Reducing Uncertainties in Mine Operational Plans
Posted: 03/15/2012 12:00:00 AM EDT | 0
In this Q & A interview with Dr. Peter Grossman, Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Engineering at the University of Melbourne. Peter talks about mine planning and how we can improve uncertainties that can affect mine plans and designs. He also talks about the use of mine planning software and how this can help combat common issues that plague mine planners.
Reducing Uncertainties in Mine Operational Plans
Mining IQ: When it comes to underground mine planning, what do you think are the major challenges that still haunt experienced mine planners? Why is this happening and how can we rectify this?
Dr. Peter Grossman: We can distinguish two types of uncertainties in mine planning: internal and external. External uncertainties are those that lie outside the control of the mine planner – they include unknowns such as future demand, commodity prices, the availability of equipment, and energy costs. Internal uncertainties include ground conditions, and the distribution, grades and metallurgical properties of the ore. When things go wrong, the problem can often be traced to lack of information. The challenge for mine planners is to reduce the uncertainties in these internal parameters as far as possible. The obstacles to achieving this goal are often lack of time to obtain the information or the cost of obtaining it – performing additional drilling, for example – or decisions that are being made by others outside the mine planner’s control. Uncertainty that can’t be reduced should at least be quantified. This can be done by using mine planning software tools to generate a range of alternative scenarios – note that this is different from the practice of generating a small number of designs and choosing the best one, which is sometimes wrongly described as “optimising”.
Mining IQ: Mine planners have to constantly review their mine operational plan, but what do you look out for when conducting reviews?
Dr. Peter Grossman: A key focus when conducting reviews is to align the operational plan with the long term plan. This involves monitoring to ensure that long term targets are being met. In particular, the temptation to go for quick revenue at the expense of the long term plan should be avoided.
Mining IQ: Which areas do you think many mine planners may neglect/overlook in this regards? Why is this and how can we improve?
Dr. Peter Grossman: Reconciling the current situation with the long term goals is an area that can easily be neglected, especially by planners who are lacking in experience or under pressure due to a shortage of time or personnel. The use of mine planning software can be of great benefit here, since it can be used to facilitate the quick updating of the design of the mine so that the best design is produced based on current information.
Mining IQ: Mine plans also need to be flexible and consider contingency plans throughout mine production – what are your tips here?
Dr. Peter Grossman: It is essential for mine planners to defer decisions until they need to be made, in order to avoid the danger of locking things in too early. This means planning at a high or strategic level first – initially making decisions only on matters such as mining method, cutoff grade, shaft versus decline access, and maybe just the gross features of the access design, such as whether to construct one main decline or two. More detailed design and scheduling at the tactical and operational levels can be deferred until it is required, by which stage more up-to-date information is likely to be available. The objective in all of these decisions is of course to maximise value, taken over the entire life of the mine.
Mining IQ: We see that a lot of mine plans are still focused on short term production targets, not long term. How do you think we can avoid this and keep our plans aligned to what’s truly best for the mine in the long term?
Dr. Peter Grossman: In addition to the points I’ve already made, the use of mine planning software to explore alternative scenarios has become increasingly important. Software tools have recently become available (or will soon be available) that allow the mine planner to rapidly generate designs for stope geometries, access networks and schedules that are near-optimal according to certain criteria, for a range of scenarios. Ideally, the components of the mine – the stopes, access and ventilation infrastructure and schedule - should be designed optimally as an integrated whole rather than in sequence. Software tools can also indicate when crucial design decisions need to be made and hence whether seeking more information at that point is justified, such as carrying out infill drilling. With the use of such tools by suitably trained staff at all stages of planning, combined with a clear focus on monitoring and keeping to long term goals without sacrificing flexibility, it should be possible for mine planners to stay aligned with a plan that will ultimately yield the greatest value over the lifetime of the mine.
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