Mine design the safe, smart and efficient way

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Monday, 19 April 2021 |

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Decline design in underground mines is a prolonged process, taking days or weeks to complete. It now takes only a few hours, thanks to some innovative thinking by Liz Deucker, Group Lead: Strategic Planning in the Corporate Development team.

The challenge

To optimise mining costs, a decline should be placed as close to the orebody as possible, but with enough distance so not to be impacted by production. The decline design needs to support safe operation of equipment and accommodate infrastructure such as vent rises and paste reticulation. In total, this development costs millions of dollars for each level in a mine.

The old way

­­Traditionally, mine planners manually design a 3D model of the decline, which is a slow and repetitive process as it involves trying to balance all design considerations and complex geometry. Some commercial point to point design tools have been available, but nothing that gave a streamlined overall result or accounted for infrastructure requirements.

In-house solution

Liz worked with Fiona Phillips, Manager: Mining Engineering for Gold Fields Australia, and her team to develop the code required to automate this repetitive task. “This is an example of how we can combine what people do best with what computers do best to develop a really efficient process,” says Liz.

“The computer can solve the geometry very rapidly, but the engineer is better able to see the big picture and take a lot of practical considerations into account. By having an experienced planner select the overall decline position and then letting the computer do the math to fill in all the detail, including how all the infrastructure integrates with the decline position, the process is much faster and the resulting design is streamlined, making it better operationally and minimising capital costs.” 

The speed of the design algorithm gives the planner more time to try multiple different approaches and find the best solution for the operation.

Liz approached IT firm Deswik, which have now integrated her design into its commercial off-the-shelf software. Some of the benefits for Gold Fields are:

This is an example of how modernisation can make our jobs more stimulating, in this instance by freeing up long-term planners to invest their time, knowledge and skills in areas that add greater value to the business.

Liz had to teach herself a new programming language (after hours) to allow this process automation to be completed in-house. This is now part of how Gold Fields in Australia and Deswik users do business.

See the software in action

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