School of Mechanical & Mining Engineering

The future of mining is very likely to be significantly different than it currently is. As the last remaining easy to access near surface mineral deposits are exhausted the mining frontiers of the future will be deeper, more remote, and more hostile. In addition, mining operations will have to contend with more extreme climatic conditions, in less favorable ground, with a drive toward consuming less water and energy while reducing emissions and increasing productivity. While these conditions present huge challenges in themselves, all this is against a backdrop of more intensive public scrutiny over environmental awareness and community relations. Since the exploitation of a mineral resource can only occur once, it is imperative that this generates as much value as possible for society and that benefits continue flowing after project closure. The Mine Planning research group focus on solving these imminent issues.
The key themes in which the Mine Planning group conducts its research are:
  • Planning for future deep mining operations
  • Planning associated with the implementation of In-Pit-Crusher-Conveyor and other continious mining systems
  • Automation and Robotics in mining
  • Mathematical programming to optimise the production scheduling and planning process

Current Research

Energy efficiency in integrated mine-to-mill planning: Open pit mining operations are generally large in scale and operation and are significant energy consumers. In-pit crushing and conveying (IPCC) systems have the potential to revolutionise open pit mining and provide substantial energy savings. IPCC systems integrate the materials handling and comminution process and may significantly decrease the fuel consumption of standard truck haulage options. The required electrical power to the mining face by IPCC systems over truck and shovel systems may not always result in an overall reduction. Size, movability and flexibility are typical issues associated with IPCC systems. For open pit mines, the introduction of an IPCC system requires a change the mine design which thus significantly affects the mine plan. This research project will focus on the IPCC system in relation to open pit mine planning. The contribution of this project will detail how energy prices influence the viability of IPCC systems and the resulting change in the mine plan. When considering all factors, a comparison between multiple scenarios will be measured according to the Net Present Value (NPV) that each generates. IPCC systems also have additional environmental advantages including the reduction of dust and in turn a reduction the water usage to mitigate this dust.

Mining Rate Optimisation in Open Pit Mining: In the mining business, mine-planning is the activity that determines the exploitation of a mineral resource with the aim of maximising its intrinsic value. The number of variables that are required to carry out this activity and the complexity of dealing with a finite, non-renewable resource make it difficult to find an optimum solution. This problem is managed by breaking it down into stages and by making assumptions, which are then refined as the problem becomes clearer. One of these assumptions, which is deeply ingrained in the mine-planner’s mind, is that the mine equipment should be utilised in such a way that the mine’s operational costs are kept down. The main contribution of this project is the finding that a low, mine operational-cost does not always lead to value creation. This project addresses the concepts known as ‘schemes of exploitation’ into the mine-planning activity. This concept refers to the deployment of the loading equipment within each pushback of an open-pit mine and which ultimately determines the amount of material that will be extracted in each period. If the adopted schemes of exploitation are designed to fulfil this requirement of higher productivity and utilisation of the loading equipment, then this may result can in lower mining-costs.

Strategic Mine Planning Optimisation Modelling for Block Caving: As mineral deposits get deeper and the operating costs of surface mining methods for deep ore bodies become infeasible, there will be a greater need for underground mining applications, especially the block caving method as this is a bulk extraction technique and the cheapest and most productive method of the available bulk underground mining. Hence the prominence of block caving mining and its applications will become ever so greater. This project will seek to develop a production scheduling model that could significantly increase value by scheduling production optimally for the block caving method.

Integration of the Stoping Boundary and Production Scheduling Process: Underground mine planning generally commences with definition of the orebody. Considering the mining methods employed and other technical parameters a strategic mine plan and production schedule is then generated spanning the life of the orebody. This is a two phase process where the completion of the first phase forms the point at which the second phase commences. Due to the segregation between the two phases, only a locally optimal solution may be found. This project addresses the simultaneous optimisation of stoping boundary and production scheduling into a single process in order to achieve a global optimum.

Exploitation of the Recovery/Throughput Relationship in Optimising the Mine Plan: A single process plant throughput rate to achieve a certain recovery at a certain cost is often assumed over the life of a resource project for strategic planning purposes. The process plant throughput-recovery relationship that exists for each ore type can and should be exploited for the purpose of creating additional economic value within the resource plan. This project investigates the impact on Net Present Value (NPV) of strategic resource plans when allowing a fluctuating process plant throughput rate over the life of a base metals operation in comparison to only considering a single fixed throughput rate for a given plant size configuration. Mathematical programming to better aid the decision making process is investigated in comparison to traditional manual approaches to thus help determine the best throughput rate to use in each period.

Design, Planning and Scheduling of Hybrid Surface Mining Systems: This research project fits into a body of work on continuous and semi-continuous mining systems that the Division of mining engineering began several years ago with work on parallel conveyor systems for in pit crusher conveyor (IPCC) systems under the supervision of Prof Knights and A/Prof Mehmet Kizil. Other work conducted by the Division on IPCC systems concerns recent work for CRCMining conducted by Dr Micah Nehring and Mr Juan Londono. There is a growing realisation that continuous (IPCC) systems do not necessarily offer cost-effective solutions for mines. This is primarily due to poor overall system utilisation in continuous systems. This project intends to investigate and model various possibilities for semi-continuous mining systems using an open pit gold mine (Telfer) as a case study. The thesis will investigate transition points in mine development at which systems need to be reconfigured to enhance economic performance. Should such systems be demonstrated to be feasible, they have the potential to greatly enhance productivity and decrease energy consumption in hard rock mining applications.