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Megablasts – Enabling Technologies in BHP Billiton Iron Ore


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Author B Green


With a focus on safe productive tonnes, there has been an ongoing drive to increase the productivity of the mining fleet across BHP Billiton. In response, a team from the Iron Ore business was formed to review all aspects of the end-to-end drill and blast process and to challenge conventional practices that limit production efficiency. As a result of the outcomes of this work, a number of initiatives were identified to improve operational practices that have also delivered significant cost savings.

One such initiative was to increase pattern size to a minimum of 1 Mt where practicable, thereby creating ‘megablast’ as a new standard across all mines. To achieve blasts of this size, the team had to overcome the complex problem of integrating wall control into the megablasts.

With traditional blasting techniques, the key strategy, which is also historically inefficient but was thought to be integral to having stable, safe walls, was to utilise the trim blasting/modified production blasts technique (ie narrow blasts along the pit wall designed to ‘peel off’ the material while minimising the effects of vibration and charge confinement on wall integrity).

Small traditional trim patterns comprise three to four rows of production holes and one or two rows of batter/buffer holes of reduced diameter that require the firing face to be completely exposed before blasting. This is an extremely slow process that requires a lot of resources for very little tonnage while adding additional expense to the final cost per tonne.

This paper will show how the megablast approach was developed to control damaging vibration and confinement effects, flyrock and fragmentation while having the largest possible blast that includes wall control. The new practice is based on a theory that involves the initiation point and control row being the second row of holes from the pit wall itself. Adjusted charges in vented batter and buffer holes help to achieve an optimal toe design, and at the same time create a zone of broken ground that absorbs damaging vibrations formed by the attached production blast of any size, whether it is a straight wall or a multi-angled complex pit shell design.

Using the new style of blasting has allowed an increase in the size of the patterns from an average of 300 kt to over 1 Mt whilst maintaining pit wall integrity. Case studies will be presented showing drill, charge and tie-in designs with the presentation having additional blast videos, including overall shots of blasts and in-close footage of what happens behind the blast at the crest of the planned catchment berm.

The paper will also demonstrate the flow-on effect of using this style of blasting to reduce operational costs associated with other downstream processes, such as the reduced requirements for pattern preparation, an increase in productive digging, reduced maintenance costs and a decrease in fuel burn for equipment.


Green, B, 2015. Megablasts – enabling technologies in BHP Billiton Iron Ore, in Proceedings 11th International Symposium on Rock Fragmentation by Blasting, pp 599–606 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).