Ernest Henry Mine (EHM), located in north-western Queensland, is an underground copper/gold sublevel caving operation currently producing over 6 Mt/a of ore. The mass mining method of sublevel caving (SLC) used at EHM involves systematically blasting a series of uphole rings in parallel ore drives and drawing the broken ore using a top-down approach. Each ore drive contains multiple precharged rings to prevent having to charge in close proximity to the brow of the previously fired ring; however, the current initiation system still involves ‘hooking up’ all detonator lead cords of the first precharged ring. The unstable nature of a rill and working close to a brow presents hazards to personnel completing the hook-up process. There is also a business risk of ore loss when damaged ground support completely prevents access to the next precharged ring. If the hook-up step could be eliminated, the risk to personnel and the business would be significantly reduced.
EHM engaged Orica Mining Services in 2016 to trial their WebGenTM 100 – wireless electronic blasting system (WEBSTM) for the first time in an underground mining environment. Having successfully signal-tested the equipment, two test holes were initiated, followed by a single production ring and then multiple production rings. In total, 30 production rings were successfully fired underground at EHM in 2017. To do this, WEBSTM was successfully integrated into EHM’s current charging and firing process, resulting in no business delays or loss to production. None of the 30 rings required hooking up and all were initiated from the surface with no personnel underground. A high level of ownership from all personnel involved ensured the trial was a success, and provided scope for wireless detonators to be used successfully on a large scale – both at EHM and other sublevel caving operations. WEBSTM is now a proven example of technology that can be used to improve safety in the mining industry, through eliminating the need for personnel to work in hazardous areas.
te Kloot, C, Liu, Z, Purvis, T, Thomson, S, Lovitt, M and Nguyen, T, 2017. Improving safety through technology – Orica wireless electronic blasting system trials at Ernest Henry Mine, in Proceedings 13th AusIMM Underground Operators’ Conference 2017, pp 39–50 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).