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Why our detonators are popular in Europe

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In 2020, for the first time in Finnish history, a mass explosion was carried out without the use of TNT and dynamite. It was loaded exclusively with Russian-made cartridges and detonators. The head of the department for new projects at Azot-Blast, the largest company in Russia and the CIS for the production of drilling and blasting agents, talked about what radical changes have taken place in the industry and how to build a successful career today.

Personnel starvation is one of the most acute problems of the mineral resource complex. The problem is the reluctance of young engineers to go to the Far North, where most of the deposits are located. They work for a couple of months and then leave - they can’t stand it. They want to get a job in a big city office right after graduation.

"Two things need to be understood here. Serious companies need the production experience of their employees. And the second point: it is in the north that you can build a career most rapidly. Arkhangelsk, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tyumen and a number of other regions are the best possible start. In Moscow, St. Petersburg or nearby regions the process takes much longer than in Magadan or Chukotka. But nobody goes there, there is a shortage of professionals among the locals, and somebody has to work. Such companies as Rosneft, Polyus or Phosagro invest a lot of money in the targeted training of personnel, training specialists from the regions, but most organizations cannot afford it. This is why a graduate of a leading raw materials university can grow up to be a site manager in just one year. For instance, this factor together with initiative and education allowed me and my classmates to achieve good results in career building," says Maxim Goncharuk, Head of New Projects Department at Azot-Vzor (AV Group).

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He was born on Sakhalin. His grandfather was a miner in Vorkuta, engaged in underground blasting, told him a lot about his job, which eventually influenced the young man's choice of future profession. The young man entered St. Petersburg Mining University, underwent practical training at the Kirov and North Onega bauxite mines, but after graduation he wanted to test himself and try something more extreme.

The young professional got a job at Polymetal and a week after graduation went to work on a rotational schedule in the Khabarovsk region. The schedule is not easy: you work for three months and rest for one. He started as a blaster and a year later became deputy section chief. He was spotted by Azot-Vzryv and was soon invited to the Amur Region to work at the Albynsky mine.

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"At that time I had about 70 people under my command. Only after gaining the necessary production experience, I applied for the position of new projects manager at the management company and moved to Moscow. My task was to implement modern world practices in drilling and blasting operations inside the organization. I devoted 4 years to innovations, until I headed the department of new projects. Today I organize and supervise the work of new divisions in the regions, which do not have much potential and therefore have not previously attracted the attention of the company. Of course it is more profitable to work on large projects. For example, our branch in Kemerovo blasts millions of cubes a year, but at the same time, there are many small quarries and mines in Central Russia. At the moment the geography of the organization is rapidly expanding - in the last three years I have opened divisions in the Central and Southern regions, as well as in the Volga Federal District. The North Caucasus is in the plans", says Maxim Goncharuk.

Only lately due to the growth of prestige of the mining engineering profession there has been a tendency that young people started to enter profile educational institutions more consciously understanding where they will have to work and what they will have to do. This is motivated by good salaries, stability, and interesting prospects. New projects in the north are opening with high regularity, in which it is possible to achieve success.

Faced with a shortage of personnel, raw material companies have intensified their work with universities. According to Maxim Goncharuk, the management of Azot-Blast visited his alma mater in 2020 to discuss opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation. The plan is to invite students for internships and involve them in future work.

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"My colleagues got acquainted with the level of training of students and the laboratory facilities of the university. ‘I haven't seen such a university in Russia yet,’ summed up our HR director. It is not surprising that about 10 of its graduates work in the company's management alone. For example, the specialized training and research laboratory of blasting technology and modeling by Australian company Orica made an impression. Attracting industry leaders as partners to organize systematic practical training and internships helps to raise the level of young specialists to a great extent. Our company is also trying to get involved in the educational process,to introduce its own materials and teach how to work with equipment and technologies," says Maxim Goncharuk.

Azot Blast (AV Group) is a domestic version of Australia's Orika and Spain's Maxam. It is a Russian leader in the integrated service and production of drilling and blasting operations, as well as the manufacture of explosives and initiation means using its own technologies. The company explodes about 450 million cubic meters per year. It combines 13 enterprises located both in Russia and abroad. Since 2020, it performs the full cycle of work: it blasts the rock mass underground and on its surface, then excavates and removes it.

"Our profession is associated with danger for many people. The most ‘hazardous’ specialists are young people and pre-retirement age. Over the years, there is a dulling of the sense of danger, and the longer a person works in one position, the more fearless they become. ‘I've done this a hundred times before, and everything was fine’ is a common misconception. As an example, let me tell you what happened a few years ago in Novorossiysk. The foreman did not want to go the proper distance from the blasting and just climbed under the excavator to protect himself. The stone ricocheted into his head. Situations are different, but all of them are caused by violation of safety rules. When you follow them and have the proper training the profession becomes no more dangerous than any other.”

If in some areas Russian technologies are lagging behind Western countries, the level of domestic production of means of initiation and explosives not only meets EU requirements, but also allows successful application in Scandinavia, Baltic States and Eastern Europe.

"Over the last 10 years, the sector has changed dramatically. This is due to the active introduction of advanced technologies, which increase the safety and level of work. For example, modern electronic detonators are aimed at reducing seismicity. This problem is especially acute for developments near populated areas. For example, during Vladimir Putin's visit to the Chernigovets coal mine in Kuzbass we demonstrated electronic initiation systems, iBlast software and high-precision positioning of drilling rigs," says Maxim Goncharuk, Head of New Projects at Azot-Blast.

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Residents of nearby houses repeatedly complained that they felt the effects of industrial explosions. Buildings would "shake" when there is working in the mines or after some time. The activity of coal mines affects the local seismic activity, which is largely due to the peculiarities of the geological structure of the area. However, it is not possible to stop mining, as it is fundamental to the economy of the region. About 60% of Russian coal is mined in Kuzbass; Kemerovo region provides 74-75% of coal exports.

"For our part, we began to look for possibilities that would reduce the load of the explosions produced. Unlike classic explosive devices that are programmed at the factory for a certain triggering interval, the operation of the electronic system can be designed on site. Instead of a single detonation, the explosion is triggered stepwise - in 1, 100 or 1000 milliseconds. This helps to predict and plan for seismic effects. Another important trend is the move away from TNT-containing explosives to emulsion cartridges. We have been using a cap-sensitive cartridge of our own design instead of TNT for three years. It contains a special emulsion, developed by our Institute of Explosion, into which the detonators are inserted. As cartridges, they are used for initiation of borehole and blast-hole charges and as overhead charges for crush of oversized objects. The desire to move away from TNT is due to its high price, negative environmental impact, and the possibility of its use for illegal purposes. It is easier to find (for example, unexploded shells in quarries - ed.), and it is more durable, unlike emulsion, which loses its dangerous properties in just one year," explains Maxim Goncharuk.

Works are carried out on the transition to remote control of processes. It is more relevant for mining operations, but the modern trends are not alien to explosive engineering. According to the expert, in about 20 years, drones will bring explosives to the laying sites and robots will install them. Similar experiments are already being conducted today in Europe. In other words, every year the demand for highly qualified engineers who are able to manage the process remotely will only grow.