Optimisation of drill and blast design and engineering can deliver a significant positive impact on the profitability of any mining operation; however, true engineering of the blasting process is less common than might be thought. The paper that follows explores this gap and suggests a process control-based approach to the challenge.
The concept of applying modifications to drill and blast designs in order to achieve efficiency improvements in downstream mining processes is far from new. However, the author suggests that the practical application has become less than rigorous in a number of different sectors of the mining industry in a wide range of countries.
There is a common tendency for the design process to become simplified to the point where the objective is merely the communication of instructions to field implementers (drillers, explosive suppliers, blasters, etc). In effect ‘design’ often degrades to ‘cut and paste’ with consequences that vary from mild to critical, with respect to the profitability of the business.
Engineering of the drill and blast process involves the design function, not on a one-off basis but rather as a component of a more complete cyclical process that includes a statement of objectives, a design based on a suggested hypothesis, field measurement of results, comparison with the target ‘set point’ and the application of control measures followed by new measurement, including interpretation of the results in financial terms.
When applied in this fashion, engineering provides practitioners with the means to optimise the drill and blast impact on the full spectrum business result of the mining activity.
These concepts are discussed with reference to a surface gold mining operation applying run-of-mine heap leach extraction. Engineering optimisation by adapting process control and measurement techniques is demonstrated to be a key component of the solution set applied to generate enhanced operations productivity and stakeholder value. It is shown that a combination of rigorous measurement, model calibration and hands-on quality assurance/quality control facilitates the creation of a road map to profitability, stressing the need to consider economic trade-offs between operational expense (investment) and measurement of enhanced value (return on investment).
The process, however, does not cease at this point. Implementation of true design practices, incorporating innovation and discipline in implementation or execution can drive the process to deliver demonstrable, technically validated outcomes. Furthermore, these technical results can be related to financially quantifiable impacts. However, this accomplishment does not guarantee that these gains or savings will reach the bottom line of those mining, quarrying and construction companies that begin the process with such high hopes.
Adamson, W R, 2015. Application of engineering discipline and a full-process optimisation focus – productivity to profitability without profuse pruning, in Proceedings 11th International Symposium on Rock Fragmentation by Blasting, pp 3–12 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).