Portable Light Percussion Drilling: A Practical Solution for Challenging Site Conditions

July 8, 2022   |  

Some geotechnical site investigations face challenging conditions such as poor site access, restrictions on the operation of heavy equipment, and limited budget and time to complete the program. In these situations, the use of portable light percussion drilling systems can be a practical and efficient method for obtaining soil samples. In KCB’s project work at the Fruta Del Norte mine in Los Encuentros, Ecuador, these systems have been an invaluable tool because of their mobility and ease of use.

The Fruta Del Norte mine is located in the province of Zamora, in the jungle region of Ecuador. KCB has been working at the mine since 2009 undertaking site investigations, geotechnical assessments, and feasibility studies at the tailings storage facility (TSF) and Plant Site. The mine is in a densely vegetated jungle where the presence of thick residual soil horizons and high yearly precipitation (3000 mm per year) make the logistics for field programs difficult.

To manage some of the challenges in recovering soil samples at the project site, the KCB team adopted a portable light percussion drilling system. The system is a portable gas-powered percussion drilling apparatus with a core sampler. It operates by advancing steel gouges and/or core samplers into the ground by a telescopic drilling method, where progressively smaller diameter gouges are driven into the soil. The soils contained in each gouge is sampled through a window in the side of the tube. Depending on the drilling apparatus’s specifications, some have drilling depths of up to 10 m.

Light percussion drilling system - Fruta Del Norte project, Ecuador


  • Low cost compared to conventional drilling rigs.
  • Easy transportation and operation.
  • High penetration rates (up to 3 holes of 6 m per day).
  • Good recovery up to 6 m depth.
  • Very good recovery in ‘cohesive’ fine-grained soils.


  • Disturbance of each sample is unavoidable.
  • Requires a few people to manoeuvre the equipment.
  • Poor recovery of wet coarse-grained soils with the supplied core sampler, and at depths below 6 m.
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