, he finished it in just 32 minutes. By the second run, each operator had cut his time in half and had become proficient with the controls.

Another driller said that without the simulator training, he would have figured out how to operate the rig, but the course got him up to speed so that he will be ready to drill when the new rig arrives on site. He added, “The simulator is definitely safer. You can’t damage the simulator like you can the drill itself.”

The program combines classroom and simulator training.Almost all Atlas Copco blasthole rigs, along with underground and surface crawler drill rigs, have training programs designed to help operators become master drillers. Training on equipment other than the Pit Viper will be available soon in the U.S.

This article appeared in Atlas Copco’s customer magazine, Mining & Construction USA. Wesley Stivers can be reached at: 972-496-7400 (Email:wesley.stivers@us.
atlascopco.com) and Versie Wallace can be reached at: 303-513-5793 (Email:versie.

Master the Drill

Master Driller trainingWhy implement Master Driller training?

  • Higher productivity,
  • Reduced costs of damaged equipment,
  • Increased safety and
  • Documentation of workforce skills.


What sets the Master Driller Program apart from others is its incorporation of simulated tramming and drilling in an actual cab, which gives participants a safe learning experience and eliminates the risk of damaging equipment or injuring themselves. The Master Driller Program consists of theoretical and manual training available through all Atlas Copco customer centers, who can rent the simulators if they don’t yet have them. The program is suited for novice and experienced operators who progress through Bronze, Silver and Gold levels of training, which each take just a few days.


Bronze level, learning in the classroom or e-learning at home site — Here, the training covers topics such as rock types, technique and theory of drilling.


Silver level, simulator training — In this level, trainees learn by using a rig and by working with a hands-on simulator. The simulator features large LED monitors mounted in the window spaces of the rig’s cab so the environment appears real. The cab moves in response to the actions of the operator using real controls. (In the case of training on blasthole drill rigs, the simulator even gives prompts as the rig enters unstable ground. And just as in an actual rig on the job, if the operator attempts to auto-level the drill before a safe position is reached, the drill will not allow the procedure. The operator must successfully stabilize the rig before leveling can resume.)


Gold level, on-the-job — An Atlas Copco product specialist works with trainees one-on-one at their job site. Previous training is reviewed on an actual rig and repeated if necessary.


Only after the Gold level is passed is an operator called a master driller. For an Atlas Copco Boomer E2C, for instance, the combined training scenarios include:

  • Position feeders,
  • Basic drilling,
  • Basic tramming,
  • Setup and positioning,
  • Navigation with different methods,
  • Advanced drilling,
  • Advanced tramming and
  • Calibration.


Robert Dikmen, a training manager at the Mining and Rock Excavation Service Division and responsible for the Master Driller Program, said, “The feedback we’ve received from our customers is that the operators’ understanding increased and translated directly into greater production and greater safety.”


The Master Driller Program with simulated drilling in a simulator cab of an actual drill rig has been offered for two years. With the success the program has shown, Dikmen said Atlas Copco is now extending the simulator fleet and developing a program for more products to complete the master driller offering.


Simulators are currently available for the following products:

  • Boomer E2C
  • SmartRig D7C
  • SmartRig D9C
  • SmartRig F9C
  • FlexiRoc D50-D65
  • SmartRoc D65
  • PitViper 271
  • Simba E7C