scheduling basics
Arūnas Eitutis | 30 May 2023

Rock Bolter Maintenance: A Comprehensive Guide to Ensure Safety and Efficiency

Rock bolter is an essential tool for mining and tunnelling in the XXI century. With rock bolting equipment, modern miners can control, extract, and manipulate rock formations in much safer conditions.

In modern mines, rock bolts ensure the maximum safety of workers, while high levels of automation boost the productivity of performed tasks. Thanks to correct positioning, hydraulic rock drills eliminate operator exposure and many risks to other members of the workforce.

The best rock bolts guarantee mine safety with a superior ratio of rock bolt length and drift height. This way, the bolting process does not need direct human interaction: the machine is safely operated by a single person in safe working conditions.

However, as an irreplaceable tool for mining, excavation, and construction, a rock bolter fulfils the specific needs of these dangerous industries. Miners can perform their duties with greater productivity without fear for their health and safety. Meanwhile, the operator prepares the environment for workers working from a safe cabin with controlled dust levels.

Still, as useful as they are, mining, drilling, and rock bolting machines are very expensive. While they guarantee safe working conditions, the repair costs for these complex machines are steep, but without these tools in top condition, operations cannot continue. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn about rock bolter maintenance, bolt installation, and other aspects of mining and rock technology.

How often should I maintain my rock bolter?

Rock bolter maintenance ensures optimal performance and safety for the entire team. Exposed machines and their components need regular servicing and repairs. The frequency of these fixes depends on the manufacturer’s recommendations.

However, underground mines create dangerous and unpredictable conditions. Even a safely operated machine cannot predict all drilling, mining, and bolting conditions. Still, the supplier’s manual downplays the predicted lifespan to account for the unpredictability of mining techniques.

Rock bolter lifespan

Still, rock and roof bolter machines are sturdy tools, and their components are built to withstand the dangers of underground mining. Here are the main components, with their average lifespans and servicing needs:

Rock bolter frame

Rock and roof bolters use robust frames that hold the rest of the functional equipment. As a framework for the entire machine, it has to be durable enough to withstand damage from rocks, dust and debris.

Built from durable materials, most rock bolter frames for 20,000 to 30,000 hours before serious breakdown. Of course, different job circumstances and operator skills can greatly affect this number. For example, a roof bolter on a construction site will suffer far less abrasion than machines in harsh underground mining conditions.

All things considered, proper equipment maintenance is the key to maximising the performance of mining tools, and a rock bolter frame is a skeleton that holds everything together. A thorough inspection of the frame should be conducted every 500 hours, while regular maintenance checks clean and lubricate the structure, plus visually inspect it for cracks, cuts, rust, and other damages.

Keeping the frame in top condition is essential. If it breaks down and fails, all other parts of the equipment will be damaged. To prevent the downtime of your rock bolter, look for signs of gradual failure before the entire machine collapses and halts the entire operation.

Drill head

A rock bolter’s drill head is a major component that creates the right holes for different bolt lengths. Underground mines need a well-maintained drill head for smooth bolt installation. The lifespan of a drill head can vary depending on the processed material. If you drill steel or concrete, the damage to it will not be as significant as working with abrasive rocks.

For mining, construction, and other common drilling operations, a head lasts up to 500 hours. However, if regular maintenance tasks, a clean, well-lubricated, head can be functional for 2,000 or even more hours. Its performance and longevity can improve with high-quality attachment parts: a coupling mechanism and its bolts hold the head in the optimal position.

A proper installation of the drill leaves no room for shaking and budging. If the head and attachment parts must be thoroughly cleaned and never exposed to dust, rock particles, and other contaminants. With secure installation, a safely operated machine will have a functional drill that outlasts its expected lifespan.

Hydraulic rock drills

Many rock bolters have a hydraulic system that is responsible for their work output. Drilling, mining, and the job of other moving parts are generated by the force of the hydraulic components.

The hydraulic system can last from 10,000 to 20,000 hours, with many factors affecting its longevity: working conditions, operation techniques, damage to moving parts, and maintenance intervals.

Its cylinders, heat exchangers, and other components are hard to clean. Dust, dirt, and other waste slowly damage the system, hurting its longevity and productivity.

Regular maintenance techniques should prioritise the optimal state of these components. After that, a visual examination of each part will help you notice unexpected damages that could fail the entire hydraulic system.

With hot metal components in contact with each other, lubrication is the best way to prevent rapid abrasion. It ensures the smooth operation of all components and reduces damage from dust, rock, and other contaminants.

Hydraulic system equipment needs more attention and servicing than other rock technology equipment. Frequent replacement of filters and hydraulic fluid are necessary servicing tasks that make machines functional and efficient. Because the system empowers all drilling, mining, and bolting operations, most owners outsource their maintenance to professionals.

All things considered, maintaining your hydraulic system gets you more work output from the equipment. With extra effort from operators and specialised technicians, hydraulic components will outlast their average lifespan. Also, the replacement of worn-down parts is the cheapest way to minimise repair costs and equipment downtime.

Electric components

The rock bolter’s electrical components make mining and rock technology flexible. With increased safety and control of mining, drilling, and bolting operations, a single person can control the machine with great precision.

Depending on the model of your equipment, an electrical system provides different levels of control over the machine. New roof bolters include the control of the wire mesh and other security components that ensure maximum safety in underground mines.

While modern machines are more efficient, and technicians can track rock bolters from a distance, the complexity of electrical parts reduces their lifespan. On average, the roof bolter’s electrical system works from 10,000 to 20,000 hours.

With more components, electricians have to make frequent replacements and additional maintenance procedures to keep the machine safe. Still, when everything works as intended, the operation of a well-serviced rock bolter ensures increased safety: additional control over functional and security components minimises life-threatening risks in underground mines.

The dependence on electrical parts makes roof bolters more efficient, but the breakdown of these features creates new problems. To ensure maximum safety, some machines halt all operations until the damages in the electrical system are fixed.

To make sure that all electrical components are in top condition, their inspection must be a vital part of regular maintenance procedures. Before every shift, check all connectors, wires, and control features work as intended. Then, make sure to clean the machine to get rid of rock and dust particles.

After that, if basic checkups test all features and fail to identify any problems, find skilled electricians to perform monthly maintenance procedures. Electrical systems have complex parts, and untrained operators may not detect their gradual failure. Skill technicians use diagnostic tools to collect data about the features and overall health of the machine. This way, none of the parts experience complete failure, and operators do their job with modern mining and rock technology solutions.

consumable parts

The bolting process uses many consumable parts that are designed to do their job and wear down fast. These are our drill rods, bits, and plates that are in direct contact with the material.

A roof bolter also uses different kinds of bolts during the bolting process. Depending on the job, the machine will use resin bolts or steel bolts, coming in different shapes and lengths.

Apart from materials that latch onto the surface, other parts that are used for drilling, mining and other operations usually last a few hours. Most consumable parts are never maintained but are replaced with fresh parts instead. Their abrasion is too big, therefore working with them for longer periods is dangerous and inefficient.

To find the perfect moment to replace consumable parts, check them at the beaks of the bolting process. Their depreciation can change significantly depending on the work conditions: underground mining and drilling forces a roof bolter to work with rocks that wear down equipment faster. Meanwhile, a skilled operator with a construction job can sometimes finish an entire shift without the need for replacement.

Replacing consumables is an easy task that is usually performed by rock bolter operators. Change the at appropriate times to ensure precision and avoid the accumulation of dust and debris.

How do roof bolts work

Roof bolts drill holes in tunnels, mines, and other objects to support them and prevent collapses. The operator uses the drill to make holes for the appropriate rock bolt length.

After proper distribution and spacing of holes, the drill is replaced with a bolting tool. The operator chooses the best material and bolt measurements. With the right equipment, these steps produce as little dust and waste as possible, which ensures safer working conditions and better health for other workers.

For extra safety and support, some operations strengthen bolt installation with grouting – the process of surrounding the bolt with concrete or any other bonding material

How do I know if the bolt installation is correct?

After initial procedures, the group of workers inspect the bolt distribution and safety of the site. Here are the main giveaways of unsafe overhead formations:

  • Cracks, crumbing, and other damages in the rock formation
  • Unusual deformities in the roof and walls
  • The emergence of weaknesses in other formations
  • Sudden changes without bolt installation
  • Irregular drill holes and bolt placement

A roof bolter’s job is to create and expand an underground environment that is well-supported and suitable for group work. With a well-serviced rig, in every drill operation, every bolt is installed perfectly to support the surrounding space.

What dictates rock bolt length?

Rock bolt length can be influenced by many environmental factors. Each rig has to have an adequate drill and bolts to provide the perfect amount of support for each point.

Rock structure and layers

Different thicknesses and the discovery of new materials in the rock structure will need a unique bolt length to create support and stability. The most common bolts for these cases range from 5 to 15 feet, with even longer options for unique cases

Roof pressure

Before the rig’s drill even touches the roof of a mine or tunnel, the experts collect data about the load on the roof from above. The thickness of layers and differences in materials can create much bigger overhead pressure at certain points. In such cases, operators use the rig to drill deeper, installing bolts 8 to 18 feet in length.

Types of rock bolts

Here are the most common rock bolt types used in mining, tunnelling, and construction:

  • Grouted bolts: the bolt is surrounded with bonding material, which takes longer to set up, but provides more stability
  • Encapsulated bolts: protective coating guards the bolt from rust and harmful contact with surrounding materials
  • D-bolts: a unique shape is better for support of abnormal surfaces, where the bolt provides a better distribution of load

How do I know when my rock bolter needs to be serviced?

The best time to service roof bolters depends on the job and the frequency of the bolting process. For increased safety in mines, construction sites, and other working conditions, modern companies must have a maintenance program.

By following the industry standards and manufacturer recommendations, you can plan a servicing schedule that checks all roof bolters to guarantee their safety, longevity, and optimal performance.

Besides the industry standard checklists, here are some procedures that will help you find damages and immediate servicing needs:

Regular inspections

Before each shift, operators inspect roof bolters, focusing on the parts that work the hardest:

  • Rock bolter frame: look for cracks, deep cuts, rust, and other damages
  • Hydraulic parts: check the heat sink, hoses, cylinders, and other parts for abrasion
  • Electrical system: look for damages in wiring, and control components, request assistance from electricians
  • Drill head and bolting equipment: replace consumable parts, test the bolting process, feeding and anchoring components
  • Engine inspection: check for leaks, replace fluids, change filters, test the engine
  • Cleaning procedures: clean all components, and remove rock particles, dust, and debris.

Mindful operation

While performing drilling, mining, and bolting tasks, operators stay mindful of changes in the work process. For example, if a drill slows down, and creates more dust than before, it might be a good time to replace consumable parts.

Underground mining is a dangerous job, even when safety is the number one priority. Modern bolters let a single person control the machine and prepare a safe environment for the rest of the group. If rock bolter equipment slows down, drills different holes, or struggles to penetrate the material, the safety of the site is not guaranteed.

Operators that stay mindful of their work can identify abrasion and equipment failure that can result in an accident without immediate attention. While regular maintenance tasks follow the industry requirements for inspection, a skilled operator is always on the lookout for unexpected damages and their effect on drilling and bolting.

Monitor rock bolters

Today, mining and rock technology machines are infused with electrical parts and heavy equipment software. These upgrades are scalable: you can add cameras, additional control and automation tools for better precision and performance.

Modern rock bolters come equipped with motion sensors, wire mesh control, and diagnostic tools that improve the safety of the site, including the operator and their cabin.

Rock bolters can have individual digital tools, or be a bigger part of the integrated equipment software network. These tools ensure the swift execution of modern projects and the effective redistribution of valuable machinery.

As for maintenance, roof bolters have internal sensors that report damage and abrasion to the machine and its parts. With the right software, an operator has a clear overview of the machine, with the data on its health, last servicing procedures, and other relevant information.

Such technical assistance ensures that the roof bolter is in top condition and never endangers the safety of other workers. With maintenance history and the state of the vehicle available at all times, the operator always knows when the roof bolter needs servicing.

How Do I Troubleshoot Rock Bolter Problems?

While some issues can only be solved by skilled technicians, an operator has to have a solid understanding of their rig. Besides drill operation and bolting, the driver that can troubleshoot common problems will prevent equipment downtime and save you money.

As the closest man to the machine, here are a few techniques an operator can use to quickly solve rock bolter problems:

Manual training

The best way to know the ins and outs of your rig is by undergoing training and reading the manual. When an operator knows and understands the basic functions of a rock bolter, the manufacturer’s extensive guide is the best way to deepen the knowledge of the specific machine.

By reading the manual, operators better understand the requirements and common issues with their bolting tool. The information inside usually covers recurring problems and servicing needs. It allows the operator to troubleshoot small issues without external support, or inform technicians about the gradual failure of important components.

For machines with heavy equipment software, the manual also contains information about the electrical system and the state of the machine. Operators can inspect this data and decide if they can fix the problem themselves, or inform the designated technicians.

Regular maintenance checks

Many companies train operators to perform regular maintenance procedures on their rigs. The driver conducts a visual inspection, checks all fluid levels and looks for visible damages in other components. These steps solve the problems caused by the lack of servicing and reduce the need for repairs in the future.

Check software warnings and errors

If you are operating a modern rig, most machines come with interconnected electrical components that improve the handling of the drill and bolting equipment. The best rock bolters have a control panel that collects data about all components.

Tracking errors and warnings is the most efficient way of detecting equipment abrasion and finding the most urgent problems with the rig. Once the problem is identified, a skilled operator can troubleshoot the issue or contact support.

Clean all machine components

If machine sensors send warnings, but you cannot identify the problem, clean the drill, bolting tools, and other equipment parts to get rid of rocks, dust, and other waste. Because of messy workplace conditions, sensors can send faulty error messages, even if the rig’s tools are not damaged.

Getting rid of all contaminants should eliminate incorrect warnings. Then, a clean rig can detect serious damage to other parts, simplifying the job of operators and support personnel.

Reach out to support technicians

In situations where the project requires full work output from a rock bolter, any problems that could hinder its performance and efficiency should be assigned to designated technicians. Even if an operator could troubleshoot the underlying problem, it is better to leave serious damages and intermittent failure to experts that will find the fastest solution.


Rock bolters are essential tools for stabilising and reinforcing underground structures. To secure these dangerous conditions, each rig has to be well-maintained and serviced.

When all equipment parts are in optimal condition, the bolting process provides much-needed support for mines, tunnels, and other structures that would otherwise be unsafe and dangerous. Take good care of your rock bolting rigs to save money and finish your projects without injuries and fatalities.

Arūnas Eitutis
Founder & CEO

Arūnas is spearheading the Frontu efforts as the company’s CEO but still finds the time to share some of his knowledge, expertise and experience in the FSM sector through our blog.

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