Many existing mines face the dilemma of how to reduce their operating costs, while improving productivity in ever more challenging geological and operating conditions, meaning precise mine design becomes the key to project success, says independent technology services company DMT.
The company states that capital investment in the procurement of new equipment, the development of operations or modern processing plants alone will not result in the desired effect if the mine itself is not geared to provide the required output.
Therefore, the enhancement of the mine design is an essential additional element in achieving the desired goals.
“The stability of mine structures, such as pit slopes, shafts or roadways underground play a pivotal role in ensuring the safety of operations,” DMT adds.
The company points out that insufficient analysis of the possible consequences of geological conditions or technical circumstances of operations have tarnished the image of the mining industry at large over the past few years, through incidents, such as the gas explosion at the Pike River mine, in New Zealand, the 33 miners trapped for two months at the Copiapo mine, in Chile, and the recent mine fires in South Africa.
However, available modelling tools, in combination with operational experience, enables the simulation of most operating conditions and to foresee the risks in future operations, says DMT.
DMT mining engineering head Dieter Wittenberg says no one knows a mine better than the people working there. “Yet, often the experience of the operator needs the support of dedicated specialists using modern tools to reduce the ‘trial-and-error’ approach and justify the improvement ideas they have to various stakeholders.”
He adds that by combining geotechnical numerical modelling with the application of complex gas, water and self-combustion risk management tools, DMT has for many years improved the efficiency of mining coal at extreme depths of up to 1 500 m.
“We have also used our knowledge and techniques in many challenging projects in iron-ore, potash, chromite and other deposits, adding considerable value to these operations.”
UK-based DMT Consulting mining director David Smith says applying advanced mining engineering techniques at the feasibility study stage of a project has also become increasingly essential for projects that are yet to be financed.
“The close scrutiny of financing opportunities and increased investor awareness of the risks of mining, demands the development of technical and cost-efficient solutions to satisfy the increased expectations of stakeholders for a return on their investment.”
He adds that a number of brownfield projects in logistically attractive locations have faced mine design challenges that could only be resolved by applying detailed engineering analysis of past operations and the future plans.
Depth Counts in South Africa
DMT notes that the mining conditions of South Africa are some of the most demanding in the world, with operations at depths exceeding 3 500 m.
This has resulted in a host of innovative- suppliers having developed some of the most modern equipment available worldwide, specifically for South African underground mines.
However, the introduction of innovative equipment technology cannot solve all of the productivity issues in South Africa, particularly as in some cases, the conditions in the mines themselves may not be conducive to the application of state-of-the-art solutions, the company says.
“This is why our focus is always to take the mining engineering experience of the DMT Group, gained in various parts of the world, and apply it to the specific local conditions. We are quite sure the excellence of the operations we service across the globe can be provided to the South African industry for the benefit of local mine operators,” says Johannesburg-based DMT Kai Batla director Sodhie Naicker.